AN UNDERGROUND NATURAL MUSEUM IN THE CORE OF THE MOUNTAINOUS BANAT
On the western side of the Mountainous Banat, between Semenic and the Danube, there is the largest and most compact karst area in Romania.
These limestones occupy an area of 807 km², of which 600 km² is in the Anina Mountains and 207 km² in the eastern part of the Locva Mountains.
The Anina Mountains have long been known for the richness of the forests that cover them and for their coal deposits. These mountains, with a maximum height of 1160 m in the Leordis peak, have fully acquired the fame they deserve for the richness and beauty of the karst forms found in the caves: Buhui, Comarnic, Popovăţ and Ţolosu.
The Comarnic Cave is situated in the heart of the Mountainous Banat, approximately halfway between Reşiţa and Anina, near the confluence between the Comarnic brook and the Caras River, being also a cave reservation (since 1947) in Semenic National Park – Caras Gorge.
The easiest way to get to the cave is by leaving from Reşiţa and using the asphalt road Resita-Anina. On the way to Anina, after a long climb on the Mărculeşti Plateau, at the place called “Iabalcea Cross” (km 10), the road leads to the village of Iabalcea and from here, walking on the country road, we continue our hiking (7 km) to the Canton Comarnic.
The cave has two main entrances: one upstream (in the southeast direction) at an altitude of 473 m, where the Ponicova brook penetrates, and a second one downstream (north) situated on the Naveşu Mic Mountain, at an altitude of 443 m, near the Comarnic Canton (200 m); the level difference between the two inputs is 30 m.
The Comarnic Cave is the most beautiful and wild cave in Banat and even in Romania. It is the second longest in Banat (6,201 m), being bordered by the Buhui Cave (6,547 m).
From the 6,200 m structured on 3 levels (fossil, subfossil and active), tourists can only see the upper level, the “dry” one, over a length of 1750 m. The lower level is crossed by the underground course of the Ponicova brook.
You can reach the mouth of the cave from the entrance of Comarnic after climbing the 100 steps arranged by the “The Explorers” Speologic Association from Resita, who are taking care of the cave.
What can be admired in the cave?
At first sight, the underground landscape may seem hostile and monotonous for a tourist. Therefore, in order to understand the “underground architecture” in speoturism, it is necessary to be initiated with a minimal knowledge in caving, to be able to perceive the images in a cave. [Lascu C., 2008].
Nature unleashes its imagination in the caves. Drop by drop, ornaments of calcareous icicles, called stalactites, are formed on the ceiling, and towers and columns called stalagmites rise from the ground.
You can see draped curtains winding on the walls and red rock clay hieroglyphs can be dug in the rock, having the form of leopard or zebra skins, and small lakes surrounded by Chinese stone walls can be seen on the grounds. Speotourism has the advantage of not depending too much on the seasons. It is raining or snowing, it is cold or hot, the caves are waiting for us with the same cool but pleasant temperature, with an average of 7-10 0C.
The opening of the metal door at Comarnic entrance gives us the image of a vault entry with a crack of 1 m and a height of 2.5 m. From the entrance, the slope suddenly drops 7 m, and arriving down, the tourist will be struck by a wave of cold air, betraying the vastness of the underground “hollow” he is visiting.
The touristic route in the Comarnic Cave consists of a series of galleries and halls of large dimensions, concretionated very richly: Small Hall, Zebras Hall, Great Hall, Outlaws’ Hall, Museum, Crystal Hall, Dome Hall and Virgin Hall.
The eye of the tourist enjoys splendid braids of nature and time; the contrivanced nature has made a real waste of concreteness of splendour. The union between stalactites and stalagmites gives birth to graceful columns and impressive domes. The walls also participate in the underground show, dressing in colours that change from red to yellow.
The game of nature and the patience of time have sculpted shapes and chromatic nuances, sparkling enormously on the walls, ceilings or cave floors, delighting the eyes and delighting the visitor’s soul with their cool, brilliant beauty.
Everywhere there are strange shapes of “sculpture” in the rock.
At the beginning of the route, the gallery is stingy in accretions and easily tread. But once they arrive in the Little Hall with Blocks, there is a huge bundle of boulders loose from the ceiling and the walls that approach the cave vault, and among which the road is winding down. The first unusual forms can be seen from the ceiling: “Small coconut” and “Big coconut“, of almost spherical shapes, but of large size.
You can pass only “in squat position” through the dwarf gallery and corridor, and 200 m from the entrance we can see the “Altar” and the “Banana bunch“, the latter being one of the most beautiful formations of the cave.
After further climb on the boulders, we descend into the Zebras Hall, which impresses through the interlining of the sandstone on the ceiling, blackened on the surface, contrasting with the clean whiteness of the walls and giving a wrinkled look similar to a zebra skin. These black girdles give the impression that they are the ribs of a dinosaur from the old geological age, so they are also called the “Ribs of the Dinosaur“.
The real famous beauties of the cave start at this point. The large gallery widens and you quickly arrive at the Big Hall with Blocks where, at about 300 m from the entry, on days when the flow on the active gallery (lower level) is quite high, you can hear the sound of a waterfall – Ponicova Falls. Further, through the Hall of Clay, there are groups of more and more beautiful formations: “Whale Mouth“, “Medusa“, “Hay stack“.
Then there is the path under the “Gate of the Kiss” and soon you can see the “Tongue of the Mother-in-Law,” “The Fossil” and “Little Organ“.
Continuing the walk, you can reach the Museum Hall, where is a real exhibition of karst pearls: “Shark’s mouth”, “The little castle of beetles”, “The counsel of the elders”, “The good fairy”, “The bad fairy” “The Sparkle”, “The Column of the Infinite” and especially “The Virgin Mary with the Infant in her Arms”.
The concretionary formations are of a breathtaking variety, forming a true natural underground museum, where they are generously offered to the eye.
Past the Museum, the cave is continuing in the form of a high gallery and about 200 m away we see the “Camel“ on the left, and the “Big Organ” on the right, made of white, glittering marble – like stalactites, vibrating when you pass your hand over it.
In fact, when hitting the “Small Organ” or the “Big Organ”, the place turns into a cathedral’s dome.
Passing through the “Big Organ”, travertine “stalagmite dams” are beginning to appear on the floor of the gallery, with sinuous trails called “Chinese walls“, small at first, then deeper, sometimes full of water.
The gallery continues beyond these walls too, but not always for tourists.
The gallery becomes larger and taller and, passing past the “Baldachin” and the “Titanic“, it reaches the Crystal Hall, where yellow-red-coloured stalactites are hanging abundantly on the ceiling. Then you reach the Dome Hall, called in this way due to a huge dome guarding the entrance to the hall, being the most beautiful of the whole cave.
From this room, you can descend 10 m down in the middle gallery (subfossils) and from the “bifurcation” you reach the Virgin Hall, which, through its “hidden” karstik treasures surpasses in beauty all that has been seen in the entire cave. Thousands of diaphanous stalactites are hanging from the canopy, covered with fine stone laces, curved curtains with shiny white tassels, crystal clear water drops dripping from the top, real moving diamonds, constantly leaking over the “Persian rugs”. Underneath, a labyrinth of columns stretches out, with towers and domes, all of different shapes and sizes, having a pink colour, in different shades, obtained due to the iron oxides that make part of their component.
At the bottom of the room, strikingly contrasting with the sight of a light-filled beauty of “The Virgin’s Udders” and “Milk Waterfall,” we see “Dracula’s Cave”, or as jokingly called “The Hell’s Anteroom“, constituted of black piles of rocks alternating with blood-red clays, of a strange but oppressive beauty.
Returning to the upper floor, on the main gallery, about 150 m before the exit, we encounter the waters of Ponicova and we realize that the followed road through the cave is opposite to the course of the stream. Eventually, it arrives to the exit of the cave, where the Ponicova breaks into the cave, and fairy ice formations are formed in the winter.
The Ponicova exit is near the forest road Resita – Anina, known as the “Road of the Steg“. From here, there is the possibility of excursions to Văliug and Semenic or Caraş Gorge for sportsmen and not only.
The Comarnic Cave was “discovered” in 1856, but it is not known who had discovered it. It is known, however, that during the last period of glaciation, 300,000 years ago, the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) lived in the cave, from which some preserved fossils were discovered in the “Little Calvary“. If you have seen the “Kiss of the Cross” and the “Infinity Column“, you should also look for the “Mass of Silence” in the Hall of Outlaws, where the members of the “Explorers” Speleological Association of ASR (Resita) use to cross the threshold of the years.
The legend speaks that, in the old days, the locals from the place found shelter in this place. In fact, the name of the cave comes from the “comarnic” toponym, meaning “shade for shepherds or outlaws” (DEX). As is often happens among Romanians, someone betrayed the outlaws, and someone else lit the fire in the mouth of the cave so that the police could catch them. After gathering all the riches, the outlaws fled to the other five secret exists out of the seven escapes that the cave had. It is a strategy known among the haidouks from Banat, like the gang of Adam Neamţu. The greatest of the outlaws returned to take the rest of the money. But he hastily forgot his hat on the gravestone that served the outlaws as a secret table and a “shelf” for drying cheese. The “calcite” hat can now be seen on the “Table of Silence“. In order to identify the secret exits, the tourist has the “burden” of identifying the “Mace of the Outlaws” and “The Spring of Everlasting Youth and Deathless Life“, also known as the “Antichamber of the Paradise“.
1. The first sight of the Comarnic Cave is a special experience that is worth experiencing. Because the developments are missing, the visit to Comarnic Cave involves a certain dose of risk, but at the same time one learns how to rediscover a cave: no concrete steps, no supporting metal pillars inside the cave, no colored lights, just with a carbide lamp and a flashlight … and a local guide (Ifca, Jerry or the other Banat explorers). You can take pictures and ask anything, because the guide is “great” and explains everything in detail. The 1.75 km can be crossed either in “dwarf’s pace” or by in “giant’s step” in 50 minutes back and 25 minutes forth.
2. To avoid any inconvenience, the tourist who wishes to visit the cave must take into account the following rules:
- Never enter the cave alone;
- Each person in the group must have a light source (lanterns, lamps, etc.);
- Wear appropriate footwear and clothing;
- The group should have a map of the cave;
- Because the cave is on a watercourse, the weather conditions must be taken into consideration in crossing the galleries.
3. At the same time, in order to feel that ineffable communication with the earth, the teammates in the group must be willing to silence at times to let you hear the whispers of the earth, the murmur of water, the drop metronome, the fluttering of the bats, or simply the complete silence.
Of the 20 known caves of the Semenic – Caraş Gorge National Park identified and explored by the “Explorers” Speologic Association from Resita, we recommend to the lovers of speoturism to visit 4 other caves that are not far from Comarnic Cave [Lascu C., 2008] [Negrea Ş., 2004]:
• The Popovăţ cave – unique through the splendours of the Final Hall, one of the most adorned rooms of the underground world in Romania;
• The Tolosu Cave – spectacular through the marmites at its entrance, for the siphon lakes where the water circulates from the bottom up and for the shiny white canopy, of 6 m wide and 3 m high;
• The Bats Cave – interesting by the large number of bats in it;
• The Poiana Gropii Valley – the deepest vertical cave in Banat (236 m).
Visiting the caves in Mountainous Banat is an unforgettable experience, in a world quite different from the one we are accustomed to. Besides the fresh and unspoiled landscape, the discoveries of “hidden treasures” on European civilization are also very spectacular and unprecedented. This is the case with the Bones Cave, situated not far from Comarnic Cave, where the bones of the oldest modern-fossil man living in Europe have been discovered. It is the skull of “Vasile” and the jaw of “Ion”, about which the American anthropologists have certified that they date back 40,000 years ago.