The Škocjan caves, the entrance door to Hades, a dip into the oblivion of centuries
The Škocjan caves or caves of Saint Canzian (inscribed on the UNESCO natural heritage list) are not only a unique natural monument but also an extremely important ancient pilgrimage site and a natural sanctuary active for several centuries (in Copper, Bronze and Iron Age). This is the spot where the river Reka hits the Karstic plateau and sinks underground with mighty roaring water fools, flowing through an underground gorge (up to 146m high) and some of the biggest subterranean chambers in the world, like the awesome Martel’s chamber (which could easily contain the entire basilica of St. Peter in Rome).
The dramatic natural setting of the cave provokes in the spectator the sensation of sublime beauty and “creatureness” – the feeling of fragility of human existence and has excited the imagination for centuries.
Archeological excavations, conducted from the 19th century on, have brought to light the rests of a pre-roman hill fort civilization to which the Škocjan caves were the most sacred of places (as Stonehenge for the Bronze Age inhabitants of Britain, to make a comparison).
In a nearby shaft-cave (Mušja jama) a treasury of metallic object (some of them ritually bent) was found (helmets, swords, spears etc.) that were presumably offered to the mighty gods for propitiatory reasons. Due to the strategic geographical position on the amber route, through which the amber from the Baltic see was delivered to the Mediterranean, amber jewelry pieces have been found too. The provenience of the found objects testifies to the trading contacts with distant south Adriatic as well as Pannonia region.
Were the caves attracting devotes from distant areas as well? We know that the Greek philosopher and geographer Posidonius of Apamea (2nd ct. B.C.) knew about the site. Inscriptions in runic writing on the found objects were deciphered by linguist specialists revealing devotional phrases and personal names.
Get inebriated by the mystical atmosphere that unchanged surrounds the Škocjan caves. Visit the small museum with the replicas of the bronze weapons (the originals are kept in Vienna and Triest).
Excursus: Some Slovene amateur historians have developed an autochtonistic theory about the origin of the Slovenes from the ancient Veneti tribe (the north Italian neighbors of the Etruscans), based on highly arguable historic, archeological and linguistic suppositions. The 2500 years old inscription “osti jarej” on a drinking bowl now in Triest was allegedly interpreted as a paleo-Slovene toast exclamation “remain youthful”. More probably it reports the name “Ostiana” found in other Venetic inscriptions as well.
4 hours (or more)
- Walking through the park and caves of Škocjan
- Museum with replicas of archeological findings