04 December 2008

What I did at the 2nd BSRC - VII - Friday

Friday 20 June - Alistrati day

On Friday we were to be guided through the Alistrati cave and other sights of the area.

When we arrived at Alistrati, the management informed us that we would not be allowed to take photographs inside the cave. It seems they did not want anyone to be able to see how beautiful the cave really is. That would result in a totally counterproductive influx of visitors, doh!

Then when I think about it, perhaps the ban on photographs was to avoid us showing the world the many instances of poor workmanship which resulted from the attempt to open the cave to tourists. Bad workmanship like the many meters of electric cables visibly running through the cave, or like the complete lack of effort to hide from the eyes of the visitors the large and ugly electric panels which seem to sprout up like monstrous electro-mushrooms every ten yards, or like the use of warm lighting which cave algae just love, or like the tons of soil brought into the cave from outside to make level walkways (and that's not even taking into account the cement used), or like the uprooting of the large colony of bats from the largest chamber in the cave where the guano they had produced still forms a stop on the tour. We did not see the world famous elevator, so whether I had my camera with me or not, I would not have been able to photograph it. I should say a word about our guide: I was very dissatisfied by her lack of general speleo-knowledge. Parrot-fashion learning and repetition of your tour speech is not sufficient to be a proper guide. What benefit is it to repeat dumbly what information we have learned about beetles discovered by Prof. Beron when we don't know the basics about speleobiology or to talk with a confident voice about the eccentrites when we don’t have a clue about the basics of speleogenesis. I left some comments in the visitors book. And signed my name to them.

No photos, no videos

After this disappointment in the show-cave (which was only marginally mitigated by having seen the eccentrites), we set off on our walk down the canoyon of Alistrati, heading for the cave of Megalo Hani and then the Cave of Orpheus, with the very polite and knowledgeable Kostas as our guide.

The whole of the Aggitis river was once underground. When the roof fell in, the canyon was formed and the river was exposed to the elements, but in many places along the banks you can still see hollows and small caves in the rock and occasionally stalagmites sticking up. The Megalo Hani cave is a refuge cave of about 100 sqm area and some small chambers leading off the main area. In the past, from time to time, the locals presumably used it as a refuge - the cave offers protection from the elements and from the eyes of enemies.

From the Neolithic onwards, either as a thank-you to the spirits of the cave which had allowed the visitors to rest in safety, or as messages to other users of the cave, various designs were carved into the rocks in the cave. The designs can be categorized into three groups: zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and geometric. Many different types of animals can be distinguished, in the most part animals of the hunt.

The designs are scratched in quite a shallow way into the rock - only one or two mm deep. To more easily see the designs, it helps if one spills some water onto the rocks.

The Megalo Hani carvings during our visit

A tetrapod scratched into the rock

After Megalo Hani, we went on to the Cave of Orpheus, where we met Nikos from Maara. Nikos had been involved in the archaeological study of the cave and guided us round the cave ad the trenches. The cave has a large area with archaeological finds, mainly from the Neolithic period and other parts with very beautiful speleothems. As the site is still being excavated, there is a locked gate on the entrance which the ephorate had opened for us specially for the camp.

General view of one of the chambers in the Cave of Orpheus

Brief video of our excursion.

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