Boat ride into the Punkva caves (kojin-nikon/Adobe Stock)


Eastern Europe is a region famous for its many fascinating caves and cave systems due to its unique geology . One of the most striking and largest cave systems in the area is Punkva Caves in the Czech Republic and its rock formations have fascinated tourists and cave explorers alike since it opened to the public.

The History and Development of Punkva Caves

The caves are located in the Moravian Karst, one of the most significant Devonian limestone regions in Eastern Europe. Over thousands of years the Sloup Stream and the White-Water Stream merged and formed the underground Punkva River. This river molded and shaped the soft limestone rock and created the remarkable underground network. 

The caves were first explored by a local doctor by the name of Jindřich Wankel. He attempted to follow the Punkva river into the depths of the caves many times and found that there was a whole labyrinth of caves beneath the rocks. His progress, however, was halted by a flooded passageway .

Wankel’s grandson continued to explore the cave and along with his team, finally found a vast labyrinth beyond the underground river. Drilling equipment was used to divert the water allowing the caves to be accessible just before WWI.  Later the river was made navigable by boat.

Boat ride into the Punkva caves ( kojin-nikon/Adobe Stock)

In 1935 the cave was opened to the public by President Masaryk. The development and exploration of Punkva played a crucial role in the development of speleology as Punkva Caves have remarkable geology and provided these cavers with important insights into the development of caves.

The Wonderous Sights of the Punkva Caves

The caves are situated in the Macocha Gorge and are some 400 feet (130 m) deep, one of the deepest in this part of Europe.  At approximately 3600 feet (1200 m) long, the system is divided into two with one part having the underground river running through it, and the other section with tunnels and passageways away from the river.  This is known as the ‘dry’ part of the cave system.

The amazing entrance to the cave has a huge fissure in a towering rock that is about 60 feet (20m) high. Upon entering the cave, the Front Dome, a 12 feet (4m) high stalactite greets visitors. Many refer to this rock formation as the guardian of the caves. This area was once prone to flooding but no longer does so because of engineering work.

Incredible columns and stalactites within the Punkva cave system (murmakova / Adobe Stock)

Incredible columns and stalactites within the Punkva cave system ( murmakova / Adobe Stock)

Beyond the entrance is a beautiful body of water known as the Mirror Lake that reflects the light and the rock formations, but the water temperature is always near freezing.

There are a number of smaller stalactites in the entrance of the cave as well as remarkable formations around the lake known as the ‘weeping widow’ and ‘the umbrella’. A number of domes in the cave system have been likened in size and beauty to those found in cathedrals . The ‘Dome of Destruction’ is named for a rock collapse that happened millions of years ago, which involved several cave galleries and tunnels.

Deeper into the cave there is the ‘ Black Dome ’, which has a number of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, such as one known as the ‘ Lovers’. The last major dome in the underground cave is the Masaryk Dome, which has immense columns formed over millennia when stalactites and stalagmites grew and joined.

Once you leave the Dome, the Punkva Underground River awaits and adventurous boat ride s down the rest of the cave system are possible.

Getting to the Punkva Caves

The caves can be easily reached from Prague heading towards Blansko, the nearest town to the caves, from where it is possible to walk or hire a cab to Punkva.

Dramatic stalactites along the domes of the Punkva Caves (Zsolt, A / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Dramatic stalactites along the domes of the Punkva Caves ( Zsolt, A / CC BY-NC 2.0 )

The entrance fee to the caves includes a boat ride and there are a number of reasonably priced cave tours available. Please note that opening times vary depending on the season.

Top image: The Macocha Gorge – Sinkhole in the Moravian Karst Punkva caves system     Source: Roman/Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Kadlec, J., Hercman, H., Beneš, V, Šroubek, P, Diehl, J. F., & Granger, D. (2001). Cenozoic history of the Moravian Karst (northern segment): cave sediments and karst morphology. Acta Mus. Moraviae, Sci. geol, 86, 111-160.

Pracný, P., Faimon, J., Sracek, O., Kabelka, L., & Hebelka, J. (2016). Anomalous drip in the Punkva caves (Moravian Karst): relevant implications for paleoclimatic proxies . Hydrological Processes, 30(10), 1506-1520

Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hyp.10731

Pracný, P., Faimon, J., Kabelka, L., & Hebelka, J. (2016). Variations of carbon dioxide in the air and drip waters of Punkva Caves (Moravian Karst, Czech Republic). Carbonates and Evaporites, 31(4), 375-386

Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13146-015-0259-0



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