The first adventureous exploration of Grotta Gigante in 1840
ARCHEOLOGICAL TESTIMONIES OF HUMAN PRESENCE
Archeological findings from the top entrance (the present day exit of the tourist route) testify an intermittent human presence from the Neolithic (8th millennia BC) through to the modern period in this part of the cave.
The parts of the cave accessible in that period were limited to the top entrance as the vertical drop off measuring 95 meters that separates the top entrance from the bottom of the cave made further decent without specialized equipment impossible.
It was however from this top entrance that the first adventurous modern-day descent into the Great Cavern began! The protagonist was Anton Frederick Lindner, an early Austro-Hungarian speleologist who had himself lowered down into the Great Cavern in hopes of finding the underground river Timavo, a feat which should solve Trieste’s pressing drinking water problem of the time, caused by a rapid city expansion and lack of surface water. Unfortunately no water was found at the bottom of the cave, but the exploration continued in the next years, first under supervision of the inspector of civil firefighters Giovanni Sigon, an enterprising early Trieste speleologist, and afterwards together with engineers of the Trieste-Vienna railway.
Unfortunately there are no precise documentations of these undertakings.
EXPLORATION UNDERTAKEN BY THE “CLUB TOURISTI TRIESTINI“
In 1890 a narrow second entrance was discovered which even nowadays remains accessible only to speleologists and starting from here a complete exploration of the cave was subsequently undertaken by the Club Touristi Triestini.
A concise survey of the entire cave was carried out in 1897 by Giovanni Andrea Perko, a great speleologist of the epoch, who also published an important register of the numerous archeological findings inside the cave.
Perko would later become the director of the Postojna Caves.
THE VISITOR’S PATH
The growing interest in the cave from people outside the speleological discipline led to the Club’s decision to make the cave publicly accessible, to make a profit and to introduce the Grotta Gigante to a large audience.
After the discovery of the third entrance in 1905 (the current entrance of the visitor path) the works began to create the infrastructure which would allow visitors to reach the bottom of the cave, and in about 3 years the entrance staircase leading down to the great cavern was completed.
With a solemn ceremony the cave was finally opened to the public on July 5th of 1908: Thousands of candles, torches and acetylene lamps lit up the great cavern and a huge chandelier made of 100 flames was lowered from the ceiling, while the municipal band played Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried” to accompany the event!
THE “SOCIETA’ ALPINA DELLE GIULIE“
With the end of the first World War and the passing of the Venezia Giulia territories to the Italian state, also the Grotta Gigante’s ownership transferred to the Società Alpina delle Giulie which had become the Trieste section of the Italian Mountaineering Club (Club Alpino Italiano).
That same year the society also obtained the “Grotte del Timavo a San Canziano (Skocjan caves)”, which were explored and managed in great effort.
“EUGENIO BOEGAN“ CAVE COMMISSION
After the second World War that led to an almost total loss of the Venezia Giulia territories, the Grotta Gigante became the only cave in the area remaining on Italian soil.
The management was now taken over by the “Commissione Grotte Eugenio Boegan” who, starting from 1949 and with massive promotional effort, managed to elevate the cave’s status to being the most import tourist cave in Northeast Italy.
THE FIRST ELECTRICAL LIGHTING SYSTEM
In the year 1957 the cave was equipped with its first electrical lighting system which opened up new angles, views and perspectives to cave visitors.
AUTONOMOUS REGION OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
Already back in 1970 a grand project to create an extension of the visitor´s path on the opposite wall of the great cavern leading up to the current exit was envisioned, and between 1991 and 1996 building works finally took place thanks to funding from the autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
This extension forms the current tourist route and gives cave visitors the possibility to reach the top entrance of the cave, taking them back to precisely the same spot in which Anton Frederick Lindner started his first adventurous descent over 150 years ago!
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