Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 3, 2009

Spooky, marvelous Vranjaca Cave, 24km from Split


The Vranjaca cave is another hidden gem that you have to hunt for to find.

It’s located about 23km inland from Split, just outside Dugopolje, the big commercial/industrial town just off the highway where lots of furniture stores, a big Metro, the Hotel Katarina (four stars!) and other businesses are chock a block.  The actual town where the cave is located is  Kotlenica.

There are signs for the cave on the roads in and out of Dugopolje, but you have to keep your eyes peeled.  One actually says the name Vranjaca, the other has a sort of logo looking like a cave and the word “cave” in Croatian.

But you wont get lost if you keep forging ahead and staying on the only road that seems to make sense.  Eventually you see another sign and you’re on your way up, over and around a series of switchback roads that take you higher up into the rocky region of Zamosorja.

It’s beautiful up here, raw and untamed, no houses, rolling hills. Grand views.  Then you hit a crushed rock road and another sign.  Go to the end, park and walk a hundred or so meters until you see a big sign welcoming you to Vranjaca Cave.

Although the site is now officially under government protection and control, it’s still on land owned by the Punda family (some 300,000 sq. meters!) and taken care of by Marko Punda, the grandson of Stipe Punda who discovered the place in 1903.  He and a small cadre of fellow cave admirers will be happy to take you on tour for 20 or 30kn.

The actual cave is 65 meters deep and was created by an underground river millions of years ago . Today, one of the branches that eventually becomes part of the Jadro River still runs just a few meters below the lower parts of the cave.

Near the entrance, the Punda family has built a small stone house and added  some outdoor seating.  Mr. Punda can even arrange for a caterer to bring in some tasty local food and wine for larger groups who want a tour.

As we moved toward the entrance, he explained to Alan Mandic and I that the cave was really a living organism and to keep it healthy, the number of people as well as the amount of lighting inside had to be carefully controlled.

The air in the lower chamber remains at a constant 15C, but the upper chamber, open to entrance, can get as high as 23C.

Descending the first series of steps we entered a large open area that one day Marko hopes may be used for performances and concerts.  You definitely know you are in a cave, but the spooky “Phantom of the Opera” effect doesn’t hit you until you walk to the second big hall, almost 400 meters away and deeper down.

The lighting is purposely dim, and some of the steps are wet from the humidity, but it’s nothing to worry about and the slow pace actually adds to the mystery as we were  led further underground along odd little  paths  and natrual stone bridges.
Marko, the only one with a flashlight, keeps pointing out amazing formations of stalactites and stalagmites–“…look, there’s the Virgin Mary…and over there, do you see the family? …..”
And indeed, you not only do see things…you start to feel them too. “It’s the rock crystals,” Punda chimes in, “a huge source of energy and healing and the air here is very good for you…”
With each new chamber, the dramatic uplighting reveals another surreal canopy of subtle colors and textures.  And I’m starting to get cold.
Why was I wearing a short sleeve shirt going into such a deep cave?
“65,000,000 years it has taken to create this,” Punda continues. And all of a sudden my mind reels and I’m not thinking about cold any more but whether or not that is a woolly mammoth or a 1951 Hudson on the wall.
Then, as we climb up a short few steps on a circular path that will take us back to the entrance staircase, Marko stops and takes out a stick from behind a stone formation and begins to play on the stalagmites!
“These are hollow,” he says, and taps out a melody that sounds like it was being played on something halfway between a vibraphone and a digeradoo
Back out into the sunlight, Marko  tells us more about the Vranjaca cave.
It was actually mentioned the first time in the year 1806.  But it wasn’t until his grandfather got involved and began to make it possible for scientists and  others to visit its wonders that the cave began to attract the interest of the Croatian government.
In the early 1930’s a well-known Italian archeologist made some excavations and found Neolithic artifacts.  A small number of tourists began to find their way along with other scientists and archeologists, but then the Second World War pretty much put the place into hibernation.  Only during the past 10 years has the cave really become more well known–but usually to speleologists,  mountain climbers and adventure tourists.

Undeterred, Marko  has big plans which may even include a funicular from the site up to one of the high peaks nearby.  And some tourist agencies are starting to send some groups–but only a trickle.

With the important historical fortress of Klis just ten or fifteen minutes away, making a day of it to include discovering the Vranjaca Cave is a great way to get off the coast and into a part of Dalmatia that is most definitely, still off the beaten path.  Next time I will bring the missus….and my own flashlight!

Enjoy our new Croatian vacation portal

Read more about Croatia at secret dalmatia’s unique blog

The belly of the beast!

The belly of the beast!

Steps leading from the cave entrance

Steps leading from the cave entrance

Deep inside

Deep inside

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