Giornale Adriatico-Mediterraneo: Le Grotte d Frasassi

06/16/2015 03:38 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016


In our age of interconnectivity, there's literally nothing new under the sun. The paths to the Great Wall of China, Petra, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and the Pyramids are as well worn as the objects themselves. They seem to disintegrate before our eyes not only because of the elements, but because of the over use of the images in the both the media and our imaginations. It's almost impossible to explore something new--when it comes to our growingly small seeming plant earth. Le Grotte di Frasassi in Le Marche region of Italy are an exception. The were discovered in l971 by a group of boys whose experience of the center room of the caverns was that of plunging into a kind of ultimate darkness. Initially they had tossed a stone down. Noting that it took 5 seconds to hit bottom, they used Newtonian physics to calculate the depth (or height) of 240 meters. When they lowered themselves on a cable ladder they lost all sense of time and space. Maurizio Montalbini, an Italian sociologist and caver would eventually enter Le Grotte on December 14, 1986 and emerge on July 12, l987, but he had little idea of how much time had passed. The experience of those early spelunkers who discovered Le Grotte di Frasassi has continued to be a source of interest, particularly to NASA scientists dealing with the effects of isolation on astronauts. Tolkein talked of a Middle-earth, but the Frasassi caverns which sit in the middle of an awe inspiring gorge on which you can spot the ant like figures of rock climbers, are a literal embodiment of Tolkein's terminology. When you enter you are dazzled by a universe of speleothems, rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites that have taken wondrous shape. The Frasassi caverns date from the Pleistocene era, 1,400,000 years ago. The calcite mineral formations take place at the rate of 2 millimeters per year and time has wrought miraculous formations over the centuries. These are identified by names like the Witch's Castle, Dante Alghieri, the Madonna and the 7 ton Sword of Damocles which hangs threateningly from a ceiling. In our current age of disenchantment, in which everything wants to be explained by science, the Frasassi are a bit of magic that's the result of nature working in seclusion. Because their discovery is relatively recent, they exude a mystery and innocence that brings us a little closer to the increasingly novel experience of the unknown.

watercolor by Hallie Cohen

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}