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St. Michael's Caves, Gibraltar
St. Michael's Caves in Gibraltar are situated some 300m above sea level on the southerly end of the Rock of Gibraltar. They are a marvellous sight with many truly impressive stalagmites and stalactites. It has long been believed that the caves are bottomless which in turn gave credence to the theory that there was once a subterranean link, about 15 miles long, between Gibraltar and Africa and that it was through this that the Apes of Gibraltar, the only wild monkeys in Europe, found their way onto the Rock many centuries ago. Certainly they have their counterparts across the Mediterranean in Africa and the only other feasible explanation for their appearance on mainland Europe is that they were introduced by sailors who collected them on their travels
The caves have been visited since Roman times but today's visitor has the benefit of footlights and hand rails to assist them. It is still slippery underfoot though so be sure to wear good footware.The main Cathedral cave is an impressive site and during the Second World War was adapted to be used as a military hospital. However it was never required as such and today is put to a more peaceful use when concerts are held there. The acoustics are wonderful.
The rest of the caves consist of various interconnecting passageways with some really impressive stalagmites and stalagtites. At some point in it's past one of these enormous structures, unable any longer to bear it's own weight, gave way and fell. In 1792 an inquisitive person removed a section from the it's top end and this has left the interior of the stalactite exposed, giving us a wonderful insight into the secret history of these magnificent structures. It shows quite clearly in rings the history of it's growth, for instance during periods of excessive rain its growth is indicated by light-brown rings and patches and the darker areas were formed during periods of less rain. Perhaps the two thin lines of crumbly white substance are the most interesting part of its structure as it is believed that these represent glacial periods.
During the preparation of the caves for a military hospital the blasting required to improve ventilation revealed a series of further caves and an underground lake. However these can only be visited with a guide by prior arrangement.
One of the best ways to get up to the caves is by cable car which operates from the car park at the top end of the Rock. The car will take you to the top of the rock from where it is a pleasant stroll down to St. Michael's caves. This will also enable you to take in the wonderful views of both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and of course see many of the Gibraltar apes. On leaving the caves you can then continue to walk down until you reach the mid-way stage and pick up the cable car again. For the less energetic you can take a trip in a taxi. The driver will also take you to meet the apes, give you a potted history of the Rock of Gibraltar and wait for you whilst you visit the caves.
Whichever way you decide to do it a visit to both St. Michael's caves and to the apes is a very enjoyable excursion.
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