Kulthöhle Zillis

Höhle bei Zillis - Höhle unter Hasenstein

Useful Information

Location: Near Zillis. 400 m south of the church, below the ruin of castle Hasenstein.
Open: no restrictions
Fee: free
Classification: Speleologyerosional cave, cave ruin
Light: none, bring torch
Dimension: L=15m
Guided tours: n/a
Bibliography: Alfred Liver (1994): Zillis, Höhle unter Hasenstein, Bericht über die Grabungskampagne 1994, in: Jahrburch 1994 der Historischen Gesellschaft von Graubünden (Deutsch - German)
Huldrych Blanke (1994): Wie es zur Entdeckung der spätantiken Kulthöhle in Zillis kam, Bündner Kalender, Jg. 153, 1994, S. 95-99. Abb. N1545 (Deutsch - German)
Jürg Rageth (1994): Ein spätrömischer Kultplatz in einer Höhle bei Zillis GR, ZAK, Band 51, 1994, Heft 3 (Deutsch - German)
Jürg Rageth (1996): Heidnische Riten in der frühchristlichen Schweiz, ein spätrömischer Kultplatz in einer Höhle bei Zillis, Kanton Graubünden. Antike Welt, Zeitschrift für Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte, 27. Jg 1996, Heft 5, S. 381-386, 13 Abb (Deutsch - German)
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1990 playing kids discover a small cave with old bones.
05-JUN-1990 first examination by the Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden (Archaeological Survey Graubünden).


The village of Zillis, located only a few kilometers from the world famous gorge Via Mala, is famous for its church. A place of worship for people who had to cross this dangerous place, or for those who just survived it. The impressive painted ceiling of the church still attracts hundreds of visitors daily.

Much less famous is the nearby cave. A small cavern, used as a shelter since early times, may have been a resting place for travellers using this pathway through the Alps since the Stone Age. However, it was excavated and the discovered remains of cultic fires were dated to be of late Roman origin. Several meters of debris contained numerous fireplaces, up to 40 cm thick layers of coal tell about a long lasting use. 550 Roman coins from the 3rd and 4th century, silver rings, silver earrings, silver plates and rock crystals were found. Other findings included human and animal bones, and sherds of pottery, glas, and the soft rock called Lavez. The cave was closed by a wall, the remains of which are still easy to see.

The archaeologists could not find out, which god was worshipped in the cave. Possible are Jupiter Sabazios, Jupiter Dolichenus, or Mithras (Sol Invictus). However, the reason for its popularity was most likely the location, at the Roman road Via Mala - Splügen - San Bernardino pass, which was frequented by many Roman travellers, soldiers and merchants.

Later in the 5th to 7th century the place was used for several burial. Probably this people were worshipers of the cult. One of this bodies was staked, so probably this is a sign for the early Christianization of this area, which included some violence.

This small cave is located on a step in the southern slope of the Hinterrhein valley. Such steps are formed when the river meanders for some time without cutting deeper into the rock. The Hinterrhein river used the whole valley, turning around at the slopes crisscrossing through the valley floor. Where it met the sides it eroded undercut slopes like this, sometimes even produced small erosional caves like this one. The cave is rather small, 15 m wide and deep, but rather low.