There are almost 2,000 of them in the Polish Jura. You will find the entrances literally everywhere – tucked in the slopes of valleys, rock crevices, in an embankment under a church, in someone’s garden. Some you will visit with a ticket in hand, others completely in the wild, with a headlamp on your head and a thermos of hot tea in your backpack.
At least for half a million years, people have lived in them. From Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis, to the impoverished Jura villagers who turned them into their dwellings, to the hermits who created their retreats in them.
The Jura caves are the work of nature, for centuries leaching water into the region’s soft limestone rocks. Here are some of them!
Smocza Jama – Kraków
Probably the most well-known cave of the Polish Jura region is located in… the center of Kraków. On the banks of the Vistula River, deep inside the hill where the Royal Castle proudly towers over the city, Smocza Jama (Dragon’s Den) can be found.
The site is associated with the legend of a dragon that was said to have terrorized the residents of Kraków in the Middle Ages. Helpless in the face of an attacker, the king was said to have accepted the offer of a poor shoemaker who prepared an artificial sheep stuffed with sulfur in exchange for his daughter’s hand.
The voracious beast threw itself at the substituted dummy and swallowed it whole. The sulfur made the dragon so thirsty that he began to drink the river water greedily. He drank so much of it that he exploded into pieces shortly thereafter!
The real story of this small (about 270 meters) cave is equally interesting. In the 19th century, a brothel [sic!] operated in it, and today it is open to visitors to the castle. In front of the cave is a distinctive dragon statue by Bronisław Chromy. The statue breathes the truest fire every few minutes.
Ciemna Cave – Ojców
It is also a small (209 meters), but extremely interesting archaeologically and beautifully scenic cave in the heart of the Ojców National Park. Suspended 65 meters above the bottom of the picturesque Prądnik River valley, it was inhabited by groups of Neanderthals in prehistory. In those days, no trees grew in the area and the landscape resembled tundra, so the inaccessible cave was a great defensive position.
The cave is entered by a scenic platform. A trail from the center of Ojców leads to it. It takes about 15 minutes to climb the mountain. More than 500 horseshoe bats rest here in winter.
This is the longest cave open to the public in the Polish Jura region – almost 1,000 meters of underground labyrinth leading through halls and corridors fabulous in design and shape. Research here has yielded material evidence of intensive settlement in the Neolithic era – fragments of vessels, tools, traces of campfires.
Among other things, bones of cave bears, hyenas and other animals found in the area during the Ice Age were encountered in the silt.
In close proximity to Wierzchowska Cave is the wild Mamutowa Cave, which is distinguished by a characteristic rock arch and the most difficult climbing route VI.8+ in all of Poland.
Wild caves of Jura
Almost every cave in the area hides amazing stories. Several years ago, it was discovered that the remains of human bones found in Tunel Wielki Cave near Ojców are half a million years old. This means that the ancestors of the Neanderthals lived here – homo heidelbergensis.
In the same cave, the skeleton of a girl was found, with the remains of a finch deposited in her mouth. After a lengthy investigation, it was determined that the girl may have arrived in these lands in the 17th with the Swedish army, which invaded Poland at the time. She most likely came from present-day Finland.
In another nook near Ojców – the wild Maszycka Cave – a cannibalistic feast took place about 15,000 years ago. 16-member family living in the cave was most likely the victim of an attack by a rival group.
Just nearby, near the village of Prądnik Korzkiewski, a quaint hermit’s hut was built in the second half of the 20th century, squeezed into the cave. After his death, the site is being cared for by local residents.
Under a tent
You will find similar innumerable stories in the Polish Jura. However, caves are primarily places ruled by nature. Many of them are ideal for suburban camping. Evenings spent by the entrance to the wild cave, surrounded by the forest and the silence of the Jurassic valleys, have something magical about them!