Agentura ochrany přírody a krajiny České republiky www.nature.cz
Česká informační agentura životního prostředí (CENIA) www.cenia.cz
Česká geologická služba www.geology.cz
Česká inspekce životního prostředí www.cizp.cz
Český hydrometeorologický ústav portal.chmi.cz
Správa jeskyní České republiky www.jeskynecr.cz
Správa Krkonošského národního parku www.krnap.cz
Správa Národního parku a chráněné krajinné oblasti Šumava www.npsumava.cz
Správa Národního parku České Švýcarsko www.npcs.cz
Správa Národního parku Podyjí www.nppodyji.cz
Státní fond životního prostředí České republiky www.sfzp.cz
Výzkumný ústav vodohospodářský T. G. Masaryka www.vuv.cz
Výzkumný ústav Silva Taroucy pro krajinu a okrasné zahradnictví, v.v.i. www.vukoz.cz

Catherine (Kateřinská) Cave

Characteristics / History

PALEONTOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGY

The old part of the Kateřina´s Cave is one of important paleontological and archaeological sites. The unique mass discovery of whole bear skeletons in so-called Medvědí komín - Bear Chimney leading up from Hlavní dóm - Main Dome is noteworthy. The skeletons, however, were not of the Ursus spelaeus cave bears known e.g. from the Sloup Caves, but they were from quite a different arctoid form of bear that did not live in caves and were probably just wintering in the cavern above the Kateřina´s Cave. When the bottom of the cavern collapsed, the animals found their grave deep in the soils of Medvědí komín. The discovery was made by Prof. Karel Absolon in 1936.

Prehistoric man dwelt for several time periods in a spacious portal of the cave at the beginning of the entrance corridor. The oldest discoveries of stone tools are from Magdalenian times (the Old Stone Age – Palaeolithic Era) and they are about 12,000 years old. Other settlement is documented by discoveries of bronze artefacts from the later Bronze Age and from the Hallstatt period (9th–7th centuries BC).

From the point of view of archaeology, the Kateřina´s Cave does not belong among world-famous localities such as e.g. the Kůlna Cave, the Pekárna Cave or the Býčí skála Cave. However, it is an important part of the puzzle in our understanding of human cultural evolution in the Moravian Karst.

HISTORY, DISCOVERING AND OPENING UP OF THE KATEŘINA'S CAVE

To the west, at the end of the wandering, the traveller is yet to face a surprise in the Kateřina´s Cave, though it would seem that after so many walks in the underground one's mind has almost ceased to perceive. Having passed through the extremely low entrance, one arrives in a huge hall, one that ranks amongst the largest as well as the highest caves of all those that our empire boasts. In the middle of the space, there is a huge heap of boulders that have fallen from the vault and are piled up higgledy-piggledy in a deadly mixture, the best place to explore the huge dimensions of this awful cave that otherwise boasts some pretty dripstone formations here and there, thanks to being visited very rarely for it is located off the main roads. To explain the name of the cavern, it should be pointed out that long long ago some damsel called Catherine is said to have lost her way through the cave, failing to get back out of it. Then she miserably perished. In fact, running the risk of taking an unguided tour around the cave has been unadvisable until now...

This is how Jan Nepomuk Soukop describes the area of the Kateřina´s Cave in 1858. Perhaps it had attracted curious people and adventurers for a long time. The systematic research, however, started not earlier than in the 2nd half of the 19th century. It was Karel Absolon's grandfather, Dr. Jindřich Wankel – a physician in Blansko, who played the most important role in the archaeological and speleological research at that time. He described the underground areas and excavated a primeval fireplace with animal bones at the entrance. The visit of the archaeologist Kliment Čermák in 1876 is noteworthy. His 20-hour-long stay in the Kateřina´s Cave with a guide called Kučera was written down by Karel Absolon as follows:

"During my excursion to the pit cave of Macocha, I met a native named Kucera, who worked as a guide for visitors to the Kateřina´s Cave, one that was otherwise impossible to access. Before stepping inside, the man lighted a thin tallow candle, and we soon found ourselves in a large dome, which affected my senses with a power that is hard to describe. Full of fissures and wildly scattered hosts of stones, there is a heap of mighty boulders piled up amidst the area. Travelling without concerns, we only started to think about the return when the light began to burn out. "Where are we now?" Kucera calls suddenly, his voice full of fear, "I do not know where to go, we cannot get out of Katerinka now!" Kucera was gripped by madness. With his eyes looking wildly, he ran jumping over the boulders, dashing into a high passageway and turning into another one. Then he turned and ran back and then fell on his face. Running into the passageway, we learned that this was the same place at which we had started to return in such an unfortunate way. Kucera sets his dully bulging eyes on me, his hand holding a scarcely sizzling stub. Back to the dome, first passage to the right, then the second, third, then back to the pile of boulders. Jump to jump, fall to fall, pure darkness has spread all around. Matches were all that was left. I burned a handful of paper drawings, the yield of my journey. Even the last match went out. We crept to each other by voice. Kucera was touching my face and neck, calling all the saints to help: "Jesus and Mary! We're gonna die, Krtiny Mother of God, Svata Hora Mother of God, Holy Virgin Barbara, you advocate of all miners, Holy Virgin Catherine, you've let us have it! We'll have to eat our own flesh; I'd rather not see those 100 golden coins! Perhaps six times we crawled around the walls of the dome in the dark, grabbing in the dark, stumbling and falling among the rocks, with injuries all along our bodies. What had failed in the light, became impossible in the darkness. After hours we had resigned ourselves to our fate, the hope of rescue disappearing ... The lost men were found the next day by the miller from Skalni mlyn, who was apparently missing them by night during some pretty successful drinking bout. I knelt on my knees when I was once again surrounded by the clear daylight. Is it true that I live, or is it just a dream, I asked. Everyone around was looking at me with pity - our tattered clothes are enough to tell them what we have been through. Mother Earth, thou are beautiful and timeless, the one who created us and one who is feeding us."

During completely unresolved disputes with a miller called Rubeš who, at the beginning of the 20th century, was digging and exploring the end of the Kateřina´s Cave, the team of speleologists from the Scientific Club in Brno with professor Absolon discovered a “new Kateřina´s Cave” on 10 October 1909. In less than one year the whole cave was lit by electric light and made available to the public.

During the years 1910–1918 Professor Absolon organized exploration of the lower floor in Kalcitová chodba - Calcite Corridor. In 1940 he began to survey the end parts of Dóm zkázy - Destruction Dome where about 40 metres above the trail he found the upper floors of the cave. Further progress towards Macocha was blocked by a dangerous cave-in – Dantovo peklo (Dante's Inferno). "There is no such ghastly site elsewhere in the Karst known to me," says Prof. Absolon. "One of its corners featured two huge boulders leaning just against each other's edge. At this site, we staged an extraordinary show by setting these giants in motion. Putting several kilograms of dynamite between the stones, we lined a long ignition cord to a place which was absolutely safe to watch the stones very clearly. Then we illuminated them with a reflector and caused the bomb to explode.

The boulders started moving, crushing each other with their edges, which produced a horrible creaking, wheezing and rattling sound that cannot be imitated.

Despite all these attempts, neither Professor Absolon's team nor other explorers managed to pass through the cave-in further towards the hypothetical area between the Kateřina´s Cave and the Macocha Abyss. Karel Absolon put an end to his attempts once and for all after the tragic death of one of his young helpers who was crushed by boulders in one of the cave-ins on 9 January 1941.

As recently as at the beginning of the 1990´s speleologists managed to discover another cave – Ventarola – which is connected with the upper floors of the Kateřina´s Cave.

The tour route of the Kateřina´s Cave has undergone several reconstructions since its origin in 1910 and at the present time there are about 70 to 80 thousand visitors annually.