The significance of the Škocjan Caves
The preparations for the establishment of the Škocjan Caves Regional Park began in the early 1990s, with the Škocjan Caves Regional Park Act adopted in 1996. A year later, the Public Service Agency, which presently employs 16 people, began its operation as the Park's managing authority. In addition to adopting programmes for protection and development of the Park, constantly monitoring and analysing the status of natural and cultural heritage, the Public Service Agency performs numerous other tasks: it is responsible for the promotion of the caves, research activity, education, infrastructure maintenance, as well as other activities. Co-operation with local residents is also important, especially those who are able to benefit from the Park’s establishment.
Fun fact: The rapid development of the area that used to be a demographically and economically endangered region is reflected in the fact that the Park has obtained membership in various international institutions, which greatly contributes to the quality economic development both within the Divača Municipality and the Karst in Slovenia in general.
At the onset of the new millennium, the Park joined the Alpine Network of Protected Areas, became a member of the Europarc Organization, which organizes international workshops and seminars in which the Škocjan Caves Park regularly participates. Finally, the Park was entered on another list under the auspices of UNESCO: The Ramsar Directory of Wetlands of International Importance, which includes wetlands which are important especially as waterfowl habitats. The Škocjan Caves were included in this list due to their important natural habitat comprising highly specialised and often endemic land and water cave animal species, among them the endemic cave salamander (Proteus anguinus).
Description of the Caves
The Škocjan Caves are a unique natural phenomenon, the creation of the Reka River. The Reka River springs from below the Snežnik plateau and flows some fifty-five kilometres on the surface. After reaching the Karst, that is the limestone surface, the river not only deepens its riverbed through erosion, but also by means of corrosion – it dissolves the limestone. In the first part of its course on the limestone, the Reka still flows on the surface, along an approximately four-kilometre-long gorge that ends with a magnificent wall under which it disappears underground. The Reka River blind valley is the largest in Slovenia. In the distant past, probably in the Early Pleistocene, that is a few hundred thousand years ago, the ceiling of the cave collapsed some 200 metres from the sinks; as a result, the collapse dolines Velika dolina (up to 165 metres deep) and Mala dolina (120 metres) were created, separated by a natural bridge, a remnant of the original cave ceiling. Above the caves, between the wall above the sink and the walls of Mala dolina, lies the village of Škocjan. Close to the houses, there is another entrance to the underground, a ninety-metre-deep abyss called Okroglica, which ends just above the underground Reka River.
At the bottom of Velika dolina, the Reka River finally disappears underground and resurfaces again thirty-four kilometres away at the springs of the Timava River, not far from the Adriatic coast. Part of the Škocjan Caves in which the Reka River flows, namely the Šumeča jama (the Murmuring Cave), is only 3.5 kilometres long, between 10 and 60 metres wide and over 100 metres high underground. The length of all cave passages totals approximately 6 kilometres, while the vertical difference between the highest entrance (Okroglica abyss) and the lowest point in the caves reached by man, that is the siphon, is 205 metres. At some places, the gorge extends into underground chambers. The largest of them, Martel's Chamber, is 308 metres long, 89 metres wide on average (reaching a maximum of 123 metres) and 106 metres high, with the highest point of the ceiling at 146 metres above the Reka River bed (Drole, 1997). The largest cross-section measures 12,000 square metres, thus giving this chamber a volume of 2.2 million cubic metres.
Source: The Skocjan Caves Park Public Service Agency