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Natural World Heritage - the Slovak Karst

The caves of the Slovak Karst – Natural World Heritage

Pavel Bella – Mikuláš Rozložník

The subject of the Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by the member states of UNESCO in 1972, is determining of objects and territories that are unique and important from the world point of view and securing their protection, maintenance and presentation as invaluable and irreplaceable property not only of one nation but also of the whole mankind.

Bilateral nomination Slovak-Hungarian project “The Caves of Slovak and Aggtelek Karst” was approved by the World Heritage Committee in Berlin on 4th – 9th December 1995. That fact ranked these caves among the world famous natural and cultural speleological locations like the Mamoth Cave National Park (the longest cave system on Earth) and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the USA, underground canyon of the Škocjanske Caves in Slovenia, cultural monuments Altamíra Caves in Spain and caves in the valley of Vézére (Lascaux and others) in France.

The inscription on the list not only accentuates the relevance of the site, but is also binding for the signatory state to secure proper protection and care.

The landscape of the Slovak Karst and its protection

The Slovak and Aggtelek Karst is a continuous karst territory in Slovakia and Hugary, which represents a typical central European plateau karst of the temperate climatic zone with almost all surface and underground karst phenomena (karren fields, dolines, uvalas, blind and semi-blind valleys, canyons, gorges, edge polje, caves, abysses, ponors, karst springs).

The Slovak Karst in the southern part of the geomorphological unit of the Slovak Ore Mountains around Rožňava consists of Silická Plateau, Plešivská Plateau, Koniarska Plateau, Dolný vrch Plateau, Horný vrch Plateau, Zádielska Plateau and Jasovská Plateau, as well as Jelšavský Karst. The majority of karst phenomena is bound to the Mesozoic Middle Triassic pale Wetterstein limestones of the Silica Nappe.

The plateaux at elevation of 400–925 m are dissected by deep canyons of Slaná and Štítnik rivers, as well as by Zádielska and Hájska gorges. The Turnianska Basin divides the Horný and Dolný vrch plateaux. Steep slopes of the plateaux have a character of vertical cliffs in the upper parts. Occurrence of karren, dolines and set of dolines is frequent on the plateaux. The abysses are somewhere concentrated and reach an ucommon density (there are 20 abysses within 0,5 square km in the Dolný vrch Plateau). Various forms of flowstone and ice fills are represented in more than 1,000 caves and abysses.

The characteristic nature of karst landscape is determined by the relief and attributes of bedrock but also the special hydrological settings. Surface water courses are missing, rainfall waters quickly penetrate underground, where they are concentrated in underground streams. Edge surface streams end in ponors. Cave spaces are formed by corrosion and erosion activities of waters. The Slovak Karst have significant resources of underground waters. The territory is drained by allochthonous rivers Slaná, Štítnik and Bodva, into which the karst autochthonous rivers discharge.

The territory of the Slovak Karst is on the border of oceanic and continental type of climate. Prevailing part belongs to temperate warm and moderately wet climatic region with cold winter. The depression forms have climatic and vegetation inversion.

From the floristic point of view it is the richest district of the Pannonian flora. We can find here xerothermous species, calciphyts, mountain dealpine and prealpine species in inversion locations and important endemic, subendemic and relict species.

The important taxons are Onosma tornense, Draba klasterskyi, Ferula sadlerana, Astragalus vesicarius subsp. albidus, Cotinus coggyria, Erythronium dens-canis, Pulsatilla grandis, Dracocephalum austriacum, Lathyrus pannonicus subsp. collinus, Iris graminea and Iris aphylla subsp. hungarica.

The animals have important representation of zoocenoses of the steppe and forest-steppe zone. These xerothermous zoocenoses are in places in high contrast overlapping with mountain elements. Several endemic species are known, many of them in cave spaces. Butterflies, isopteran and beetles have a large proportion of thermophilic elements. Xerothermous character of the karst is accentuated by reptiles. Several vertebrate species reach here borders of their geographical distribution.

The majority of the Slovak Karst territory was designated a national park in 2002 with area of 34,611 ha. The territory is a part of the international network of biospheric reserves MAB since 1977. The national park contains 10 national nature reserves, 6 nature reserves and 16 national nature monuments.

The most important karst underground phenomena

Domica - Čertova diera Cave

Domica Cave is located on the southwestern edge of the Silická plateau, 10 km southwesterly from Plešivec, close to the border with Hungary. The entrance is at 339 m’s elevation. The territory above the cave is the Domické škrapy national nature reserve.

The cave is formed in the Middle Triassic pale Wetterstein limestones by corrosion and erosion of the underground streams of Styxu and Domický Brook in three developmental levels. It reaches the length of 5,080 m. Horizontal oval passages with ceiling channels are dominating. The rich flowstone fills include typical shields and drums, cascade rimstone pools, onion stalactites and pagoda stalagmites. Finding place of cave bear bones (Ursus spelaeus).

The most important cave finding place of the Bukk-Mountain Culture of the Neolithic (4,000 years B.C.) in Slovakia Post holes from dwelling objects and fireplaces were discovered in several places of the cave. Various findings show to production of ceramics and fabrics in the cave. Irons, awls, arrows, the oldest comb in Europe, ring, decorated cylinder bracelet and fishhook represent the peak of Neolithic processing of bones. The rear parts of the cave served probably as cult places and charcoal drawings were preserved here. A unique discovery of face processed stone leafy spike of a spear dates back to the Old Stone Age (Szeletien) 35,000 years ago.

The Old Domica was known from of old. The continuation of cave spaces was discovered by J. Majko in 1926. The cave has been opened to public since 1932, including underground cruise. The open parts are now 1,315 m long, of which the boat tour is 140 m.

Show caves - Domica

Čertova diera Cave is the most western part of the cave system, close to the edge ponor dolines. Its underground spaces descend from the opening at 375 m down to the Styx riverbed. Stick stalagmites are attractive for the visitors. The easy accessible parts near the entrance of the cave are long known. L. Bartolomeides wrote about the cave in 1801. Presumed connection of the Domica Cave with the Čertova diera Cave was realized by J. Majko in 1929. Together with the Baradla Cave in Hungary they form one genetic system with the total length of 25 km. There were 16 bat species recorded by now on the Slovak side. Dominating is the Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale), making here the most abundant colony in Slovakia.

Silica – Gombasek Cave System

Gombasecká jaskyňa. It is situated on the western foothill of the Silická Plateau in the canyon of the Slaná River between Rožňava and Plešívec. Cave entrance is at elevation of 250 m above the sea.

It is formed in the Middle Triassic pale Wetterstein limestones by corrosive and erosive activities of the Black Brook in two developmental levels. The length of the fluviokarst outlet cave is 1,525 m. The cave is unique by thin straw stalactites, which can reach as much as 3 meters’ length. Also other forms of stalactites, stalagmites, sinter curtains, coatings and crusts can be found here. The lower parts of the cave are flown through by the Čierny potok, which rises to the surface through the Čierna spring below the cave entrance. The Čierny potok flows in from the Silická ľadnica Cave. Both caves are divided by unknown section of underground spaces.

Show caves - Gombasecká Cave

Silická ľadnica Cave is located on the Silická Plateau south-westerly from the Silica village. The entrance of this corrosive-collapse abyss is at elevation of 503 m. The lower mostly horizontal passages were formed by the underground stream of Čierny Brook. The cave is 1,100 m long and 110 m deep. The upper abyss part of the cave is permanently filled with ice due to breaking down the connection with lower parts, by which a close depressive space with cumulation of cold air and formation of ice was formed. The consequence is inversion of flora and fauna. It is the lowest lying classical ice cave of the northern latitude temperate climatic zone.

The cave had been several times settled before the glaciation. Archaeological findings are dated from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Laten Age. Possible is also young Paleolithic settlement. The drawing of J. Buchholtz is from 1719. The cave is mentioned in 1744 thanks to M. Bel.

Silická ľadnica Cave

Krásnohorská Cave

It is a spring cave with underground water course on the northern foothill of the Silická Plateau near the Krásnohorská Dlhá Lúka village. The cave was discovered in 1964 by cavers from Rožňava led by Š. Roda, who penetrated underground through the Buzgó spring. The length is 1,355 m. A dominant stalagmite has 32,7 m with base diameter of 12 m. There are also interesting pisolites of varius shapes and cave pearls. Large water siphons are in the rear parts of the cave.

Other show caves

Hrušovská Cave

Situated on the eastern foothill of the Silická Plateau close to the Hrušov village. The cave was discovered through the inactive Eveteš spring by R. Boroš and T. Lazár in 1978. The spring cave is formed in three developmental levels, having the length of 780 m. Unique are eccentric flowstone forms, helictites, monocrystals and druses of calcite crystals, as well as flowstone shield growing from the floor. The underground stream has rapids and waterfalls.

Hrušovská Cave

Skalistý potok Cave - Kunia Abyss

Skalistý potok Cave. It is located on the southern foothill of the Jasovská Plateau near the Háj village. The first underground spaces were unveiled along the flood spring route in 1968. The large spaces along the underground water stream with numerous set of siphons and lakes as well as ascending branch with rapids and waterfalls were gradually discovered and measured by speleodivers led by Z. Hochmuth since 1986. Now the cave reaches the length of 5,855 m and vertical distance of 317 m.

Skalistý potok Cave

Kunia Abyss. It is situated on the southern edge of the Jasovská Plateau. The cave reaches the length of 813 m and depth of 203 m. It was discovered by G. Stibrányi sr. in, cavers from Košice came to the abyss in 1986. The set of cascading abysses ends with horizontal passages. The waters from the Kunia Abyss penetrate through unknown spaces to the Skalistý potok Cave. Flowstone fills include straw stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, cascade rimstones and lacustrine water lilies.

Kunia Abyss

Drienovská Cave

Situated on the southern border of the Jasovská Plateau, northerly from the Drienovec village. It is a spring river cave formed in three developmental levels. The underground stream flows through the lower parts of the cave. Cave length is 1,348 m. Remarkable is the occurrence of crystalline gypsum crusts and druses of calcite with crystals as much as 9 to 12 cm big, sporadically also 15 cm. Among the most interesting forms of flowstone fills belong pisolite, coral and dentritic forms, originally made of transparent aragonite and in places of recrystalized calcite. Important shelter for bats. The cave was allegedly discovered in the second half of the 19th century. Archeological discoveries found in the cave, come from the Neolithic (Bukk-Mountain Culture) and Bronze Age (Piliny Culture).

Drienovská Cave

Jasovská Cave

It is located on the eastern edge of the Jasovská Plateau, in the Medzev Upland and in the Jasov village and in the national nature reserve Jasovské dubiny. The entrance is at elevation of 257 m.

It is formed in Middle Triassic grey Gutenstein dolomites and pale Steinalm limestones and dolomites by the preious ponor flow of Bodva river in five developmental levels. The lowest parts of the cave with flat roofs were formed by solution of limestone under conditions of slowly moving stagnant water. The cave reaches the length of 2,811 m with vertical span of 55 meters. The shapes of river modelling are best represented by ceiling channels. Rich flowstone fill. Pagoda-like stalagmites, columns, flowstone waterfalls, shields, drums, straw stalactites and other forms are eye catching. Palaeontological findings of cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and cave hyena (Crocuta spelaea) skeleton remains. 19 bat species were found in the cave. It belongs among the most important wintering places of the Greater Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) in Slovakia.

The Jasovská Cave was settled in the Neolithic (Bukk-Mountain Culture), Bronze Age, Halstadt Age (Older Iron Age) and Rome Age. Sporadic findings show also to possible short-term Palaeolithic settlement.

It is passed on that the cave was discovered by a monk from the Premonstrate Order located in Jasov. Its existence was known as early as the 13th century. The oldest inscription is from 1452. The cave was opened to public in 1846. It was reopened in 1924. Accessible part has 550 m. Healing speleoclimatic stays are organized in the cave since 1995.

Show caves - Jasovská Cave

Important types of abysses

Diviačia Abyss. Located at the eastern edge of the Plešivská Plateau. It is formed by corrosion of percolating atmospheric waters. It represents a system of changing corrosive shaft and breakdown dome spaces, decorated by rich and varied flowstone forms. Dentritic clusters of calcite grow on flowstone coatings on the walls. Some shallow pools have water lilies and pearls on the bottom. The abyss is 123 m deep. Wild boar (Sus scrofa) skeleton covered with thin flowstone layer was found at the depth of 76 m. Abyss opening was known since long ago, the deeper parts were discovered by M. Erdös in 1964.

Diviačia Abyss

Zvonivá jama Abyss. Corrosive-collapse abyss in the central part of the Plešivská Plateau 101 m deep. It opens to the underground dome with adjacent horizontal passages 220 m long. There are pagoda stalagmites more than 10 m high in the abyss with the highest one of 26 m. Abyss opening is known for a long time. The first descends date back to 1875 and 1882. The first vocational description is from 1925.

Zvonivá jama Abyss

Obrovská Abyss. Located on the Dolný vrch Plateau above Jablonov nad Turnou village. Corrosion-collapse shaft space reaches the depth of 100 m. The first descent to the abyss was done by Hungarian cavers in 1959.

Obrovská Abyss

Snežná diera Abyss. Situated on the Horný vrch Plateau in the national nature reserve Havrania skala, northerly from the upper part of the Zádielska Gorge. Crevasse-corrosion gravitationally widened underground fissure with the length of 100 m and depth of 25 m. There are smaller coatings of permanent ice fill at the end.

Snežná diera Abyss

Ochtinská Aragonite Cave

It is located in the Ochtiná cryptokarst on the north-western slope of the Hrádok Hill in the Revúcka Highland between Jelšava and Štítnik. A unique natural phenomenon with rich and variety of aragonite fills and specific genesis of underground spaces.

It is formed in a lens of Palaeozoic Devonian crystalline limestones situated amidst non-karst rocks – phyllites. A part of the limestones was hydrothermally metamorphosed to ankerites and siderites at the end of the Mesozoic period. Seepage atmospheric waters along the tectonic faults caused their weathering and origin of ochres. Ore mineralization of the surrounding rocks probably influenced the chemism and aggressiveness of waters. The primary spaces were flooded and niches and cupolas were formed by water convection. Planated surfaces correspond with the levels of stagnating watertable. Cave length is 300 m.

Specific hydrochemical and climatic conditions influenced the rich aragonite fills, which occurs in kidney, needle and spiral form. Aragonite is formed also at present.

The cave was discovered by chance by M. Cangár and J. Prošek in 1954 during thirling a geological survey Kapusta adit. It is opened to the public since 1972 with 230 m of accessible path.

Show cave - Ochtinská Aragonite Cave

News

Underground boat trip in Domica Cave not available.

24.07.2018 Due to low yield of underground water the boat trip in Domica Cave is not available. The short tour is available.

Thank you for understanding

Cave visit with small children

Dear visitors, due to increased visitation of parents with very small children (circa up to 3 - 4 years of age), we would like to kindly ask you to have a rucksack baby carrier with you for visiting the more demanding caves in given time. This recommendation concerns all caves but the most concerned are the following ones: Demänovská Cave of Liberty, Belianska Cave, Dobšinská Ice Cave, Demänovská Ice Cave, Harmanecká Cave. We also ask you to consider visiting the cave with your crying child, which could disturb the other visitors. Thank you for understanding and we wish you a nice experience.

Cave tour guides for download

Dear visitors, cave tour guides are available for download

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