Hidden Mallorca, grottos and cavesThe open land and seascapes of Mallorca are undoubtedly majestic, but what many visitors are unaware of are the hidden treasures of its opulent, unequalled geological subsoil. A dreamy universe which has been formed drop by drop throughout thousands of years, where stalactites and stalagmites have acquired capricious and surprising forms.
A far cry from the caves and grottoes described in literary classics: the descent of Aeneas or Ulysses into hell, as told by Virgil and Homer respectively; Polyphemus’ cave also the Odyssey; Don Quixote’s venture into the Montesinos cave; or even Plato’s mythical grottoes, among others; all of the above are linked to the idea of cavernous, gloomy spaces enclosed by huge rocky formations.
With more than 200 catalogued natural caves, Mallorca is a true paradise for the professional and amateur speleologist. What’s more, for the less adventurous traveller, five of these are open to the public and are some of the island’s most visited attractions.
Without doubt, the most famous of these are the Coves del Drach in Porto Cristo, which house one of the largest subterranean lakes in the world. The spectacular illumination of these caves was designed by the Catalan engineer Carles Buigas, also known as the “Lighting Wizard”. A highlight of the visit is the Martel Lake, which at 117m long, 30m wide and up to 14m deep is one of the largest underground lakes in the world. The visitor is treated to a sound and light show: the musicians appear aboard three illuminated rowing boats, and after a brief concert and “Dawn on the Lake”, the audience is invited to cross the lake by boat. In all honesty, we should point out that although the caves are incredibly beautiful, the entrance price is rather hefty and the whole experience is touristy in a rather archaic way.
Also in Porto Cristo are the Coves dels Hams, named after some curious rock formations which resemble fishing hooks (“hams” in mallorquin) and which I personally find more attractive. On this visit, which is guided, you really DO see the caves, and are able to pause and admire the natural beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites which are every bit as spectacular as those in the Coves del Drach.
Other caves which are open to the public are the Coves de Campanet, famous for their pale and slender ornamentation. These caves in particular are of scientific interest as they are home to an endemic, tiny pre-historic crustacean, which is completely blind, and inhabits the waters of these grottoes, as well as remains of the Myotragus Balearicus, an animal which became extinct more than 5000 years ago. The most remarkable rock formation is that of two lovers embracing.
The Coves de Gènova, near Palma, contain a feature which sets them apart from the rest: magnesium-based rock formations called “coraloires” which are thought to be around 4 million years old.
Lastly we come to the Coves d’Artà, some of the highest caves in Europe, which boast some spectacularly huge stalactites such as the 22-metre high “Queen of Columns”. Other features include the path to “Hell”, where a sound and light show takes place, “Purgatory” and the “Flag Room” where the guide beats three columns which all give off different sounds. You will also see carbon-based stones which resemble real diamonds.
Although speleology is a science whose purpose is the exploration and study of underground cavities, these days there are plenty of organisations which offer access to caves for sportsmen, adventurers and amateurs; many can be explored on foot or by water, but other, well-hidden cavities can only be reached by climbing down rocks using professional equipment or by diving with the help of oxygen tanks: Cova del Cal Peso, Cova de les Rodes, Cova de Cornavaques, Cova de la Campana, Cova Morella, Cova de Cala Falcó, Coves del Drac de Santanyí, or Cova des Genet de Manacor among others.
However, a word of caution: no one should venture into Mallorca’s hidden caverns without expert help and guidance. I myself, many years ago, was involved in a frightening incident together with a group of friends. Luckily for us, it all ended with a couple of panic attacks, and we managed to get though despite our lack of adequate knowledge and equipment.
by Miguel Angel Llompart
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