As far as ten kilometers from Pale and Sarajevo it is possible to experience an adventure that equals the style of Indiana Jones. It is even more challenging to know that the location in question lies between the excursion zones of the two city cores.
By: Faruk Kovač
The Orlovaca Cave is one of the most beautiful ones in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Walking under the skies of the western slopes of Mt Romanija, at an altitude of 948 meters, one will see, along many crevices in a limestone mass, a playful branched-out system of the Orlovaca cave. It has been known since the dawn of time that the steep limestone sections on the northern, eastern and southeastern sides of Orlovaca hill contain a large number of cave entrances and notches, but there was no indication that those cave canals hid a large labyrinth of tunnels and passages adorned with magical decorations. Today it is impossible to say how and when the cave was discovered. However, archaeological artifacts 3,500 years old support the fact that Orlovaca had been used as a place of residence even back in those days. The first known speleological researches of the site date back as far as the beginning of the last century when Viktor Afelbek, the custodian of the Sarajevo National Museum – Department of Entomology, found, in one of the narrow cave canals, an insect known as Charonites zoppai orlovacensis. It was not until 1975 that there was a breakthrough in uncovering the secrets of the cave with the members of the Zelena brda speleological society from Trebinje, brothers Miroslav and Božidar Kurtović, and the members of the speleological section of the Jahorina mounteneering society from Sarajevo, Momčilo Piljević and Muhamed Hadžiabdić, carrying out preliminary morphometric measurements of the cave’s canals.
All is not gold that glitters
It was only then when the famous saying – the primitive man went into the cave, and a man came out – became popular, and why it happened so that people used to find a shelter from severe weather conditions inside the cave. Today it is well-known that the limestone mass inside the Orlovaca cave mostly contains massive and banked, sturdy and compact, light gray and gray, to some extent reddish limestone, whose massiveness and rockiness is most obvious on the south slopes of Orlovaca hill, just around the entrance to the cave, and on the east sides surrounding the Sinjeva well and farther on up the valley.
Their Anisian attributes are proved by numerous micropaleontological analyses and superposition relations because Anisian formations represent a sedimentary continuity, which is what used to happen during the entire Triassic period. High chemical purity of the Orlovaca limestone may account for the many phenomena encountered within the cave, its origin, size, length of canals or the richness of its decorations. The thickness of the Anisian limestones is estimated to be around 400 to 500 m.
The entire surface of the cave yields 804 mm of precipitations every year. The coldest months in the cave are December, January and February respectively, while the most pleasant temperature (16 degrees Celsius) is experienced during July and August.
The attention of the original explorers of the cave was mostly caught by bats, as it was the first time that they themselves were disturbed in their habitat. When the works in the cave grow silent, these mystical creatures regain their rule over the Orlovaca cave. Their diversity and presence even in the most unpleasant environment, such as caves, is a testimony to that group of creatures being able to adapt themselves to extremely specific life conditions. The Orlovaca cave system branches out through many crevices in the limestone mass. The predominant crevice direction is towards north-northwest and southeast, the only exception to the rule being the Hall of Arches and the Canyon Hall, which were both formed by several diaclases coming together in a cross section. Differences in height in the Orlovaca cave are not so much apparent. From the entrance to the Romanija hall they vary between 2 and 4 m, with only the Galerija Hall rising above 30 m from the entrance.
Bears 16000 years old
During the works on a pedestrian trail going through the cave, bones were found that mostly belong to cave bears. It is considered that a large number of broken bones is a consequence of clumsy bear movements along the hall, as it has also been covered with bones in places. In that way, they pushed larger bones against the walls of the hall, whereas small ones ended up broken. At the starting point of the Hall of Bears, one’s attention is drawn by the researched sounds in which numerous remains of cave bears were detected in the late eighties of the 20th century. Their age was in excess of 16,000 years. In the same hall another sound excavation activity began against the northern wall. A skull of a cave bear was found there, with other two skulls being found nearby, but of much smaller dimensions.
AT THE STARTING POINT OF THE HALL OF BEARS, ONE’S ATTENTION IS DRAWN BY THE RESEARCHED SOUNDS IN WHICH NUMEROUS REMAINS OF CAVE BEARS WERE DETECTED IN THE LATE EIGHTIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY. THEIR AGE WAS IN EXCESS OF 16,000 YEARS.
Ideas for further development
The Orlovaca cave system represents one of the most important speleological facilities in Republika Srpska. An analysis of the tourist potential of Orlovaca indicated that the natural complex of the cave and its immediate surroundings can be turned into a high-level tourist and ecological destination. In addition to the already firmly established olympic centers of Jahorina and Trebevic, as well as the Pale town center, such a functional unit would represent a substantial complimentary addition to a unique tourist offer in the area of East Sarajevo.
During the first phase, the tourist offer will include the part of the cave from the entrance to the Romanija Hall, while the second phase will also comprise the upper horizon which connects the Romanija Hall with the Rendezvous Hall. The total length of the cave canals and halls available for sightseeing will be 566 m, with a surface covering of 5122 m2.
Mr Mladen Samardzic, who serves as an expert assistant for cultural, historical and natural heritage at the Pale Cultural Center, is of the opinion that the number of visitors may be even increased when one considers the size and the beauty of Orlovaca.
The whole of Orlovaca’s environment, with clearly defined borders, has all predispositions to be classified as a natural treasure of national importance. As part of the complex, a special traditional settlement complex may be built – an ethno village of Romanija-like type. Archeological findings, together with the bones of the cave bear, along with the fact that the caves provide best natural environment for bats, increase the possibility of Orlovaca becoming an interdisciplinary scientific and educational base (geography, geology, geomorphology, speleology, history, archeology, ethnology, biology) and a site of expert scientific excursions.
THE TOTAL LENGTH OF THE CAVE CANALS AND HALLS AVAILABLE FOR SIGHTSEEING WILL BE 566 M, WITH A SURFACE COVERING OF 5122 M2.
Samardzic hopes that the funds required for the necessary equipment for the facility will be provided in the future, so that the cave exhibits may be displayed in order to increase the interest of the Orlovaca cave visitors. Most of the visits to the cave take place during school excursions, although guided expert tours are available every day. In order to visit the Orlovaca Cave, one must make an appointment a day earlier. A group tour will cost visiting students no more than 2 BAM, or 3 BAM for adults, while individual fare for visitors is 4 BAM per person. It makes you wonder how such a small fee will enable one to witness such miraculous beauties that the nature has been creating for thousands of years; and will rekindle the spirit of the primitive man, who once called it their home.