Škocjan unesco caves

Visit UNESCO-listed Škocjan caves, a major tourist attraction in Slovenia and perhaps the most beautiful cave in the world. Perfect day trip or shore excursion

Highlights of Škocjan UNESCO caves:

  • Pristine nature and awe-inspiring underworld
  • One of the deepest underground canyons in the world
  • One of the largest underground chambers in the world
  • One of very few UNESCO-listed caves in the world

Due to their exceptional significance, the Škocjan Caves were entered on UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites in 1986. nternational scientific circles have thus acknowledged the importance of the Caves as one of the natural treasures of planet Earth.

Importance of Škocjan UNESCO caves

Ranking among the most important caves in the world, the Škocjan Caves represent the most significant underground phenomena in both the Karst region and Slovenia.
From time immemorial, people have been attracted to the gorge where the Reka River disappears underground as well as the mysterious cave entrances. The Reka River sinks under a rocky wall; on the top of it lies the village of Škocjan after which the Caves are named.
 

Archeology of Škocjan UNESCO caves

Archaeological research has shown that people lived in the caves and the surrounding area in prehistoric times – from the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, the Bronze and Iron Ages through Antiquity and the Middle Ages to the present; altogether for more than 5,000 years. The finds from this area testify that the Škocjan Caves had not only local but regional importance in prehistoric times. Pioneering research of Karst and karst phenomena began in this area in the 19th century. The international karstological terms "karst" and "doline" originate here.
 

Natural diversity of Škocjan UNESCO caves

Collapse dolines and their surroundings are home to rare and endangered birds and several bat species. Due to particular geo-morphological and microclimatic conditions, an extraordinary ecosystem has developed here in which the Mediterranean, Sub-Mediterranean, Central European, Illyrian and Alpine bio-geographical elements co-exist. Rare cave fauna are preserved in the underground system of the Reka River.

The significance of the Škocjan UNESCO Caves

The Škocjan Caves remain the only natural monument in Slovenia and the Classical Karst region on UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites. Thus, they hold a significant position among the world’s natural monuments. In addition to our caves, only those in the border area between Hungary and Slovakia (Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst), Mammoth Caves and Carlsbad Caverns in the USA have received the same honour. Other caves have been entered as cultural monuments (for example Altamira in Spain and the prehistoric sites and cave paintings of the Vézere Valley in France).

The exceptional volume of the underground canyon is what distinguishes the Škocjan Caves from other caves and places them among the most famous underground features in the world. The river flowing through the underground canyon turns north-west before the Cerkvenik Bridge and continues its course along the Hankejev kanal (Hanke's Channel). This underground channel, first explored at the end of the 19th century, is approximately 3.5 kilometres long, 10 to 60 metres wide and over 140 metres high. At some points, it expands into huge underground chambers. The largest of these is the Martelova dvorana (Martel's Chamber); with a volume of 2.2 million cubic metres, it is considered the largest discovered underground chamber in Slovenia and one of the largest in the world. It is interesting to note that an underground canyon of such dimensions ends with a relatively small siphon: one that cannot deal with the enormous volume of water that pours into the cave after heavy rainfall, causing major flooding, during which water levels can rise by more than one hundred metres.

Description of Škocjan UNESCO caves

The Škocjan Caves are a unique natural phenomenon, the creation of the Reka River. The Reka River springs from below the Snežnik plateau and flows some fifty-five kilometres on the surface. After reaching the Karst, that is the limestone surface, the river not only deepens its riverbed through erosion, but also by means of corrosion – it dissolves the limestone. In the first part of its course on the limestone, the Reka still flows on the surface, along an approximately four-kilometre-long gorge that ends with a magnificent wall under which it disappears underground. The Reka River blind valley is the largest in Slovenia. In the distant past, probably in the Early Pleistocene, that is a few hundred thousand years ago, the ceiling of the cave collapsed some 200 metres from the sinks; as a result, the collapse dolines Velika dolina (up to 165 metres deep) and Mala dolina (120 metres) were created, separated by a natural bridge, a remnant of the original cave ceiling. Above the caves, between the wall above the sink and the walls of Mala dolina, lies the village of Škocjan. Close to the houses, there is another entrance to the underground, a ninety-metre-deep abyss called Okroglica, which ends just above the underground Reka River.

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