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The Limestone Caves called the Grotta di Castellana lies near the small town Castellana, re-named Castellana-Grotte several years ago. Castellana is a small town with 15,000 inhabitants. A large and deep pothole near Castellana was known for many years. The people told stories about ghosts and monsters inside the mysterious chasm called La Grave (the Deep).
Today the small town Castellana looks like a holiday park. Huge parking lots around the city, Hotels along the way to the cave, restaurants and shops with souvenirs, and finally a small park with the cave. The ticket office looks like a train station with multipe lanes leading criss cross to the ticket office. The reason is the month of August, as 150,000 of the annual 250,000 visitors visit the cave during August. This is the month were all Italians make their holidays, and so the cave visitors are almost 100% Italian. So if you visit this cave, try to do it in any other month. The rest of the year you will not have lanes to wait in, no crowds, and of course there are numerous foreign visitors and cave tours are provided in at last half a dozen languages.
After paying the ticket, if you have some time to the start of the tour, you should definitely visit the collapse La Grave. This natural entrance allows a view down into the biggest chamber of the cave. The dimension of this cavern is hard to determine, until you see a group of visitors on the floor. The start of the tour resembles the London Tube: there are gates were you insert your tickets with barcode to open the gate for a single person. Then a long stair goes down an artificial tunnel to the floor of the entrance hall. This descend is a little strenuous, but it is almost the last stairs. If you have problems going down long stairs, ask at the ticket office, and you can go down with the lift.
The tour starts at the floor of the main hall. Standing between huge columns of stalagmites you look up to the roof collapse, where you stood just 10 minutes ago. There is a bust of Franco Anelli (1899-1977) the discoverer and developer of the cave. Of course he did not discover the hole in the ground which was known for a very long time, but he was the first speleologist to descend to the floor and explore the cave system behind. This was in 1938, when he was director of the Postojnska Jama, which were called Grotte di Postumia at this time, as this part of Slovenia belonged to Italy since World War I. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Italy lost this region again to the new Yugoslavia of Tito. Anelli was forced to leave Postojna, and as he knew Castellana he moved with his collection and library to this place. Since this time Castellana is also a scientific center.
The main chamber, called Grave, is 70m deep. This is the level of the whole cave system, which elongates about 3km. The Grave seems to be a hall, but it is a huge passage, 50m wide, up to 60m high, and almost 600m long. This passage is separated into chambers and alcoves by huge formations, forming towers and castles, walls and bridges. Castellana cave has a fascinating variety of dripstones. The path makes a circle inside this huge cavern, returns almost to the staircase and then goes down into the north-western branch where the tours enter a lift and return to the surface.
Beneath this regular tour, which is called Percorso classico (classic tour), there is a long tour called Percorso fino alla meravigliosa Grotta Bianca (tour to the end and the White Cave), which leads into the southestern branch. This passage follows the same main direction as the first part, but is much smaller. Still of decent size, it has only room for one path. The first 700m of this passage show a rather common cave, thats why the tour guides speed up, and its rather boring to follow them at a high pace.
But the visitors are rewarded with one of the most beautiful sights of all Italian show caves: a showcase of pure white speleothems, stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, calcite crystals, and helictites. All the minerals were formed during long times in undisturbed, limestone rich water. The common speleothems, stalactites and stalagmites were formed first, but later covered by the various crystals. The results are stalactites overcrusted by calcite crystals at the lower end, up to the former level of the cave lake, looking like toilet brushes or water lilies.
For a few years the cave has been heavily polluted by the sewage from the houses built in the area above it. Some studies to limit these effects have been carried out, but up to now, very few countermeasures have been taken. A seismic recording laboratory is operating in a side passage of the cave.
The limestone caves of Castellana are truly spectacular, they are like all limestone caves beautiful with all the stalactites and stalagmites, but it is truly great because the entrance cave has a big hole in the ”roof” that allows the daylight to enter. The rays of sunlight in this huge cave make it like standing in a church, with the glimmering in the church windows.
The cave was discovered because a man wondered why the hole where all the locals dropped of their garbage never got full. So he went in and discovered a huge cave system, and years layer of their own garbage. The cave system is Italy’s longest natural subterranean network. It is possible to make a short trip: 1 km, 50 minutes or a long one: 3 km, 2 hours.
Unfortunately it is not allowed to take pictures in the caves since the town owns all the right to the photos.