Postojna Cave is the second largest cave Slovenia and one of the biggest tourist attractions of the country. I love caves, so I could not pass up the opportunity to see it, though I must admit that the whole tourist circus in front of the entrance and prices shocked me a bit … Also I have heard it’s simply overrated, but still wanted to check it out myself (to be able to describe it for you, too 😉 ).
Postojnska Jama (in Slovenian) has been drilled by a small river Pivka for two million years, and now has about 21 km (about 13 miles) of corridors and chambers. Amazing how much force such a small river can have, although apparently in the past it was a fairly strong stream. Of course, not all the chambers and corridors are available for tourists, because some can be reached only by cavers ,who have the proper equipment and skills.
Cave circus for tourists
Let me start with the tourism issue, because I have to admit that it was less pleasant for me. Postojna is undoubtedly a great attraction and it does not surprise me that the Slovenes want to show it to the world, but I have a feeling that they went big a little too much.
The largest parts of the cave were discovered in the early 19th century. (Although on its walls at the entrance inscriptions from the 13th century were found.), In 1819. The first official tourist who visited Postojna Cave was Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria, and his visit gave rise to mass tourism. And I mean REAL mass tourism – over 200 years the cave was visited by 35 million tourists. This means that daily it’s visited by approx. 500 people (you know that 200 years ago, the average number was much lower, and today, unfortunately, is much higher).
Tourism does its own thing, because in front of the entrance to the cave it looks like a real circus: there is a hideous hotel from the time of Yugoslavia, expensive souvenir shops, restaurants, and ticket office. And how much is the ticket? Only 23 euros!!! We blenched when we saw the price (even our Slovenian friends were shocked!), but we didn’t let go.
Another thing I didn’t like much is that the guided tour is 5.5 km long. In fact, walking tour is just 1.5 km, and to this point you have to take a ride with the small train, which goes so fast that you don’t have a chance to admire all the halls and corridors you pass. The train is not a new invention, because the tracks were built here already in 1857!
Oh and one more thing! Now that so horrendous entrance fee is charged, I really don’t see a problem to organize transfer from train station to the cave (walking takes about half an hour, a little closer is the bus station), and then to Prejama Castle, which is 10 km away. We had no car to go to the castle at the cliff, but we heard that we can take a taxi. This time, however, we jammed out.
Inside the Postojna Cave
Well, we can now move on to more pleasant things – the cave itself. You remember that I love caves and any other pieces made by Mother Nature, right?
Right. So I’ll give you one advice: to really appreciate the beauty of the Postojna Cave, forget about dozens of tourists who will be with you in a group. Treat them like air and keep close to the guide who will tell you the history and geology of the place. And maybe later you’ll say it was worth it to visit the cave.
Because the cave itself IS beautiful, not only because of its immensity, but also very rich flowstone creations. Stalagmites look like a huge columns topped with icing, from the ceiling hang not only stalactites but also beautiful curtains, and on the walls you can see waterfalls of dripstones.
Sightseeing starts with the great mountain, so called Calvary, which was formed by the collapse of the ceiling. As a result, at the top you can see the tiny stalactites that count ‘only’ a few thousand years, and a walk takes place between huge stalagmites, that count few meters and have been growing for more than five hundred thousand years. (Frankly, their age is so abstract for me that my mind feels overwhelmed.)
While walking through smaller chambers and corridors you can observe drops of water dripping from the top and sprayed on to the tips of the stalagmites. Here and there are elements of rubble and torn off elements from a few (dozens? hundreds?) thousands of years, which new forms have already started to create on.
If we remember that stalactites (hanging forms) are growing at a rate of approx. 1 cm per 100 years and stalagmites even slower, then walk between the stalagmite columns can be really fascinating. These are not small, thin cones but rather huge columns, like trees with powerful trunks, which only one person is not able to embrace. What’s more, the chambers, through which guided tour runs, are really big and spacious.
The most common colours of the cave are orange and red, but also black and white, that looks like ice. Colours always depend on the minerals which are leached out by the water flowing through the rock. Clay and iron give flowstones orange and red colour, and manganese, coal and dark soil – black. The white color is just a pure calcite, in which there is no admixture of other elements.
The symbol of the Postojna Cave, 5-meters-high limestone stalagmite called the Brilliant, has just such a pure white colour. What’s the most surprising is that there is any other so white flowstone next to it, they are all gray-brown.
It’s obvious that tourists visiting the cave and light of the lamps change the microclimate of the cave, however, the pace is very slow, almost imperceptible to the human eye. Besides, during World War II soldiers, who were hiding here, also made many damage.
Nevertheless, the Postojna Cave is beautiful and makes a big impression. At least for me, it did. The enormity of chambers and stalagmite formations is overwhelming and leaves you speechless. Probably no words can describe how small the man seems in this masterpiece of Mother Nature.
As an interesting fact I’ll mention that in the depths of the cave lives the olm, which is an endemic species (found only in the area of the Dinaric Alps, along the Adriatic coast). Someone will say that it’s only a simple lizard, but this animal is really fascinating.
It’s also called the human fish, because the pigments in its skin gives it a colour of a white man (although exposed to the light it darkens), and this animal spents its whole life in the water. What’s more, it is the only type of amphibian in Europe, which lives only in the caves, that’s why it is completely blind (eyes are on the back of the head and covered by a thin layer of skin), because the whole life it spents in total darkness. Although it is very small (typically 20-30cm and weighs 15-20g), it is able to live for 60 years or even more than 100 as it’s suspected by the zoologists.
It is not known exactly how numerous is this species, but among several thousand caves in the Dinaric Mountains, it was found only in a few hundred (information from the guide in the Postojna). Animal requires very pure water and is sensitive to any changes in the environment and pollution, which affects its number. Since 1982 the olm is on the list of rare and endangered species.
I personally recommend the Postojna Cave, although I must admit that the entry fee hurts. But I do not regret euros I’ve spent, because the cave took my breath away! However, if 23 euros for Postojna is too much for you, consider visiting the Skocjan (skots-yan) Caves – I’ve heard that they are no less beautiful than the Postojna, but a lot cheaper, because the tour costs approx. 16 euros.
Did you have the opportunity to visit Postojna? How did you like it? Or maybe you were in an equally beautiful cave in Europe or in the world and want to recommend it to others? Share your opinion in the comments below!
More information about the cave and sightseeing can be found on the cave’s website.