Cueva de Nerja

by Tony Oldham

Discovered in 1959 by some cavers from Maro: Francisco Navas Montesinos, Miguel Muñoz Zorrilla, Manuel Muñoz Zorilla, José Luis Barbero de Miguel and José Torres Cárdenas. They squeezed through a narrow hole in a dry sink called La Mina.

The cave has three points of entry, two of them natural and one constructed in 1960 for tourists. The cave is 4,823 meters long with a vertical difference of 70 meters. It can be divided into three sections:

  1. The Show Cave, or Lower Galleries which has been developed for tourists with steps, concrete pathways and lighting.
  2. The Upper Galleries which were discovered in 1960 and
  3. The New Galleries which were discovered in 1969.

Well appointed service buildings include; ticket office, restaurant, cafeteria, souvenir shop, thankfully closed at the time of our visit, large car and coach parks. Admission 750 pts. Duration ½ hour. Self guided tour. We took an hour. Guide book states no photography, but nobody objected. The chambers are so large that your average flash on a camera would not be of any use.

From the entrance a descent of 8 meters down a flight of steps leads into the first chamber, the Entrance Hall [Sala del Vestíbulo], the site of an archaeological excavation. Some of the finds are shown in a display case and on explanatory panels. The cave continues down a narrow passage, about two meters high. The lower one metre has been excavated from beneath a stalagmite floor. As one enters the Hall of the Nativity [Sala del Belén], it is necessary to stop and smile and be photographed. The photos are ready when you leave the cave [500 pts each].

The Hall of the Nativity is about 75 meters wide and 20 meters high with numerous columns going from floor to ceiling. A show case contains a stone age skeleton which was found in the cave. After retracing ones steps, a passage on the right called Hall of the Tusk [Sala del Colmillo] encircles the chamber and a steep flight of steps leads down into theHall of the Cascade or Ballet [Sala de la Cascade or del Ballet]. Here festivals of music and dancing have been staged. One hopes a full orchestra will not be employed as the mighty bass notes could play havoc with the enormous stalactites in the ceiling. The auditorium consists of about 100 metal seats, so if you are going to an underground concert, bring a cushion! The rows of seats are supported on numerous RSJ's 3 meters long 25 cm wide. They must have each weighed a ton and taken much blood, sweat and tears to get them this far into the cave. The stairway gives an excellent panoramic view, on the right are a series of dry rimstone pools or gours forming a dry cascade from whence the chamber gets its name. In the centre is a magnificent column over 15 meters high and on the left are palettes and other impressive pendants. The roof is covered with vast numbers of colossal stalactites, hence my concerns at any musical vibrations.

Beyond the stage is the Hall of Phantoms [Sala de los Fantasmas], named after an unusual speleothem. It ends in a bottleneck resulting from a chaotic pile of fallen rocks. Above this is a spectacular stalagmite formation called the Castle.

Taking the steps over the bottleneck leads into the Hall of the Cataclysm [Sala de Cataclismo]. From the viewing platform you can enjoy a wonderful two fold panorama: Looking back is the Hall of the Phantoms, whilst looking forward is one of the most impressive show cave scenes in the world: The Hall of the Cataclysm which is more than 100 meters long and 50 meters wide and over 30 meters high. The giant centre column is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world, it is 32 meters high and measures 13 x 7 meters at the base. A 800,000 year old earthquake displaced some stalactites which are now on the floor of the cave, which at this point is also the lowest point in the whole cave system.

The path divides and to the right one descends to a new landing known as the Organ [Los Organos], here fluted columns can be struck make different musical sounds, or so I am told. A circular route leads up some steps to a large circular seat which gives an impressive view of the massive central column, which, it is claimed, consists of 3,000 cubic meters of flowstone. It rests on large blocks and fallen fragments of older columns. More steps lead down to The Bridge. In the highest point close to the roof is a passage leading to the Upper and New Galleries. After crossing the Bridge, the path passes over a huge fallen block and rises as it circumnavigates the central column before rejoining the parting of the ways at the entrance to the Hall of Cataclysm.

The return journey presents a new series of views as one retraces ones footsteps. In the Hall of the Tusk, a turning to the right leads to the exit and up a final flight of stairs, on the right is the padlocked steel door which leads to the Hall of the Mine and other sites of archaeological interest.

In conclusion, despite the unusual dryness, the enormous chambers and the wealth of speleothems makes this cave one of the top show caves in the world.

Tony Oldham, 22.12.2000, with kind permission.