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New discoveries in Škocjan Caves

Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

Beneath the village of Škocjan lie its namesake caves, a UNESCO heritage site, into which an entire river is seemingly swallowed whole by the earth. The Reka River (reka means river in Slovenian) plunges abruptly into a siphon in the rock and continues flowing along a winding, underground channel before ultimately re-emerging 39 km later near Monfalcone, Italy. There, it briefly joins the Timavo River and a kilometre later flows into the Adriatic Sea. 

The Škocjan Caves consist of a network of 11 caves, sinkholes, natural bridges and other underground karst formations. The region as a whole has been historically important from the viewpoint of the fundamental research of Karst and karstic phenomena since the 17th century.

Two large shafts discovered in Škocjan Caves this year

Photo: Jošt Gantar

Two large vertical shafts (vertical tunnels) have been discovered in Škocjan Caves. It is an important discovery as it will allow the studying of the Reka River during high waters.

The shafts, which measure between 30 and 50 metres in height and width and represent the former bed of the Reka, were discovered by cavers Luka Biščak, Albert Ličan and Jaka Jakofčič after a year and a half of exploration.

They found the way to the shafts through the roof of the Martel's Chamber, the largest chamber in the cave system with a volume of 2.2 million m3. This actually makes it the largest discovered underground chamber in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

The shafts are located some 70 to 80 metres above the current bed of the underground river, which enters the system near the village of Škocjan, flows underground for 34 km and resurfaces near Monfalcone in Italy.

Although large, the canyon ends with a relatively small siphon, which cannot deal with the enormous volume of water that pours into the cave after heavy rainfall, causing major flooding when water levels rise by up to one hundred metres.

This is why the discovery of the shafts is important, as it will enable experts to study the river during high waters, and to learn about its water mysteriously siphoning off into the depths of the karst world.

The discovery also means that the Martel's Chamber, located at the very end of the system, will be accessible from the above for the entire year, and not only during the dry season, when the water level of the Reka River drops significantly.

It comes in the year when Škocjan Caves are celebrating 200 years since the first organised visits took place in the cave system.

Source: STA, Škocjan Caves Park