What are the Skocjan Caves?

Brendan McGuigan

The Skocjan Caves are a series of caves in Slovenia. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1986. They are among the most impressive limestone caves in the world, and for cave lovers are a must-visit destination.

The Skocjan Caves include some of the most amazing limestone stalactite formations in the world.
The Skocjan Caves include some of the most amazing limestone stalactite formations in the world.

The Reka River comes up from a spring about 35 miles (55km) from the Skocjan Caves, and travels overland all that distance. Eventually, it reaches the limestone, or Karst, of the area, and begins to corrode and erode the surface away. Finally, it comes to a wall and vanishes beneath the earth, not reappearing for more than 20 miles (35km). Underground, the Reka River carves away the Skocjan Caves, some of which are miles long.

The Skocjan Caves include amazing limestone stalagmite formations.
The Skocjan Caves include amazing limestone stalagmite formations.

The guided tour of the Skocjan Caves takes you through two of the chambers: the Murmuring Cave and the Silent Cave. 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.

Before one even enters the Skocjan Caves, one first comes to an enormous gorge. This was formed when the cave collapsed in on itself, and there is a bridge that crosses the gorge, and waterfalls running down its sides. Within the caves themselves are four chasms: the Globocak, the Sapen dol, the Lisicina, and the Sokolak.

The Murmuring Cave is one of the most impressive cave chambers in the world, with amazing limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations. Following the path, one continue alongside the river, which roars and echoes in the cave, and can be a bit terrifying, especially when coupled with the height.

Tours of the Skocjan Caves take about two hours, and cover 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. Even for modern visitors, it’s hard not to 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 tourism and scientific research. These trails are some of the best found in any cave system in the world, and make a trip to the Skocjan Caves quite enjoyable. Still, the temperature within the caves drops quickly, and its important to wear proper clothing, and even with good trails the caves are still very wet, requiring suitable footwear.

Exploration of the Skocjan Caves has been ongoing since the 16th century, and the latest distinct chamber, the Silent Cave, was discovered 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.

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