Excursion to the Grotta della Monaca, among the best-preserved prehistoric sites in Europe

Grotta della Monaca, a prehistoric mining site to explore
Fig. 3

© Grotta della Monaca

Sport and nature

Does your spirit of adventure drive you to always explore different and mysterious places?

Come to Calabria to discover the wonders of the Grotta della Monaca, the cavity set in the rock in the upper Esaro Valley, in the municipality of Sant'Agata di Esaro in the province of Cosenza.

The Grotta della Monaca, whose name refers to an anthropomorphic formation visible inside (in the shape of a face), dominates the panoramic view of the Esaro river with a majestic cavern, located at an altitude of 600 metres, and connected to the Tyrrhenian coast via the Passo dello Scalone pass.

Ready to put on your helmet and headlamp and embark on an unforgettable adventure?

Grotta della Monaca between history, archaeology and nature

News of the presence of...

"many caves [...] take the land to make nitro. [...] Two natural ones in two opposite mountains: Grotta della Monaca, and in the second room one can still see a sculpted nun, although ruined by time; and Grotta del Tesauro, abundant in yellow earth".

...was nothing new in the Esaro area. They were first mentioned by Calabrian scholar Vincenzo Padula, and were echoed by the research of Enrico Giovanni Pirongelli (1878) and Enzo Dei Medici, a pioneer of Calabrian speleology (1939), as well as the studies of the Swiss Expedition (1975).

Grotta della Monaca
Grotta della Monaca

The fascinating story of the discoveries and studies that have helped unveil the secrets of Grotta della Monaca took shape in the 1997-2012 seasons, when archaeologists from the "Enzo dei Medici" Regional Centre for Speleology and the University of Bari attested to its human habitation from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages.

Very ancient presences, which have left traces of themselves in the form of precious remains: work tools, footprints, dry stone walls and a veritable burial ground with a hundred or so inhumations, making Grotta della Monaca one of the oldest and best-preserved prehistoric mining sites in Europe.

The skeletons mostly belong to young people, both male and female, aged between 3 and 12 years, including two infants.

Grotta della Monaca
Grotta della Monaca

Geologically, the cave is composed of carbonate rocks and develops inside the mountain with a series of underground environments classified by experts according to size and shape. The three main environments are the Pregrotto, the Bat Room and the Terminal Tunnels.

Guided tour of the Grotta della Monaca

Well-equipped (each visitor is provided with a helmet and personal lighting), the experienced local guides (speleologists-archaeologists) accompany us into the belly of the earth to discover the fairy-tale universe that characterises the Grotta della Monaca.

Each visitor can choose the type of route they prefer, depending on their level of fitness and stamina: short (easy, 45 minutes), medium (75 minutes) and long (demanding, 105 minutes). The routes are completely natural and non-electrified and they go deeper and deeper into the underground.

As we make our way into the Pregrotto, the light outside gradually begins to dim, until it gives way to complete darkness underground, swelling our hearts with excitement and anticipation. After passing through the narrow passage known as the Diaphragm, we enter the Bat Room, the largest room in the entire cavity (60 x 30 metres), whose name needs no explanation: suspended above our heads, the small bats welcome us into their discreet realm.

Grotta della Monaca
Grotta della Monaca

The more daring can continue along the narrow Terminal Tunnels, which require the agility to crawl along the bottom for most of the way.

The main feature of the Grotta della Monaca? The extraordinary abundance of iron and copper ore, making it an important European mining site from Prehistoric to post-medieval times.

Grotta della Monaca
Grotta della Monaca

The excursion to the Grotta della Monaca is completed with a stop at the Visitor Centre, which also includes a small exhibition with material and artefacts found. The information point is located in the village of Sant'Agata d'Esaro and it represents an added value to the understanding of the site.

Here, children and school groups can access a series of educational workshops led by experienced staff, both theoretical and practical, as well as the fun field experience of being "Speleologists for a day".

Grotta della Monaca
Grotta della Monaca


Last update: Feb 16, 2024 8:49 AM