Some show caves of the Ogliastra region of Sardinia



Having arranged a family holiday to Sardina, booked the villa and flights I realised that the area we were going to was near one of the caving areas. So after more research and borrowing some resources form Beardy’s caving library I established that quite a lot of limestone was only a few miles from our base in Arbatax. As it was a family holiday and we had no caving gear we were limited to visiting show caves. I was surprised to find that there were quite a few within easy driving distance of our villa. They are a useful way of getting out of the summer heat for an hour or so and they all have their own local impressive settings up in the high Gennar Gentu mountains or on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Below is an account of the ones we chose to visit as they seemed the most interesting. There are a few others which we did not have time to see.

La Grotta di Su Marmuri, Ulassai

The drive up to the cave from the village of Uiassai is quite impressive and well sign posted from the village, with a great view down to the coast below. On arrival we found an expensive restaurant but we gave that a miss. The temperature in the cave is 10 degrees Centigrade so you need a jumper even in summer time. We had our own English speaking guide for just the four of us, separate from the Italians. The trip lasts about 1 hour along some 800 metres of large passage and costs 8 Euros. It was stylishly lit and you are able to take your own photos using the lights but not your own flash guns. A short steep walk up from the bar and restaurant left the fat Italians behind and lead to the large

entrance. Here is an equally steep descent down some 200 steps into the cave. The passage is mostly 20 metres wide by about 15 -30 metres high. There are several larger chambers one of which was at least as large as GG Main Chamber. The walkways are well lit but slippery in places. We were glad we had walking boots on. The Italian tourists seemed to think us a bit odd in our walking gear but we had the last laugh when some of them started slipping over in their high street designer label shoes!

I was quite impressed as this was my first Sardinian cave. The show cave ends at a blank wall with a sump in the corner, which has been dived for some distance. A large aven in the previous chamber seems to bring in the draft. Sardinian cavers have explored the system for several kilometres beyond the show cave.



Grotta Is Janas, Sadali

A shorter smaller cave is found over the mountains at Sadali. We got here by a narrow gauge railway journey from the coast – most impressive. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and costs 5 Euros. You also need a sweater for this one as the temperature is 9 degrees Celsius. Only about 250 metres is open to the public. The Is Janas cave is of scientific interest due to its archaeological finds, fauna and fossils. They also let you take photos without flash in this cave. We were lucky enough to see a pipistrel bat on the way out and blind salamanders live in the cave.

To reach the cave, which is about 3.5 km from Sadali you must drive in the direction of Sadali Gadoni on SS 198; close to the km stone 32 turn left, go another 1.5 km and turn left again. Continue for about 1 km. and finally arrive at the cave. There is a pleasant picnic site nearby under the shade of some trees. The cave is a little over 350 m. Long and can be visited almost all, with the help of an English speaking guide of the Society of Sadali Philia..  It consists of several chambers starting with the Vestibule, a large chamber with a slight downward slope adorned with huge stalagmites. After the Vestibule is the most well decorated chamber, called the House of Janas, oval-shaped, 25 m long. Wide and about 8 m high is full of concretions, dominated by three large stalagmites, which according to legend would be petrified Janas. The walls are decorated with flowstone, columns and draperies, while the ceiling are a myriad of white stalactites.

Continuing we found another smaller chamber, known as Mulinu due to the presence of a large yellow stal, that is supposed to resemble a mill. In this room there are two stalagmites that look like sculptures, one recalls a Madonna and Child and the other seems like a veil with the centre a face similar to that of the Turin Shroud. (We are in a Catholic county, by the way!)

 In this cave were found traces of humans dating back to the Neolithic, also living in the cave are very rare animal species such as pseudoscorpions, spiders, eutroglofila  salamander, but particularly important was the recent discovery of two specimens of Coleoptera Catòpidi: completely blind and colourless, due to adapting to life in the cave, these insects emerged about 26 million years ago, and they were believed to be extinct.

Grotta del Fico, (Fig Tree Cave) on the coast

The cave called  “Grotta del Fico” is located in the limestone cliffs of Orosei between the Cala Mariolu and Cala Bigiada beaches . This is a fantastic cave to visit, one of the best show caves I have been in for its size and richness of formations. Plus its situation on the coast and only accessible by boat makes it almost unique in Europe. We accessed this and the Bue Marino cave below as part of a day long boat trip up the coast from the port of Arbatax. The boat takes you to a jetty at the base of a large limestone sea cliff on the Gulf of Orosei, and then you climb up steps to the cave. entrance10 meters above sea level. Again the cost is 8 Euros and there is no problem taking photos as long as you do not use flash. Set camera to manual and ISO of 800 and use a tripod or one of the stals as a support! You do not even need a jumper as the cave temperature is 18 degrees C. The name comes from the fig tree that used to grow out of the cliff at the entrance but was lost to the sea during a storm a few years ago.

The show cave climbs up through 900 metres of passage to end 45 metres above the entrance level through a series of impressive chambers and galleries which are beautifully decorated with all sorts of formations including many stalactites, some fine gour pools and curtains. From the final chamber a rope hangs down from a 60 metre pitch which leads to the rest of the cave only accessible to Sardinian speleos. Carbide writing on the wall here from 1962 and 1963 records the early explorations in the cave. The first attempt to explore the cave goes back to the sixties thanks to the work of a group of Sardinian speleologists whose head was the priest Antonio Furreddu.

Up the pitch cavers have found several more kilometres of passage. It is still being explored by the local Sardinian cavers from Societa Speleologica Baunese during the winter and autumn when there are no tourists.

The cave was opened in August 2003 and it is easily reachable through a system of boardwalks that allow easy access for tourists. One of the chambers at just over half way through contains a 40 metre deep pit which leads down to a sump at sea level that has been dived up and down stream. The section of show cave beyond here has only been open since 2006. At the bottom of the pitch you can admire the sea that flows outside through a submerged  tunnel called “Sifone della foca monaca” .The downstream route connects back to the sea and a local diving company provides diving excursions into the submerged sections. Protec Sardinia is the local diving company  and they are based at Hotel La Playa just north of the cave in Cala Gonone, near Dorgali

They teach all courses from cavern diving to full cave diving, then specialities like DPV cave diving, Sidemount cave diving, Multi-stage cave diver and more. See their website.

The sumped section of this river cave was also the secure refugee for the last colonies of the monk seal in this area of the Mediterranean. (See below)

Grotta del Fico can be reached by boat, from ports of Santa Maria Navarrese or Arbatax. For the link services you can ask directly in the ports, bearing in mind that the services won’t be regular during winter time and daily during the summer period (June to September). Usually, the boats leave at 9.00 am to get back around 6.00 pm. Grotta del Fico can also be reached by trekking, on the hiking trail for Golgo Baunei, leading to the Golgo Su Sterru.

Grotte del bue Marino

Among the biggest caves in Sardinia are the Bue Marino Grottos. Placed on the eastern coast, 4 km south of Cala Gonone, This resurgence river cave is the most well known in the area and again the charge is 8 Euros but the boat trip is extra but is worth it as it called at several remote beaches on the way where you can go snorkelling, diving etc. It is possible to get to the cave by a walk from the north but this is not to be recommended in the summer heat. It is part of a 50 km system running back under the mountains and river Cadula de Luna.

At the entrance of the grottos, a wood bridge leads to the 5 km-wide hole that is divided into two branches: the north one, dry and fossilized, and the south one, active thanks to a subterranean river still flowing. As soon as you enter the grottos, you can meet the first elements of great historic value, such as some graffiti dating back to the Neolithic period that show a series of human figures dancing around sun discs. The show cave explores the southern arm of the system for over a kilometre to the point where the sea water mixes with the freshwater coming down the river cave. The cave has been open since the 1950’s. The northern passages are not open to the public.

The large passage is mainly on metal walkways and follows the river passage through a series of larger chambers filled with remarkable stals resembling organ pipes, wedding cakes and even human heads. One of them is known as “Dante” for its fondly imagined likeness of the poet.  The cave is also famous for the last refuge in Italian waters of the Mediterranean monk seal, or “sea ox” (bue marino) the last of these creatures disappeared some years ago. The place where they used to give birth to their pups on a beach at the end of the saltwater part of the cave can still be seen some 900 metres underground – a long swim in the dark.

Along the walls of the river passage can be seen a long brown tide mark of the previous Inter-glacial sea level about 100,000 years ago there are also some exposures of oysters stuck in sediments from this ancient sea level. The cave is reckoned to be around 2 million years old. A number of other creatures still live in the cave including blind salamanders beyond the show cave in the freshwater section of the river passage.

In the entrance are some Neolithic engravings of stick like human figures and the sun and the entrance is also quite impressive as it has its own double arch with a jetty and landing stage actually in the cave. No photographs here beyond the cave gate due to copyright but if you are subtle about it and get in front of the guide on the way out you can take a few snaps!

The guided tour lasts about half an hour and it is well lit with plays of light on the clear salty lake being quite impressive one of the longest subterranean lakes in the world with its 1 km surface; The cave is very popular due to its location, size and importance. When we were there it was extremely busy with several large groups going in and out of the cave. This rather spoilt the wilderness experience!

The north branch of the Bue Marino Grottos is very interesting but it's not open to tours and can be visited only with permission. The main attractions here are the little Smeraldo (Emerald) Lake, characterized by very limpid waters, and the candelabra hall, with its very characteristic calcareous concretions.

Andy Hall

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