Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 63, The Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

Yippee, as a cave lover, I am overjoyed to be able to visit one of the most impressive limestone caves in the world!!

The Skocjan caves have an extremely complex system of cave passages in a total length of 5.8 km. The caves are the biggest and best known natural phenomenon within the classical Karst area. The caves, with an immense underground gorge and halls, are the beginning of the Skocjan underground system.
The caves probably have the biggest cave hall in Europe, measuring 12,000 square m
eters (1.2 hectares) in cross section. The Reka river runs underground for almost 40 kilometres, to the sources of the Timav in the Gulf of Trieste (Italy)

OK guys lets go....The Skocjan Caves tours begin at the Information Centre in Matavun. The trail leads us to the typical Karst collapse doline, referred to as Globocak by the local inhabitants.A 116-metre long artificial tunnel
built in 1933 leads into the natural cave. The passage at the entrance, abundantly covered with flowstone deposits, is called Paradiz (Paradise) and contains the most beautifully preserved stalactite formations in the Skocjan Caves.

The tour then proceeds through Labirint (Labyrinth) into the Great Hall, fro
m which enormous stalactites called the Orjaki (Giants) rise up to 15 metr es.The Skocjan Caves are awe inspiring in their size and scale, and are particularly impressive in how protected and clean they have remained, in spite of development and tourism. Slightly ahead of the renowned Orgle (Organ), we for the first time hear the roaring of the river, which enters the Karst underworld through the spacious Sumeca jama (Murmuring Cave). The Murmuring Cave is one of the most impressive cave chambers in the world, with amazing limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Following the path, we continued alongside the river, which roars and echoes in the cave, and can be a bit terrifying, especially when coupled with the Nopi is holding on for dear life!
Don't look down Nopi....

Before we even entered the Skocjan Caves, we come to an enormous gorge that was formed when the cave collapsed in on itself....
hmmm, the trail continues along the gallery chiselled through the rock walls to the Cerkevnik Bridge

that towers above the riverbed at the height of 45 metres, precisely at the point where the Reka River enters the Hanke's Channel.

Doesn't this place look like a scene out of the "Lord of the Rings"?? Absolutely breathtaking.

Descending through the Müller and Svetina
Halls, we reach the lowest point of the tourist path, 144 metres beneath the surface. Within the Caves themselves are four chasms: the Globocak, the Sapen dol, the Lisicina, and the Sokolak. We then leave the Reka River for a short while and ascend to the Dvorana ponvic (Rimstone Pools' Hall).

Eventually we see daylight again in the Schmidl Hall that opens into up to 165-metre high walls of Velika dolina. At the bottom of this collapse doline, w
e see the Reka River and over 10-metre high waterfall for the last time. The path then ascends through a passage called Pruker to the lift that takes us from the collapse doline.
The tour ends where it started.

Wow, that tour of the Skocjan Caves took about two hours, and covered as many of the safe and easily-accessible points in the cave complex as is feasible.

Unfortunately, some of the most impressive points in the Caves are closed to the public, such as what is thought to be one of the largest known chambers in the world.

The first people began to inhabit the Skocjan Caves sometime between the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. A number of bodies and artifacts were discovered in the Tomiceva Cave dating back to this era. In the Classical Era, the Caves took on importance as a site of worship for the many cults of the underworld that sprang up through the Classical world.

The connection with Pluto and Hades is undeniable, with the dark river wending its way deeper and deeper into a seemingly endless cavern. I must say it did feel as though one is descending into a netherworld of some sort.

Nearly seven-and-a-half miles (12km) of trails were cut into the Caves by a cadre of dedicated workers over the 19th and 20th centuries to prepare it for touris
m and scientific research. These trails are some of the best found in any cave system in the world, and made the trip to the Skocjan Caves very enjoyable. It was quite cold and slippery in there so luckily we were appropriately dressed.

Exploration of the Skocjan Caves has been ongoing since the 16th century, and the latest distinct chamber, the Silent Cave, was disc
overed only in the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1990s an extension to one cave was discovered, past a presumed dead end in what is known as Dead Lake.

Exploration of the cave complex continues, and although all major chambers are thought to have been discovered, only time will tell.......what an awesome UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since we are in the Škocjan Caves Regional Park, would anyone like to take the Škocjan Education Trail, a 2 km trail that passes through forest and around various features of a Karst landscape?? No?

Ooops, yes I do realise that we are running out of time.....ok, let's move along then........

We are going to leave Spela at home
Oh, let me wave wave Hello to Lili and Alenka before we leave this absolutely incredible country ..........

Spela has invited us to spend some time with her in Ljubljana,

home to one of the oldest Philharmonics in the world; and also to numerous theaters, museums and art galleries...but we simply have to decline for now......

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