Explore Nerja caves
By Chitra Ramaswamy
The 65 km drive from Sunset Beach Resort where we are vacationing is scenic. Our agenda for the day is visiting the famous Nerja (pronounced ‘Nerkha”) Caves in the municipality of Nerja, most picturesquely located on Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast marking the eastern tip of Malaga’s Costa del Sol.
Once called “Detunda” by its Roman settlers, “Nerja” the town’s present name is perhaps derived from “Narixa” meaning abundant spring. The town was so renamed by the Arab settlers who were immensely attracted to its agricultural and silk products. At one time, a fishing town, Nerja located in the Axarquia region of Malaga, is now a much sought after tourist destination. The scenic Sierra de Burno, Sierra de Almijara and Sierra Tejeda descend down dramatically upon the 16 km turquoise aqua stretch and overlook the town. We drink in the vista from the spectacular Balcony of Europe, so named by King Alfonso XII who visited the town in 1884. Once the site of the great Moorish castle, this romantic setting, the venue for various cultural activities has a scenic promenade adorned with palm trees and exotic plants providing an enchanting view of the Mediterranean coastline.
Considered to have the best climate in Europe, Nerja is an year-round visitors’ paradise with cafes, restaurants, bars and water sports aplenty. The town is an aesthetic blend of the old and new with well-preserved, rich Andalucian architecture. We walk along the narrow winding streets of its old quarter with its freshly painted houses roofed with wrought iron terraces from which spill out plants with multicoloured flowers. As several other tourists, we also fancy riding a horse-drawn carriage to explore parts of the city.
We catch a glimpse of the gorgeous Gardens of Capistrano Playa which descends to the Burriana Beach before heading by car, towards the principal object of our visit, the Cave of Wonders.
A few kilometers in the outskirts of the town of Nerja we come upon the famous Caves, located on the lower slopes of the Sierra Almijara at its lowest point. The caves, the formation of which dates back to around five million years ago, were a chance discovery in January 1959 by five young Spanish schoolboys from Maro: José Luis Barbero de Miguel, Miguel Muñoz Zorrilla, Francisco Navas Montesinos, Manuel Muñoz Zorilla, and José Torres Cárdenas. For days together they had watched in fascination, huge numbers of bats flying out during the hours of twilight, through a narrow hole in a dry sink La Mina. When curiosity got the better of they decided to explore the region from where the bats emerged. They squeezed themselves in through a narrow opening, coming upon what is known today as the Cataclysm Chamber. And the rest as they say is history. On 15 June 1961, the Cave at Nerja was declared an Artistic Historical Monument. A monument to the five children who discovered the cave, in the form of a stone sculpture is erected at the cave entrance.
The cave measuring 7,220 metres from North to South is divided into three sections — the Lower or Tourist Galleries, Upper Galleries and the New Galleries discovered in 1969. The cave has two natural entry points and a third one built in 1960.
We walk down the pathway set in the midst of lush greenery, pass the monument to the kids and proceed to the man-made cave entrance. We descend down 8 metres through a flight of steps and have our first view of the miraculous structures in the caves. Beginning with the Entrance Hall, the first of seven chambers in this lower gallery, we walk along well marked pathways to access the Christmas Crib, Elephant’s Tusk, Cascade or Ballet, Cataclysm, Cavern and Mine chambers, each with its strange and mesmerising natural creations.
Awesome, bewildering, bewitching, we gape in utter disbelief at the world’s longest stalactite measuring 63m in length, wondering how mere drops of water could give rise to such a grand formation! We are held spellbound by the poetry in stalagmite-stalactite in the Hall of the Cataclysm, which is more than 100 meters long, 50 meters wide and over 30 meters high. In the centre is the Great Column, a 32-metres-tall structure, supposedly the largest cave structure known to date, formed from 1,000 billion drops of water.
Still under the hypnotic spell cast by the cave’s fascination formations, we leave its precincts late evening as the sun prepares to retire.