Spilja Šandalja

Sandalja Caves - Saint Daniels Caves

Useful Information

Location: In Pula at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula, 4 Km northeast of Pula center. Follow A9 south, after the end of the 4 lane part at the roundabout turn right, then right again. After 1.8 km follow road to the right, the road is closed for vehicles so you must walk the last 600 m. See also geocache description.
Open: no restrictions. [2019]
Fee: free. [2019]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring flashlight
Dimension: A=70 m asl.
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Andrea L. Balbo (2006): People And Wetlands In The Open Karst Of Istria, Croatia, PAST, University College London, Institute of Archaeology, NUMBER 52 APRIL 2006. online
Ann Forsten (1990): Dental size trends in an equid sample from the Sandalja II cave of northwestern Yugoslavia Paläontologische Zeitschrift, June 1990, Volume 64, Issue 1–2, pp 153–160 DOI pdf
Mirko Malez (1972): Ostaci fosilnog čovjeka iz gornjeg pleistocena Šandalje kod Pule (Istra), Palaeontologia Jugoslavica 12: 5–39, Zagreb. [Croation, English summary]
Mirko Malez (1981): Krško podzemlje Istre kao prostor za nasaljavanje fossilnih ljudi, Liburnijske teme: 119–135, Opatija. [Croatian, German summary]
James Ahern (): Upper Paleolithic remains from Šandalja Cave, Istria, Croatia, poster, pdf online
Address: Spilja Šandalja.
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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1960 cave discovered during quarry works.
1961/62 excavation by Mirko Malez.


Spilja Šandalja (Sandalja Caves) are two small and unimpressive caves. Their importance lies in the archaeological remains which were found here during the 1960s. Archaeologist Mirko Malez discovered remains of Homo erectus including traces of fireplaces, tools, teeth and . They were dated to 900,000 aBP and are the oldest human remains ever found in Croatia, probably the oldest early man in Europe. Two more layers contained Gravettian (30,00 to 21,000 aBP) and Aurignacian remains (dated 23,540±180 aBP) Quite exceptional were the remains of birds found in the cave. In total 9 m of sediments were removed by the archaeologists. The caves are still quite small, so we guess they were originally filled with sediments almost to the ceiling.

There are two small caves named Sandalja I and Sandalja II which explains the plural in the name Sandalja Caves. Sandalja is the Croatian of Saint Daniel, the caves were named after the nearby hill, which has a ruined World War II fort of the same name on its top. The caves were discovered during quarry works of the limestone quarry, which was part of nearby state prison. When they cut into the caves they not only found the caves, but also discovered bones and other remains in the sediments inside the cave, the reason why the archaeologists were informed. The prison still exists, but we think the inmates are not working the quarry any more. Nevertheless the quarry is still working and the caves are threatened by the growing quarry.

While the caves are abandoned, they are nevertheless the location of a geocache and visited by many people. The visitor reported bats living in the cave. Some Epigravettian flint artifacts from this site are on display at the Archeological Museum in Pula.