Posts Tagged ‘Postojna’

I first discovered the tales of ancient Greek gods and goddesses as a child; right from the start, I was engrossed (and I continue to be long into adulthood). Many stories revolved around the Underworld, the realm of the dead which was located directly under the ground. For most, there was only one way to enter the Underworld, but on a few occasions, people from the “upper world” travelled there by way of a special passage.

During my visit to the cave system located in Postojna, Slovenia, I couldn’t help but imagine that this was what the Greeks had in mind for their Underworld. Equal parts spooky, fascinating, and otherwordly, these caves are like nothing I’ve seen before or since.

The entire cave system stretches about 20 km, but only a fraction of that is accessible to the public. Its existence was known locally for hundreds of years, but beginning in the early 1800s, explorers discovered new and more amazing caverns within and Postojna started a new life as a “show cave”. Railway tracks were installed inside the caves later in the century and then electric lights, making it even easier for visitors to come and it soon became a popular tourist site for travellers.

The various caverns are huge (so claustrophobics need not fear entering this Underworld), with stalactites fairly dripping from the ceilings and great stalagmites rising up like pillars from the ground. Over millenia, water from the nearby Pivka River has dripped into the caves, despositing new layers of limestone upon existing ones, and the result is that much of the rock looks like it’s been frosted or like puddles of melting ice cream (in fact, I had a desperate craving for some gelato as I picked my way along the trail). Considering all the moisture required to create these caves, most find it quite cool and damp inside so a sweater is essential to have on hand for exploring.

One large cavern within has become home to the Concert Hall, with standing room for literally thousands of people. The accoustics in this cave are stellar and there are regular performances by various symphony and musical groups.

Surprisingly to me, the caves are also home to quite a thriving ecosystem, including fish, bugs and small rodents. The most famous inhabitant is the olm, otherwise known as the “human fish”: a type of blind salamander with no pigment in its skin, who survives on shrimp (though apparently can live for years without eating anything) and with a similar life expectancy as humans (check out the link for a great photo and an interesting article from Wired magazine about these unusual animals). I’m sure if Hades, god of the Underworld, had kept any pets, the strange and creepy-yet-cute olm would have been his favourite.


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