Jeita and Soreq
Two masterpieces of Nature
Once considered as a finalist for the “7 Natural Wonders of the World”, Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto is a sprawling cave complex located 11 miles (17.7 kms) north of the capital city of Beirut. The caves are divided into two separate grottos the upper and the lower grottos. The White Chamber in the upper grotto famously boasts the world’s largest stalactite, which hangs down 27 ft. from the cavern ceiling above. Accessible via a specially built walkway, the upper grotto reaches a dramatic terminus when the third chamber rises to an astounding height of 390 ft. A hollow chamber which gazes into the innards of the Earth, Jeita Grotto easily ranks as one of the top cave complexes on the planet.
Though evidence suggests that Jeita Grotto was once inhabited during ancient times, the gaping caverns were only rediscovered in 1863 after an American missionary stumbled upon the lower grotto. The lower grotto can be closed in the winter months due to high water levels, but is accessible during most parts of the year via a boat which traverses the subterranean Nahr el-Kalb river, the source of drinking water for much of the city of Beirut.
International and local cavers have delved over 5 miles inside of the cavern making this the longest explored cave in Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War the grottos were closed to the public and used as munitions storage, and it wasn’t until 1995 that Jeita Grotto was reopened to the public and made into one of Lebanon’s most popular tourist destinations.
Located in the Soreq Valley in Palestine, the Soreq Cave contains a wondrous variety of stalactites and stalagmites. Some formations are at least three hundred thousand years old and allow scientists to track climate changes over the millennia.
The cave was discovered in May 1968, when an explosion opened a crack into a magical and fantastic world hidden beneath the ground in the middle of the hills on the western side of Jerusalem. According to geologists, the Soreq cave was formed around 25 million-years ago, when the mountainous range of the Judean Hills rose up above the surface of the water. The layers of limestone and dolomite rock were displaced and folded with time, forming cracks which allowed water to enter and dissolve some of the rock. While seeping through the cracks and flowing through the soil this water absorbed increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the roots of the plants and the surrounding decay. This process that turns the water acidic is called “Karst” and helped with the cave expansion process.
The next stage in the history of the cave began with the retreat of the sea and the lowering of the ground water level. The dissolution of rock stopped and the process was reversed. Drops of water saturated with limestone solution reached the ceiling of the cave the carbon dioxide escaped and the remaining limestone crystallized, creating the huge diversity of stalactites we see today.