Photo: Postojna Cave/Iztok Medja

The First Cave-Guiding Service in the World Is Still Taking People Underground 200 Years Later

Slovenia Outdoor
by Katie Scott Aiton Apr 23, 2024

The world’s first organized cave-guiding service began at Postojna Cave in Slovenia way back in 1824. Two hundred years later, the cave guides have led more than 42 million visitors through this natural wonder.

Described by Postojna Cave general manager Marjan Batagelj as “guardians of the cave,” the current team of 50 includes a range of expertise from electrical engineers, cavers, historians, biologists, geographers, a maths teacher, and linguists.

Employee of Postojna Cave

Photo: Postojna Cave/Iztok Medja

The beauty of Postojna Cave had been known for centuries by locals, but official exploration and tourist access came about in the early 1800s. Interest grew rapidly, and with the influx of visitors came the need for a more formal structure to manage cave tours.

Person on platform in Postojna Cave

Photo: Postojna Cave/Iztok Medja

The very first sworn cave guides were Franz Šibenik and Josip Vesel. Šibenik was chosen because he was literate, and Vesel due to his ability to speak German, which was important for the growing number of foreign visitors.

Over the years, the role of a cave guide has changed substantially. The guides speak at least two languages, and many have a comprehension of up to five. Although taking guided tours is a substantial part of their job, it’s also the crew’s responsibility to care for the underground environment and its animals, and many guides operate the train.

Person by pool in Postojna Cave

Photo: Postojna Cave/Iztok Medja

The Postojna Cave is part of a visitor’s park, with the main attraction being the cave system, which is the second-longest in Slovenia, measuring just over 15 miles. While the entire cave system is vast, only a three-mile section is open to the public. You can explore part of the route aboard the underground train — the only double-track cave railway in the world.

Cave team on train in Postojna Cave

Photo: Postojna Cave/Iztok Medja

The tour lasts an hour and a half. It takes visitors through a complex system of tunnels past natural formations, including stalagmites, stalactites, and pillars, all sculpted by the Pivka River over millions of years. One of the most impressive formations is the Brilliant, a magnificent five-meter-tall white stalagmite.

Predjama; castle at the cave mouth in Postojna Cave, Slovenia in springtime

Photo: Littleaom/Shutterstock

While there, you can also visit Predjama Castle, a Renaissance castle built right into the mouth of the cave. The dramatic castle, perched halfway up a 100-meter cliff, offers tours year-round, with highlights including the Knight’s Hall, the Dining Room featuring late Gothic décor, and the Renaissance Hall adorned with hunting trophies. It dates back over 800 years and is the largest cave castle in the world.

Postojna Cave Park is open daily, including public holidays. Tours are available in multiple languages, including English, Slovenian, Italian, and German, with audio guides available in 17 languages. If you’re a spelunker enthusiast, plan a day exploring the cave and castle. There are educational exhibitions, a cafe, and a restaurant, and you can even stay overnight at Hotel Jama — the park’s hotel, which has its own fascinating history with secret rooms you can investigate on a separate tour.

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