St. Michael’s Cave, Upper Rock, Gibraltar

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Date: Dec, 2014
Location: Upper Rock, Gibraltar, UK

 

St Michael’s Cave is a network of limestone caves in the Upper Rock Reserve. It has interested visitors to Gibraltar since ancient times when Pomponius Melia, a Roman traveler, wrote about it in 45CE. The Cave was long believed to be bottomless. This gave birth to the story that the Rock of Gibraltar was linked to Africa by a subterranean passage over 15 miles long. The famous Rock Apes are said to have come to Gibraltar through this under-sea passage.

At some period during the history of the cave, part of a stalagmite became too heavy and fell, possibly thousands of years ago. It now lies on its side at the far end of the main chamber, cemented through the years by nature to the floor of the cave. In 1792 a slice 18” thick was cut off from the top end. What remained was a cross-section which revealed the interior structure of the stalagmite. Within a diameter of approximately 4’6” can be seen the history of its growth.

The first official archaeological excavation of the cave was carried out in 1867 by the Governor of the military prison, Captain Brome. He discovered numerous prehistoric artifacts such as stone axes and arrow heads, shell jewelry, bone needles as well as a large collection of pottery.

Officers looking for adventure during quiet times of service, would pass their time exploring the many passages within the cave system. Sometime before 1840, Colonel Mitchell accompanied by a second officer got lost in the caves and were never seen again. Their disappearance led to extensive explorations of the cave system in 1840, 1857 and 1865, but no evidence of the officers’ whereabouts was found. Further exploration was carried out between 1936 and 1938, when a scientific expedition was mounted and every known part of the cave system was explored but no human remains were found.

The cave consists of an Upper Hall, connected with five passages, with drops of between 40 feet and 150 feet to a smaller hall. Beyond this point a series of narrow holes leads to a further succession of chambers, reaching a depth of some 250 feet below the entrance. During WWII the cave was prepared as an emergency hospital, but never used. In blasting an alternative entrance to the cave (now used as the exit) a further series of deeply descending chambers, was discovered called the Lower St. Michael’s Cave and are available for viewing with a trained guide.

 

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