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Matanzas Cave System: Underground Secrets

Gloria Machado León 9 noviembre, 2016
Today we will try to return Matanzas from our seats. We will not walk through downtown neighborhoods, our footsteps will not meet the narrow streets yumurinas, or we will approach to emblematic institutions of the historical center.

Our route will be directed towards natural sites that distinguish the province and are part of the Matancera identity as representative elements of this geographic space within the island. Other lesser known are also part of the history, splendorous nature and gifts of Matanzas. The cave system that surrounds the city of Matanzas is formed by caves that assume different characteristics, ranging from miles to small narrow holes difficult to reach for man.

These geographical accidents at different times served as a refuge, first to the primitive man and then to the mambises and rebels, who sheltered in their interior from the rain, the cold or the enemy harassment. In this sense the matancer spaghetti have played an important role within the local historiography.

Caves of Bellamar: indecipherable mysteries

1, 2, 3, 4 … you descend the masonry stairs, worn by water and time and it seems that they will never end. One hundred fifty-nine steps below, after feeling considerable heat, although the average temperature of the year is 26 degrees Celsius, you receive the Mantle of Columbus, a stalactite with 12 meters of height and more than 30 centuries of life.

In the Gothic Temple, the 80-meter-long, 25-meter wide hall welcomes you to the site, exhibiting some of its most impressive rock formations: The Carrot Garden, The Chapel of the Twelve Apostles and Doña Mamerta.

But the cave extends east and west, with a length that exceeds 780 hectares in extent, with 23 kilometers of tunnels, and still totally flooded chambers. Other of its cavities are the Gallery of the Two Lakes, the one of the Dwarves, the one of the Megalocnus and the Hall of the Sponges, to the east of the Gothic Hall. In the other direction are the Hatuey Passage, the Ladies’ Hall, the Lake of the Dahlias and the Bath of the Americana.

The Caves of Bellamar, located at the top of a hill about five kilometers from the historic center of the city, are famous throughout the world for their special formations, marine remains estimated in more than 25 million years, its characteristic flora and its Legends

Like a covenant of eternal love, the stalactites descend from the roof of the cave and the stalagmites hurry to the meeting from the floor, forming columns. These capricious formations have upholstered the cavern, next to the helictites, all covered with a crystalline surface, of transparent and shiny aspect.

Designed by nature and baptized by man, you will find the Tunnel of Love, the Chapel of the Twelve Apostles, the Devil’s Throat, the Rain Pass, the Snow Show and the Temple at St. Peter’s. Horizontal and narrow galleries make up the 9 levels of the matancera cave studied so far.

The carso, approximately 25 thousand years old, is composed mostly of limestone and marl, with a high content of clay. Bellamar Caves are considered a potential laboratory for the study of underground crystallography, as galleries are widely represented in crystalline forms of singular beauty.

The antiquity of their formations allowed them to serve as a refuge for the quaternary fauna of the region, a fact confirmed by the discovery in the excavations of remains of prehistoric animals. Declared National Monument, they are included in the indicative list of the proposals to choose the category of World Heritage, for the magical fascination that attracts local and foreign tourists.

The Caves of Bellamar is a legendary cave formation that is included among the natural exclusions of the province of Matanzas. A mixture of history, legends and indisputable values, it remains unharmed as a faithful witness of the centuries. An underground paradise that stands out for the authenticity of its crystalline formations that challenge the imagination and the own nature.

ADDITIONAL DATA
  •   It began to form about 300 thousand years ago
  •     It was discovered, by chance, in February of 1861 to the south of the bay of Matanzas.
  •     They say that, foreseeing that it became a refuge for Cuban insurgents, the cave was closed for several years during the War of Independence.
  •     Some researchers claim that the cave was part of the Bay of Matanzas but that, as a result of movements in the terrestrial layers, this area emerged, forming the sea terraces that can be seen on the grounds in the city of Matanzas and its surroundings.
  •     The American Bath encloses a singular legend about an American vacationer who was lost in that place when she decided to refresh her body in the crystalline and cold waters. However, the fact has not been confirmed and since then thousands of people have continued to bathe.
  •     Many cave halls are reserved only for scientific work because their access becomes extremely difficult and requires the use of specialized equipment in the activity.


Difficult Caverns: The gato Jibaro and El Jarrito

What, thousands of years ago, was a single large cavern, due to a major seismic activity within its formations, was divided into three caves: Bellamar, El Gato Jíbaro and El Jarrito.

In the case of El gato jíbaro, considered the largest cave in the province of Matanzas, it is between 11 and 15 kilometers long. Its structure is also one of the most difficult in the province as it comes from innumerable cracks, landslides and small spaces, which make it an exercise of skills for explorers and researchers.

Between the years 20 and 30 of last century, the area of this grotto for 10 years was significantly exploited by North American teams, specifically in the obtaining of fertilizers from the excrements of the bats that they inhabited there. Subsequently the extractions were completed and opened to the public.

The Jarrito constitutes the other section of the old paleocaverna Bellamar. Its impact appears precisely because its areas served for decades to grow mushrooms. It was necessary to open a new gallery to facilitate the entrance of the transport that would move the crops, were placed grates to protect the plantations and the place was electrified.

This is an elongated cave with a strut between 12 and 13 meters in height which, in addition to the area dedicated to the cultivation of these mushrooms, also has galleries very difficult to access due to the narrowness of its formations, with characteristics similar to those of its Neighbor El Gato Jíbaro, with lounges of landslides and others flooded.

These structures give way to a kind of lake, located at the doors of some galleries that resemble colored lamps. In 2008, mathemagician cavaliers discovered a new section of the cave where a thorough exploration took place that resulted in the discovery of impressive beauties.

Centella: its importance in the Matanzas cave system.

Almost unnoticed, La Centella Cave is located in the area of the Canímar Basin, a river with more than 12 kilometers navigable, of its 19 totals, considered the largest and mightiest of those that flow into the Bay of Matanzas.

The cavern, very little studied until the present, opens in a cliff elevated to level, that reaches approximately the 6 meters of height.

One of the most significant aspects of the manifestations of the superstructure of Aboriginal communities is the pictographs that have been located on the walls of the espaguncas, rocky coats and even in loose stones; Both red and black throughout the territory of the province have reported more than 30 caves with pictographs.

The drawings associated with this culture are observed in concentric circles, triangles, squares, zoo and anthropomorphic figures, lines, combined with points, in zigzags and others distributed throughout the area. In La Centella, discoveries have taken place that show that it was inhabited by aborigines for many years. The cave, located only 400 meters from the French coffee La Dionisia, has pictorial rooms organized in two blocks: one of murals and another one of galleries.

The antiquity of the formations of La Centella allowed that they served as refuge to the quaternary fauna of the region, fact confirmed by the finding in the excavations of remains of prehistoric animals. An example of this was the appearance of fossil remains of megalognus, mesognus and some tesudos. Among the rocks have also been discovered fossilized elements, among them megalodon cacharodón, vertebrae of fish, nesofontes and great amount of skulls of bats.

As a curious element of the spelunca La Centella it is possible to emphasize that it develops laberínticamente between about 600 and 800 meters towards the zone of the Canímar river. As you enter inside, the galleries of the cave become narrower, with more landslides, making it difficult to travel researchers.

It was remarkable the appearance of the remains of an aboriginal in 2011, specifically in the end zone of the cave. According to investigations developed with posterity, the native was lost inside the spelunca, where his torch was extinguished and suffered a heavy blow from which he died. The remains found, already carbonated, still allowed to distinguish residues between the bones of his hand the coal residues of its source of light.

La Centella constitutes an amazing cave formation that is included among the natural exclusives of the province of Matanzas.

Santa Catalina: a temple on the rock

A little distant from the grounds of the city we can witness an unsurpassed spectacle. The adjacent landscape is crowned by jagüeyes, yagrumas, guásimas and almost a hundred animal species coexist around the cavern of Santa Catalina, declared Protected Area of Matanzas, in the tourist resort of Varadero.imageshongods

The Great Cueva de Santa Catalina is located 17 kilometers east-northeast of the city of Matanzas and 5 east of the town of Carbonera. The limestone rock associated with the Canímar formation predominates in the area. The development of the underground carso presents 13 kilometers of galleries explored until today.

The spelunca, declared a National Monument, was formed according to the vertical and horizontal displacement of the water table, corresponding to the ascents and descents of the zone of oscillation and saturation of groundwater and is characterized by having a sometimes irregular plant with tendency to development.

The fauna in the cavern is typical of these spaces, being observed chiroptera, rodents, fish, hymenoptera, crustaceans, arachnids and scorpions, among others. In this protected area there is evidence of aboriginal habitation since 1200 and the only human bone fossil found in Cuba was found, thanks to an accelerated process of mineralization.

There are more than 500 cave drawings executed with charcoal, testimonies of a long room in the cave by maroon slaves from the 16th century onwards, objects such as carvings in bones, wood, ceramics and glass.

Unique in the world due to the rarity of its mineral formations and with an outstanding Natural Element category, the Great Cavern of Santa Catalina is an exclusive destination for international visitors, especially from the United States, interested in ecotourism and scientific research. The grotto is unique in that it contains the only known stalagmites of calcite and aragonite sand, similar to mushroom mushrooms.

Curtains, lamps, jellyfish and fungi are among the most suggestive forms of speleothems in the cavern, captured in photographs and three-dimensional videos as part of the audiovisual Cuba: the other dimension.

Hundreds of people flock to this place where the perfection of a drop of water travels thousands of years to build cathedrals never thought, temples in which man surrenders to the miracle of nature.

La Campana: first tourist site of Matanzas: dreams of recovery

«Looking north, about a quarter of a league from the city, there are, in a kind of clear forest and not far from some hills, certain subterranean caves of an admirable and astonishing aspect(…).»

Bishop Espada described the cave of La Campana during a visit he made to the city in 1804. This is the first news of an important ecclesiastical dignity that visits a cave in the country and, as a result, a report was written on The spelunca, which is the first in the history of speleology in Cuba.

The cave of La Campana or Simpson is one of the formations that integrate the extensive cave system that surrounds the yumurine city. It began to be exploited since the 18th century by Mr. Simpson, owner of the land where it is located.

This is the oldest underground tourist center in Cuba, even more so than Bellamar. The Caves of Bellamar began with this function in 1861, whereas the first capitular acts where the Cabildo speaks about permissions for tourist visits to this cave, are coded in 1786.

Another interesting issue is that this is also the first underground enclosure that was lit with oil and metal lanterns to be visited. Thus already in the 19th century the cave was famous.

Declared a Local Monument, the cave is partly due to the beauty of the forms that time and water modeled for millions of years in the rock to create stalactites, large gours of drip and dolines that served as habitat to the original settlers region of.

The attractions of the site, nowadays located in the urban area, with access from the streets of Mujica, Compostela and San Carlos, allowed 1776 to create conditions to receive visitors, many of whom captured the still visible names on the wet walls. , Perhaps in an attempt to transcend beyond its time.

Findings of aboriginal primary burials, pictograms, and various objects dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, evidence the significance of La Campana. During the first half of that century the cave was visited and conditioned frequently, until in 1861 the discovery of the Caves of Bellamar led to the abandonment of La Campana.

Damaged by the urban development of the area for several decades, the Simpson Cave was subjected to sanitation and environment to rescue it as a site of remarkable heritage and historical value, through the community project led by the speleological group Ramon Dacal Moure.

Once the sanitation of the site has been completed, it is expected to open as an alternative tourist destination for those who make the climb to Monserrate, which will allow the public to admire in the halls of the mound, in addition to their original pictograms, others found throughout the country, Which will be reproduced in their exact scale as a sample of the rock art created by the first inhabitants of the Greater Antilles.

From the natural formations that await in its interior by the attentive look of the traveler, to the traces left by preagroalfareras cultures that prospered more than a thousand years ago, the Cave of the Bell recovers its appearance for good of those who inhabit in the city of rivers And bridges, and those who came to her to know her secrets. With this project Matanzas will recover an important space of its geography and of the patrimonial history of the city.

Original text by on Nov 9th, 2016

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