Postojna Cave: Where Time Stops
The hustle and bustle in front of Postojna Cave never lets up. Whilst it is true that the cave attracts more visitors during the summer, even on an April afternoon there were at least 1,000 people there despite an unrelenting downpour. The number of visitors to this Slovenian tourist pearl is growing.
The timelessness of Postojna Cave can already be felt on the promenade in front of the cave where groups belonging to different generations give way to one another, squeezing themselves under open umbrellas. In addition to Slovenian, I also hear Italian, German, French and many other languages. Between strollers and visitors I noticed tireless workers who carry out their tasks as calmly and unobtrusively as possible, despite the bad weather. The renovation of the Jama (“Cave”) Hotel had begun. The hotel had not undergone many changes in recent years but now its new owner, Postojnska jama, d. d., who had been deciding whether to knock the hotel down and build a new one or renovate it, opted for the latter which amongst other things, should help keep tourists in the area for more than just one day.
Novelty: audio guides
“The renovation is progressing gradually; so far most of the ground floor has been refurbished as a sort of ‘visitor centre’ which will also offer various food facilities: a pizzeria, self-catering restaurant and even bakery,” explains Sabina Paternost, who has literally been living with the Postojna Cave for the last 25 years. She is responsible for public relations at the company Postojnska jama d. d. and during our visit she proved an excellent and knowledgeable guide.
Visitors to Postojna Cave can now use audio guides with presentations in 16 languages including Korean, Japanese and Chinese, in addition of course, to all the European languages. The old printed publications made it difficult to read and view the cave at the same time.
From speleotherapy to a single ticket
The volume of visits to Postojna Cave suffered somewhat in the nineties due to unrest in the region but it is now gradually stabilising and this is still the most visited tourist destination in Slovenia. “People from 160 of the world’s 196 countries visited Postojna Cave in 2009”, explains Sabina Paternost, adding that the number of countries they come from is never less than 130, with most visitors being from Italy, Germany, Japan and of course, Slovenia, although the Far East has gained prominence since last year. “The share of visitors from the Far East is comparable to that of Slovenian visitors, around 10 - 11%”, says Sabina Paternost. “Most of these visits are day trips and casual outings but we are trying different tacks, including alternative tours, to keep tourists here for several days.” As of this year, visitors can view the renovated Modrijan Mill and while viewing the Proteus Cave where they will become acquainted with underground life, they can also view the interesting exhibition called Butterfly World. A special museum collection called Homogea will also soon come to life, displaying the development of life on earth from prehistoric times to today. A business partner of Postojnska jama, d. d., for example, has developed an adventure park in the vicinity while the company is also thinking of speleotherapy. Research has shown that the Otoška Cave, nearby to Postojna Cave, would be suitable for this. One of the ideas is to develop a single ticket for a visit to Postojna Cave, the Plitvice Lakes, the Doge’s Palace in Venice and Schönbrunn in Austria, but this is still a few steps away from becoming reality.
The Golden Book is the history of visits to the cave
Just before visiting the cave, we took a glimpse at the magnificent Golden Book of visitors, a comprehensive history of visits to the cave, held at the company’s headquarters. It was launched in 1856 in honour of the first visit to the cave by Emperor Franz Joseph, at the opening of the Southern Railway, which linked Vienna to Trieste. Following the Emperor, the book was signed by numerous dignitaries, each on their own page, including the Japanese Emperor and his wife, the Queen of Denmark and the Serbian King, Milan. When it comes to the Italians – it looks as if signatures evince character traits given that Italy’s highest officials signed across the entire page, just like the Romanian King and his entourage, in contrast to the more modest, almost shy, signatories. The last one to have signed the book was Josip Broz Tito. “After that we had three more books, while a fourth one is currently in use”, explains Sabina Paternost.
Through timelessness in the cave
Meanwhile, as noon was approaching inexorably it was time to board the train to take us on a circular tour of Postojna Cave, amidst its magnificent stalactites and a silence that, with the exception of the voices of the guides, was only disturbed by dripping water. There was quite a bit of it on this rainy day.
Despite the constant temperature of 10C, I was a bit cold and put on one of the capes that are available to visitors throughout the year. I turned on the audio guide and observed nature’s beauty around us as we passed it by. The time dimension vanishes around beauty... We automatically stooped when we got to the lower ceilings, even though there was no risk of anyone getting hurt at all. Reflexes indeed!
We soon arrived at Mount Calvary where we admired the largest stalactites. Photographic flashes pierced the semi darkness, although their use is not allowed. With a little bit of imagination I found a certain shape in almost all the stalactites: I saw a parrot, a hand with four fingers, a woman’s head with luxuriant hair... Mount Calvary, part of the Old Pit where the cave trail begins, is certainly one of the cave’s most impressive sections.
We walked past the stalactites, stalagmites and cave pillars to the Russian Bridge from where we saw, with a little bit of imagination, of course, a dragon and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which blinked on and off in changing colours.
In the Beautiful Caves, also known as Paradise, we were fascinated by Spaghetti Hall with its spaghetti shaped stalactites and stalactites, made either red or white by iron and manganese oxides.
Halfway along the footpath, we descended to the lowest point in the cave through an artificial tunnel. And what is perfect darkness? When the guide turns off the light for a moment and you find yourself in a space completely disoriented and above all, in complete darkness and with bated breath silence. Fortunately, this only lasted a few seconds!
We went past the “chicken” stalactite and arrived at two of Postojna Cave’s hallmarks: the Brilliant and Gothic pillars, representations of which can be seen on the admission tickets and in all advertising material.
After we saw the olm, or the “human fish”, which people once believed was the cub of the dragon that lives in the cave, we entered the largest hall, known as the Concert Hall, which can accommodate about 10,000 people. Those of us who were the most curious were also able to see the “dragon play” after which the visit ended at the place where a real post office existed back in 1899 but where a souvenir shop stands today, as befits the times. Another 10 minute train ride and we were back in everyday life. A wonderful trip which I experienced differently this time as I was constantly formulating my text in my mind to bring this experience of Postojna Cave closer to others.