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April 28, 2019

Slovenia: Škocjan Caves


The suspended walkway leaves the cave.

Before departing Sovenia we had the opportunity for one last stop. We used this chance to see the Škocjan Caves. In 1986 the caves and area around them were established as an UNESCO World Heritage site, Slovenia’s first. As usual the UNESCO designation provided motivation for our visit.

The Škocjan Caves were cut through a Karst formation by the flow of an underground segment of the Reka River. (Reka River translates as “River River”, as the Slovenian word “Reka” means “river” in English.) “Karst” refers to a topography formed by the dissolution of water-soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. The Classical Karst Region in this region of Europe extends across the border encompassing parts of southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy.

In the middle of October yellow tinges the leaves.

The Reka starts as an above ground creek in Croatia before it flows through western Slovenia and disappears underground into the Škocjan Caves. For years it was not known with certainty where the Reka’s water reappears. That changed when tracer studies proved that most of the river’s waters reemerge as the Timavo River across the border near Trieste Italy. Given the link between the two waterways it seems to me they should be renamed as Timavo Reka, but I may be along on this one….

Tourist access to the Škocjan cave system is relatively straightforward. Sitting above ground near the cave entrances is a small visitor center and ticket office accompanied by the ubiquitous gift shop. Two guided underground tour options are possible multiple times a day. The tours allow visitors to walk deep underground and experience different segments of the cave system. We had time enough for both excursions and spent a couple hours underground in total. There’s also a third above ground tour possible, which we did not join.

Over the years the underground flow of the Reka’s water has carved deep into the Karst producing the impressively voluminous Škocjan caverns. Visitors tour the inside of the cave via pedestrian walkways engineered to cling to the near vertical rock face. The path provides visitors a sense for the shear volume of the cave. It is truly impressive see and a unique experience to visit.

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Past the impact of the immense volume of the chambers, the sight and sound of the Reka flowing at the bottom of the underground chasm contribute to the feel of an otherworldly place. Indeed, the inside of the Škocjan Caves could easily have been used as a backdrop for the Lord of the Rings, though many moviegoers might well leave the theater thinking that the cave is a computer graphics creation rather than a real place. But Škocjan Caves are real; they have to be seen to be believed.

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We visited the Škocjan Caves in October of 2018.

Photography inside the caves is note allowed. Even if it were, it would be difficult in the low light conditions.

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