The Slovenia Times

The Healing Cool of the Underworld



Slovenian words such as karst, dolina, polje or ponor have been accepted as international terms to describe distinctive landforms that have been created by water dissolving and eroding rock. The karst region covers 44% of Slovenia and over two-thirds of it consists of limestone. Apart from caves, karstic phenomena include rivers that disappear underground only to resurface many kilometres away and intermittent lakes, such as the well-known Lake Cerknica. Most caves can be visited all year round, but we believe there is no better time to see them than in summer. Let us have a look at some of the most distinctive Slovenian caves and what you can do there. Postojna Cave The Postojna Cave is by far the most frequented tourist attraction in Slovenia. Drop after drop, this natural miracle has been shaped and carved by water for millions of years. "Nature's most wonderful gallery" is how the renowned British sculptor Henry Moore described it. Explore this 20-kilometre long underworld system with its unique karstic structures of astonishing beauty during a 1.5-hour train ride through the cave. Your eyes will feast on spectacular underground halls with organ-shaped curtains of colourful stalactites and stalagmites. Lurking in small pools of water, you will find a strange creatures with fingers and pink skin said to be human fish (Proteus anguinis). Multimedia presentations introduce you to this creature and 129 other species in the recently opened Proteus Complex. If you suffer from respiratory problems, try speleotherapy, which uses the unique atmospheric conditions of caves and mines to cure respiratory and other medical conditions. Pregnant women with asthma can use the therapy without endangering their unborn children. The air in Slovenian caves is usually very low on dust and high in vaporized calcium and magnesium, with a relative humidity of 90% and a constant temperature of 10 to 12øC. Supporters of the therapy tell us that eliminating the sources of irritation gives the body a chance to heal itself and improve the immune system. The therapy in the cave works without any sort of medical treatment. Skocjan Caves After visiting the Postojna Cave, you can't afford to miss the other great underground wonder, the Skocjan Caves Regional Park, which lies in the major karst region of southwestern Slovenia. Covering 413 hectares, this is the largest and best known natural phenomenon within the classical karst area and comprises a network of eleven caves with hollows, swallow holes and natural bridges. Their outstanding natural features and cultural importance prompted UNESCO to add it to its World Heritage Sites list and Ramsar to put it on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance 99 as the world's largest underground wetlands. The Skocjan Caves invite you to visit them year round and learn about the Karst region (Kras in Slovene) and karstic features. Visit the Skocjan Museum, take a tour of the beautiful Skocjan village or enjoy a 1.5-hour walk along the Skocjan Education Trail that takes in the Velika dolina and Mala dolina (collapsed valleys). If you are interested in archaeology, there are several sites from various periods in history that will be of interest to you, including protected settlements, burial grounds and cave sites. Kostanjevica Cave Kostanjevica Cave is a karst cave rich in flowstone formations and the largest in the Dolenjsko karst region. If you are afraid of walking under low ceilings, you will be delighted to know this is one of Slovenia's most easily accessible tourist caves. The lights will reveal to you unusual flowstone sculptures appropriately named the Rainbow, Christ, the Sabre, Teddy Bear and Santa Claus. Along the 300-m path you may also encounter horseshoe bats, endemic snails and other fascinating yet harmless cave dwellers. The Paradana Ice Cave Paradana is located near the village of Predmeja above the Vipava Valley. A ten-minute walk will bring you to a cold hollow that then extends into the world famous Great Ice Cave, which is 385 m deep and 1550 m long and also known as Paradana or Ledenica. If nothing else, its ancient yet pristine beauty will surely send a chill down your spine. Just imagine, the wealthy of Gorizia, Trieste and even Egypt used to have huge blocks of this ice sent to them to cool their drinks. Today, the Paradana Ice Cave is listed as a natural heritage site. The Pekel Cave Just a few kilometres from a Roman necropolis, there is a karst cave with a sinister name - the Pekel Cave (Hell Cave). Before you flee in terror, no witches have been burnt here and no souls lost trading for eternal youth. However, the name comes from the caves intriguing entrance, which looks like the Devil. Are you ready to test your faith and enter the cave? If you do, you will follow a tunnel that continues to narrow before emerging into a series of caverns with small lakes and waterfalls. Among them is the highest underground waterfall in Slovenia (4 m). Numerous stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes can be seen during a walk around the cave's two levels. Mines and Underground Biking Slovenia has a rich mining tradition, though most mines were abandoned well before the end of the 20th century. Some mines have turned their buildings into museums, and the Coal Mining Museum of Slovenia at the Old Pit in Velenje was presented with a special award at the European Museum Forum in 2001. The people of Idrija are also committed to preserving their mining tradition and cultural heritage. If you are interested in how miners used to work and live in the past, a collection of restored mining facilities and historical sights that testify to the town's extraordinary past is a must see. A 1.5-hour tour, which is preceded by an informative multi-vision slide show, takes you along a well-maintained 1,200-m section of the mine. If you have a more adventurous spirit, try underground biking at the Crna mine buried into the side of Peca Mountain in the Koroska region. Legend has it that deep within the bowels of Peca, King Matjaz sleeps, his long beard encircling the table on which his head rests. Stopping silently in the darkness of the shaft, you might be lucky to see the frightful creature called "bergmandelc" or hear the sounds of hammers being wield by the souls of lost miners welcoming you to the mysterious underground world. Five kilometres (out of 800) of abandoned mine tunnels converted into a unique, biking trail await you. The ride is quite challenging; it runs along safe tunnels and rises only fifteen metres, but the potholes and bumps, which remained after the mine's rail tracks were removed, ensure it is a bumpy ride. You could also take a 3.5-km long train ride through the mine, go on a guided walking tour and/or visit the Mining Museum. A guide will demonstrate how the mine was worked using authentic mining tools and the bravest among you are welcome to try your hand at it! (H.M.)


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