The underground cathedrals of the natural world
Humans are explorers and try to understand more about their surroundings everytime they get this chance but the Earth is a big home and there are still some parts of it left undiscovered such as the mysterious geological formations known as caverns or caves.
In this article we will refer to some of the most incredible and breath-taking caves from all around the world and even if the modern spelunking expeditions don’t match with the fantastic travels mentioned in Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth”, they do offer some stunning sights.
This cave is located in Mexico and more precisely in the Naica Mine near Chihuahua, where it was discovered in 2000 by miners working 1,000 feet underground. In this cave you can see some of the most impressive and largest selenite crystals ever found and the enormous crystalline blocks and beams come out from all directions. The conditions provided the ideal climate for the giant crystals to grow as the ancient fault had been filled for about 500.000 years with hot, mineral-rich water.
Fingal’s Cave is located on the uninhabitated island of Staffa, Scotland, being a sea cave and consisting in a large series of hexagonally shaped basalt columns and an arched ceiling, responsible for making the eerie echoing sounds. The caved was named after the hero of an 18th century Scottish epic poem by James Macpherson but it is also known under the Gaelic name of Uamh-Binn, translated as “cave of melody”.
The Eisriesenwelt is the largest ice cave in the world and is located in the market town of Werfen, in Austria at about 40 kilometers south of Salzburg; it was explored for the first time in 1879 by scientist Anton Posselt but the locals knew about this place even before his arrival and believed this was the entrance to hell so they intentionally avoided it. Even if the cave extends 42 kilometers only the first kilometer or so is covered in ice, which formed mostly during the winter time when the melted snow from outside the cave had drained inside and freezing again in the cold seasons. This cave is a famous tourist destination and each year it attracts almost 200,000 visitors.
The Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941, being the longest known cave system in the world with almost 367 miles of passageways and some still left undiscovered. The official name of the system is the Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System and is located in central Kentucky, United States. In 1981 it became a World Heritage Site and in 1990, an international Biosphere Reserve.
The cave’s name originates from its vast length, as opposed to the popular (yet false) belief that it has something to do with the now-extinct woolly mammoth.
The Blue Grotto is a popular sea cave located in Italy, off the coast of the island of Capri and is renowned for its brilliantly blue waters; as the sunlight passes through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, it creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern.
In the case of the Blue Grotto, the light comes from two sources: a hole of about 10 meters wide located directly below the entranceway, separated from it by a bar of rock between one and two meters thick and another small hole, of about one meter and a half in diameter in the cave wall, precisely at the waterline.
According to the local folklore tales, during the times of the Romans, the cave was thought to be the home of witches and monsters.
Cave of the Swallows
The Cave of the Swallows is a pit cave situated in Mexico, in San Luis Potosí and was first documented in December 1966. It attracts many tourists, especially BASE jumpers and vertical cavers because the pit plunges more than 1,400 feet down and its name is given after the large number of birds that live within the walls of the cave, especially the white-collared swifts and green parakeets.
Dongzhong is a cave opened in Ziyun County in China’s Guizhou Province, in 1984 and serves as an educational institution for 186 students and their eight teachers. Its name can roughly be translated as “in cave” and is a geological structure carved out for thousands of years from wind, water and other natural forces and today houses small buildings, recreational areas and rooms for sport activities.
Carlsbad Caverns is located near the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico and was discovered in the late 1890’s by cowboy Jim White. This structure has the third largest cave chamber ever discovered in the Americas and features many other rooms and chambers, over 100, such as the King’s Palace, Queen’s Chamber, the Spirit World, the Big Room or the New Mexico Room. In 1930 was established as a national park and each year it attracts over 400,000 tourists.
The Lechuguilla Cave, located in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico is the deepest in the continental United States with 489 m and the fifth longest cave, 203 km, known to exist in the world. The cave is named for Agave lechuguilla, a plant found near its entrance and it famous all around the world for its unusual geology, rare formations and pristine condition. The access to the cave is limited and only the National Park Service management-related trips are approved, as well as the scientific researchers, survey and exploration teams.
Križna Cave or Cave of the Cross is located in Loška dolina, Slovenia and is the fourth largest cave ecosystem in the world by biodiversity with 44 species of organisms discovered. This cave was first documented in 1832 and is particularly famous for its chain of twenty-two subterranean lakes of emerald green water and the Kristalna gora or Crystal Mountain which is the largest room in the cave.
Waitomo Glowworm Cave
The Waitomo Glowworm Cave is located on New Zealand’s North Island, in the Waikato region and is part of the Waitomo Caves system, which includes Aranui Cave and Ruakuri Cave, and is made from limestone composed of fossilized shells, skeletons and coral, after being underwater 30 million years ago. As the names goes, it is the home of the glowworms, scientifically known under the name of Arachnocampa luminosa, which are a type of fungus gnat species that glow in their larval stage.11