No trip to Slovenia would be complete without a visit to the remarkable Postojna Cave, or Postojnska Jama, which surely takes joint first place with Lake Bled as the country’s main tourist attraction. Though closed during the coronavirus quarantine, it reopened in May and is enjoying a modest return to business by mask-clad visitors!
History of the cave
The 24km (15 mile) long cave system was carved by the Pivka river’s meandering path through the porous karst limestone of the region. The name ‘karst’ is in fact derived from the region’s Slovenian name, Kras.
Graffiti found inside the cave dated 1213 attests to centuries of visits to the cave, though there could well have been earlier human visitors. Neanderthals also left behind many artefacts attesting to their presence in the region, if not the cave itself.
The cave system began to be more fully explored in the early 19th century, when it was being prepared for a visit by the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand in 1819. So began the history of the cave as a tourist attraction.
Postojna Cave was supplied with electric lighting in 1884, preceding even Ljubljana, and a railway was built in 1872 to make the cave more accessible to tourists. At first, the train was pushed by tour guides before a petrol locomotive was added, which in turn was replaced by an electric locomotive in 1956.
During the First World War, Russian prisoners were made to build the Ruski Most, or Russian Bridge, spanning a chasm in the heart of the cave which you will cross as part of the guided tour.
The cave was also strategically important during the Second World War, when German occupying forces used the cave entrance to store almost 1000 barrels of aircraft fuel which were discovered and destroyed by Partisans leading to a furious fire which burned for days and destroyed sections of the cave. The black marks left by the fire are still visible.
Visiting the Cave
It takes around two hours for a guided tour of the cave, which includes a ten-minute train ride in both directions, and a one-hour walk around the interior of the cave. Do check the Postojna Cave website for details of tour times and ticket prices. The walking is easy on non-slip concrete, so you won’t need special footwear, but do bring warm clothes as the interior of the cave is a constant 10 degrees celsius. The cave is wheelchair and buggy accessible.
The tour will transport you to a magical underground kingdom. I can’t visit the cave without hearing Grieg’s ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ playing in my mind. It is that kind of place which you would expect to exist only in fairytales. The train journey itself is fantastic, leading through manmade tunnels into vast concert halls hung with chandeliers.
Once inside, your guide will tell you more about the history of the cave and its remarkable natural features, including huge stalagmites and stalactites formed over millennia as water seeps through hairline cracks in the rock to the cave floor. Such processes also form delicate rock ‘curtains’ and ‘Spaghetti’ which hangs from the ceiling in some sections.
At the end of the visit, you will get to see the Olm, or Proteus Anguinus which is native to the cave system and the largest cave-dwelling amphibian on earth. You can find out more about the Olm in a special exhibition (for an additional entry fee).
I hope you enjoyed this visit to Postojna Cave, my 100th post on this site! Find me on Instagram @Experimentsinfiction for more photos of the cave. Stay tuned as we will shortly be visiting the nearby Predjama Castle: a remarkable castle built into the mouth of a cave!