Devetashka – the Bulgarian Cave with 70,000 Years of Human Habitation
Devetashka cave is an enormous cave in Bulgaria, which has provided shelter for groups of humans since the late Paleolithic era, and continuously for tens of thousands of years since then. Now abandoned by humans, it remains a site of national and international significance and is home to some 30,000 bats.
Devetashka cave, which is known as Devetàshka peshterà in Bulgaria, is located roughly 18 kilometres north of Lovech, near the village of Devetaki. It is a karst cave formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks and characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems.
The cave itself is immense, measuring approximately 2 kilometres in length and with a huge entrance ‘hall’ measuring 60 metres in height. In places the ceiling is 100 metres above the ground and there are seven huge holes through which daylight illuminates the vast interior. It is these holes that earned the cave the name Maarata or Oknata (“the eyes”).
About 200 meters from the entrance, the cave separates into two branches. On the left side, a small river runs along it, forming miniature lakes and waterfalls, passing through the main hall and eventually flowing into the Osam River. The right side is warm and dry and contains several chambers, ending with a round hall, known as the Altar. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, rivulets, majestic natural domes and arches can be found within the enormous cave and one can see why various human populations would have chosen Devetashka as their home.
Devetashka Cave was rediscovered by a Bulgarian scientist in 1921 but was not fully excavated until the 1950s when the intention was to transform the cave into a giant warehouse. Studies revealed that it has been inhabited almost continuously since the late Paleolithic era. The earliest traces of human presence date back to the middle of the Early Stone Age around 70,000 years ago. The Devetashka cave also contained one of the richest sources of cultural artifacts from the Neolithic (6th millennium – 4th millennium BC).
During the 1950s, Devetashka Cave was used as a military site and for the storage of petroleum, leading to the destruction of some of the natural formations in the cave. Today, concrete bases remain inside the cave where large oil tanks had been installed. A railroad was built leading to the entrance of the cave, and some remnants of a bridge can be found across the river.
The cave is probably best known for its part in the action movie ‘The Expendables 2’, filmed in 2011, in which Sylvester Stallone crash lands a plane into Jean Claude Van Damme’s subterranean lair. After the film, local naturalists noted that the bat population had significantly diminished due to stress incurred during filming, and the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria declared that this filming was in breach of Bulgaria’s environmental regulations. In June, 1996, Devetashka Cave was declared a natural landmark.
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