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Entries in Slovenia (2)


Kranj, Slovenia


The Caves of Slovenia

A sleek black Mercedes pulled up outside our hotel and a man with a shaved head and a long black trench coat open the door and asked us if we were going to Slovenia. We said yes and he nodded his head towards his car - I guess this was not a normal mini-bus tour we were booked on. Soon we were on the open highway, driving at 170km/hour over the border to Postojna. Our driver didn’t say a word on the trip, just a simple “two hours” when we arrived.

Postojna was beautiful, with rolling arid hills, deep blue water from glacier melt and charming rustic Slavic towns. We walked around for half an hour or so then entered the Postojna Caves, a 21.5km series of caves in a region with over 500 caves. In all of Slovenia there are over 9000 caves, some as deep as 1005 metres deep. The entrance to Postojna Caves has been known for at least 50,000 years, with the first 400 metres occupied during paleolithic times. However it was not until 1818, when a construction worker was building lights for a visit by the Austrian Emperor, that people broke into the passage into the main cave network.

Speed was the theme of the day, and at the cave entrance they filed us onto a tourist train, which hurtled at surprising speed deep into the cave network. We passed chamber after chamber with just the flash of beautiful formations, plunging depths and staggering heights - made in quick glimpses as we kept an eye on the erratic roof level and ducked the occasional stalactite. After fifteen minutes on the train we reached the Great Mountain chamber, the highest in the caves, at 20 metres above entry level and only 20 metres from the surface. We climbed the Great Mountain, with amazing views of organic stones dripping out of the ceiling or sprouting from the earth. From the Great Mountain we crossed the Russian Bridge (so named as it was built by Russian prisoners of war during the Great War) to the Beautiful Caves, a 500 metre network of three chambers discovered in 1891. The first chamber was the Spaghetti Chamber, with thin pipe stalactites covering the roof. The second chamber was the White Chamber, where all formations were made from pure calcite and glowed a pure pale white. The third chamber was the Red Chamber, named after the iron oxide impurities that left a red tinge to the rock. Finally, after the Beautiful Caves we ended in the Concert Hall, a large chamber 40 metres high and 30,000 square metres in size, where they still occasionally play concerts.

Within the Concert Hall they had a small vivarium where we could see the most famous of the 400 different cavernicolous species living in Postojna Caves, the Proteus. The Proteus was the first animal discovered to live in the deep caves and is endemic to the region. Once thought to be hatchling dragons, the Proteus is a luminescent white amphibian, related to salamanders and neuwts. It is the biggest of the cavernicolous species, growing up to 30cm long (most species in the caves are microscopic, only 20 are longer than 1cm). The Proteus is completely blind, with its degenerated eyes covered by a layer of skin. This is obviously no handicap in the cave environment, where the Proteus can live for over 100 years (going without food for up to five years at a time). In yet another damning indictment of creationism, in 1986 the “Black Proteus” was discovered, a closely related species more recently arrived in the caves, which has not yet lost its black pigment and still expends energy in developing (useless) eyes.