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World Heritage Sites

COUNTRY Slovenia 

NAME Skocjan Caves


III (Natural Monument)
V (Protected Landscape)
Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iii

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE 2.33.12 (Balkan Highlands)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Lies in the commune of Divaca in the Republic of Slovenia, 13km east of Trieste. The regional park includes the area to the east where the River Reka first appears in a shallow canyon, the lower part of River Susica, and the area above the caves. A new highway to Italy borders the western side of the site. 45° 40'N, 14° 00'E

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT Prior to 1918, the caves were known as Reka Höhlen und Dolinen von St Kanzian, Grotten und Höhlen von Sankt Kanzian, and between 1918 and 1945 as Grotti di San Xanziano. In 1980, an area of 200ha was placed under protection. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986. In 1990, the site was expanded to its current size by Order of Amendment under the Official Gazette of RS (No. 47/90). An additional 60ha extension is also under consideration. Skocjan Caves Regional Park, Regijski park Skocjanske jame was gazetted in October 1996 (Official Gazette of Republic of Slovenia, No. 57/96).

AREA The Regional Park consists of 413ha

LAND TENURE State ownership under management of the Skocjan Caves Regional Park, except for a small number of parcels which remain in private hands. The area is open to public access and the acquisition of the private areas is not envisaged in the management documents.

ALTITUDE Surface elevation ranges from 214m to 475m. The caves extend to 170m below surface level (J. Thorsell, pers. comm., 1995).

PHYSICAL FEATURES The site includes four deep and picturesque chasms: Sokolak in the south; Globocak in the west; and Sapen dol and Lisicina in the north. They are components of the system of grottos and are floristically alike. Apart from the 2.5km of river the Mahorcic grotto is included which has several underground lakes and five cascades. The site is a well preserved feature of classic contact karst character. The grottos are the beginning of a system of underground passages from their source to Timavo on the Gulf of Trieste in Italy. The system of subterranean passages, fashioned by the Reka River, constitute a dramatic example of large-scale karst drainage. In places gallery surfaces have collapsed at several levels and give the appearance of deep chasms. The river enters Skocjan grotto in an underground passage 350m long, reappearing at the bottom of two 150m deep and 300m long chasms, before disappearing into a passage 2km long. This passage, one of the largest underground canyons in the world, reaches heights of up to 148m and in places widths of 100m. The flow rate can reach 300 cu.m per second. There are five side galleries and a canal. A gallery (500m long) with stalactites and stalagmites leads to the surface. The total length of the grottos is over 5km with a depth of 230m in certain places. In total there are 25 cascades along the river including a 163m waterfall. A.C. Waltham in his book The World of Caves noted 'its enormous river galleries make it one of the wonders of the world' (p. 98). The surroundings of the grotto consist of 30 areas of archaeological excavation revealing that the site has been occupied for more than 10,000 years. A further 18 areas exist in the peripheral region.

VEGETATION The caves represent a variety of habitats from Central Europe, the Mediterranean, Submediterranean, Ilyrian and Alpine, all of which occur side by side in the Great Valley. This is due to the microclimatic conditions present in the collapsed galleries and the shallow chasms of the river valley, and allows Mediterranean species (such as Adiantum capillus veneris) to grow next to Alpine species (such as Primula auricula). The endemic Campanula justiniana also occurs. Nine species classified as rare in the Slovenian Red Data Book are also present and include Aconitum anthora, Cercis siliquastrum, Delphinium fissum, Euphrasia italica, Juniperus oxycedrus, Laburnum alschingeri, and Orobanche hederae is found only in the Great Valley.

FAUNA The system of grottos have typical speleofauna including habitat for snow vole Microtus nivalis. The underground galleries hold ten species of wintering bat in reasonable numbers including lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros (VU), long-fingered bat Myotis capaccinii (VU), greater mouse-eared bat M. myotis (LR), Savi's pipistrelle Pipistrellus savii and western barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus (VU)(Hotelo Turiaem Gostinstvo, pers. comm., 1995). The area is a wintering site for wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria.

CULTURAL HERITAGE Archaeological finds point to continuous settlement from the middle Stone Age to the Iron Age, when a fort was constructed where Skocjan stands today. The Romans erected another fortification in the same place, and during the Middle Ages a fortified rural settlement was established (Puc, 1987).

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION The three villages (Skocjan pri Divaci, Matavun and Betanja) within the protected area have a resident population of 90 (J. Thorsell pers. comm., 1995). They are themselves considered to be worthy of classification as national cultural monuments.

VISITOR AND VISITOR FACILITIES Parts of the grottos are accessible to tourists all year and apart from safety walkways, bridges and an outdoor escalator no other constructions exist. Some 50,000 tourists visited the caves in 1985, 60% of whom were foreigners. However, due to war in the former Yugoslavia, visitor numbers decreased to 45,000 in 1995, with only 40% coming from outside Slovenia. Entrance fees are $10 for foreigners and $5 for Slovenians (J. Thorsell pers. comm., 1995).

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The caves continue to be zoologically surveyed. Documentary references exist since the time of Posidinuis (135-50BC), and the caves have frequently been written about with important descriptive works appearing in 1599 and 1689. The site has been fundamental to research on karst phenomena since the 19th century and it is from here that the geomorphological terms 'karst' and 'doline' originate. They were first explored by Svetina in 1839 who descended 100m into the Reka, and in 1894 the famous speleologist Martel published the work 'Les abimes'. The continuing importance of the site was reflected in the proceedings of the International Symposium on Protection of Karst which was held at Skocjan in 1982. The archaeological finds are possibly among the most significant in Europe, and accompanying documentation is lodged in a number of museums at Trieste, Vienna, Padou, Postojna and Ljubljana. A popular account is given by Puc (1987). Despite continuous explorations in the Skocjan caves, discoveries of new caves are still being made (M. Simic, in litt., July 1997).

CONSERVATION VALUE The caves represent a well preserved and unique example of karsitc erosion and underground river galleries. In addition, the ecosystems preserved in the dolinas and cave systems contain a number of internationally threatened species.

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT A major part of the grotto system is located within the protected area which is considered to be a natural and cultural monument. The legislation which applies to the area is the Law of Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage (Official Journal of the Slovenian Republic No. 1/81 Annex 1, 13 January 1981) and Decree (Official Journal of the Slovenian Republic No. 17/80, 17 July 1980 and 11/81, 14 April 1981 annexes 2 and 3) which gives specific protection to the grottos. The grottos have been administered by several groups, including the Italian Alpine Club from 1918 to 1945 and from then on by the Speleological Association of Slovenia, the Karst Research Institute, the Archaeological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Ljubljana and the Office of Tourism, Portoroz. Until 1996, legal management rights of the tourist parts of the caves were in the hands of the Hoteli, Turizem in Gostinstvo Sezana (HTG Sezana). A new law on the Regijski park Skocjanske jame (Skocjan Caves Regional Park) which gives greater State control over the area was passed in October 1996. The law also provided legislative mechanisms for the establishment of a management authority for the site, the Skocjan Caves Park Management Authority. Activities at a state level are under the administration of the Nature Protection Agency of the Republic of Slovenia (Ministry for Environment and Physical Planning). The HGT Sezana will be granted a license to use part of the park for catering and tourist facilities. The 1996 law introduces a special protection regime for the entire region of the Reka river catchment area. In this 40,000ha buffer zone activities are prohibited which would change the existing water regime of the river regarding quality or quantity, and therefore threaten the regional park. The park is zoned, with the most important areas receiving special protection as Natural Monuments. The following are designated as such: the last 150m of the canyon before the entrance to Skocjan Caves, the collapsed dolines Mala Dolina and Velika dolina, all the caves within the Regional Park, and a dripstone formation on the surface near the Lipje cave. The settlements of Skocjan and Betanja and 35 archaeological, ethnological, historical and technical monuments also receive special protected as cultural monuments. In the natural monument areas all forms of direct and indirect pollution and construction are prohibited, and all flora and fauna in these areas is protected. In the peripheral areas to the monuments all forms of pollution are prohibited, and building is not permitted beyond existing village boundaries (M. Simic, in litt., July 1997, UNESCO 1997).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS The main threat to the caves has been from pollution of the Reka River by two factories located 130km away in Ilirska Bistrica making organic acids and salonite plates. At the end of 1982, an agreement to combat the degradation of the river was signed by those responsible for the pollution and the executive committee of the Republic of Slovenia, the Sezana commune and those at Ilirska Bistrica (Official Journal of the Republic of Slovenia No. 31/82 annex 12). Water quality has since improved with the closure of the organic acid factory for economic reasons in December 1986, and the introduction new production procedures at the salonite factory. A further source of pollution, the former Yugoslavian Military Camp upstream from the park has also been relocated. In addition, US$ 22 million have reportedly been spent on upstream pollution control. Aquatic life has returned to some sections of the river. In 1997, reports conclude that water quality is much better, but the river is still polluted by effluents from settlements within the catchment area. The grottos, chambers and entrances are mainly well preserved despite the large numbers of visitors, and it is thought that an increase in visitor numbers will not damage the caves (M. Simic, in litt. 1997).

STAFF In 1995 there were six staff including four guides, one labourer and one superintendent (J. Thorsell, pers. comm., 1995). In 1997 the newly formed Skocjan Caves Management Authority employed two members of staff (M. Simic, in litt., 1997).

BUDGET Receives financial support from HTG Sezana and for the last two years from the State (Hotelo Turizem Gostinstvo, in litt., 1995). The budget for the Skocjan Caves Management Authority was US$ 120,000 in 1996 and US$ 190,000 in 1997 (M. Simic, in litt., 1997).


Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, Nature Protection Administration of Republic of Slovenia, Plecnikov trg 2, SLO-61000 Ljubljana, Slovenia (Tel: ++386 61/1261-321; FAX: ++ 386 61/1259-451).

State Nature Conservation Authority, Vojkova 1b, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenija ( Tel.: ++386 61/1784-539, Fax.: ++386 61/1784-051.

Hoteli, Turizem in Gostinstvo Sezana, Partizanska 1, SI 6210 Sezana, Slovenija.

Skocjan Caves Park Management Authority, Javni zavod Scokjanske jame, Skocjan 2, SI 6215, Slovenija.

Skocjan Caves visitor centre, HTG Sezana, Sprejemni centre Matavun, Skocjanske jame, SI 6215 Matavun, Slovenija. Tel: (+386 67) 60-122, (+386 67) 73-361. Fax (+386 67) 73-384.


Middleton, J. and Waltham, A.C. (1986). The Underground Atlas-gazetteer of world's caves and karst. Robert Hale, London (in press).

World Heritage nomination presented by the Government of Yugoslavia. No. 390.

Puc, M. (1987). Skocjanske Jame. Unesco, Paris/Top Portoroz, Divaca, Slovenia. 20 pp.

UNESCO (1997) New protection of Skocjanske jame World Heritage News 12.4.

Union Internationale de Speleologie. Commission pour la protection l'exploitation et le tourisme (1982). Resumes, Symposium international "Protection du karst a l'occasion du 160-anniversaire de l'amenagement touristique des Skocjanske Jame. Lipica, Le 7-9 October 1982. Sezana.

Waltham, A.C. (1976). The World of Caves. Orbis.

DATE November 1986, updated May 1990, October 1995, July 1997.

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Document URL: /protected_areas/data/wh/skocjan.html
Revision date:
08 January 2001 | Current date: 16 June 2001