These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Man and Nature: The Caves as Haven

In his 1793 Travels in Hungary, the Scottish scientist Robert Townson describes Domica cave as a gorgeous and slightly menacing labyrinth, densely packed with stalactites whose structures he saw as Gothic-looking.

But humans have braved the depths of the Slovak Karst's caves in search of water and shelter since prehistoric times.

The first signs of human activity 'down below' date from the Late Palaeolithic Age (36,000 B.C. to 28,000 B.C.) when hunter-gatherers sought shelter in Domica and other caves in the Karst. The most extensive prehistoric human remnants come from the Neolithic Age (8000 B.C. to 5500 B.C.) when people evidently sought refuge in the caves from the bitter continental winters.

Other Karst caves, such as the Majda-Hraškova cave and the Babia Diera cave, served as burial sites for the Kyjatice culture (1150 - 700 B.C.). Human remains from the period suggest cannibalism - although that activity likely took place above ground, with the remains tossed into the chasm afterwards.

The Celts occupied the area of present-day Slovakia in the 5th century B.C., and they left traces in the cave, as did Roman soldiers who marched through over the several centuries that followed. One major find: a precious coin from the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century A.D.

The caves also saw significant human traffic in medieval times. King Béla IV of Hungary is said to have hidden in the caves after losing a battle to the Tartars in the 13th century. Czech Hussites, who had to flee fiercely Catholic Habsburg authorities in the 15th century, left graffiti that can be viewed today at the Jasov cave. Also, 17th century Turkish weaponry has been found in the caves, as have Lithuanian coins from the same period.

As recently as 1944, deserters from the Hungarian Army eluded the Nazis by hiding in the caves, as did civilians fleeing the war.

But over the last two centuries, the caves have much more often served as areas of adventure, recreation, and scientific exploration than hiding places for beleaguered armies.

- Tom Philpott

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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