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Three Caves

Part of Serbia lands below Danube river is pretty mountainous, with complex geology especially in eastern parts where Carpathian and Balkan mountains collided and over eons formed Serbian Carpathians with total of 14 independent mountain ranges in existence today. These rocks date back to the Proterozoic Eon (2.5 billion - 541 million years ago) with limestones and dolomites mainly formed from late Jurassic to early Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago. There are dozens of large caves within these mountains and many with tourist paths built to visit and admire their beauty and history. Two of them we visited last week and they both gave us extraordinary experience and impressions.

However, the first cave in this blog story belongs to the one formed in the foothill of an ancient volcano of the nowadays mountain of Bukulja in western Serbia, although the recent paper posted a theory that the mountain is much younger (15 million year ago) and instead formed in tectonic processes. Whatever the case, the Risovača cave is definitely unique in the Balkans and probably on several occasions hosted families of Neanderthals during the Late Pleistocene era. Numerous tools from this period similar to those found within other Neanderthal sites across Europe are found here and preserved for display in local museum. Like with other groups and due to small numbers overall, Neanderthals most likely went extinct due to assimilation with modern humans in process called "bred into extinction". More about it I wrote in Neanderthals, Humans and Shared Caves.

During the same time, the cave hosted various dominant animals from the same period like cave lion, hyena and bear. This image is from the local museum of Arandjelovac and it's special space is occupied by the cave bear fully assembled from the bones found in the cave. The bones belonged to more than one animal, formed a skeleton up to three meters high which was approximately the average height for the cave bears. Those behemoths could go up to 1 ton in mass and 3.5 meters in height.

In the Balkans, during the last couple of millenniums of coexisting of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals, our ancestors lived mainly along the rivers, especially Danube to the north while Neanderthals occupied more inland territories, no doubt in vicinity of caves like this one. There are strong evidence that Neanderthals buried their dead and most likely not in the caves themselves which is the main reason for the lack of the human remains excavated to date.

Compared to the Risovača, two other two caves, Ravništarka - named after the nearby village and Lazar's cave, after a rebel man who found shelter there in the time of Ottoman empire, stand out with their natural beauty rich in cave jewelry and mineral formations.   

Ravništarka cave is pretty long and one of those river caves with the small stream flowing it's entire length. The water dug the whole canal of around 500 meters and the mountain minerals did the rest. Numerous stalactites and stalagmites decorated the tourist path, like the one in this image in shape of a flying horse. Dozens of other pareidolia decorating wall formations are made of glittering calcite which under the LED lights give the amazing feeling of surreality. 

Lazar's cave on the other end, with it's large entrance is probably hiding more history than it is currently known. For its wide space within, it was always center of human activity ever since the copper age. During the bronze age, Lazar's Cave played the role of a hunting station, and in the iron age it became a center of metallurgy. Even in the recent history the cave attracted people for multiple reasons. Numerous legends are circulating around with one claiming that lots of Serbian soldiers hid inside after surviving the battle of Kosovo and the defeat by the invading army of the Ottoman Empire on June 15, 1389. 

Even though, the caves could be crowded with tourists, we had luck that all three were free of public at the opening hours and browsing the mysterious caverns alone added extra feeling afterwards. Somehow it felt like we traveled back in time and all the sites inside caves seen in pristine condition looked unearthly beautiful and alien.

Following photos and videos are the best we could do with modest smartphones in dark light conditions, but some of them turned out really phenomenal.

Risovača cave:

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