St Michael’s cave is a beautiful tourist attraction in Gibraltar with a great history behind it. Read on to find out more about this interesting cave.
St Michael’s Cave has interested visitors to Gib ever since the days of the Romans.
The cave was long believed to be bottomless. This probably gave birth to the story that the Rock of Gibraltar was linked to North Africa via a subterranean passage over 24 km long under the Straits of Gibraltar.
The famous Rock Apes were said to have arrived via this under-sea passage. The legend also states that the passage begins at St Leonora’s Cave, which forms part of the actual St Michael’s Cave itself.
Pomponius Mela, one of the earliest writers on geography who lived during the beginning of the Christian era, described Calpe (the Roman name for Gibraltar) as, ” A mountain with wonderful concavities, which has its western side almost opened by a large cave which may be penetrated far into the interior”.
An early description of the Cave states, “It is narrow at its entrance but wide within, like a pitcher”, whilst a third writer tells us that it was dedicated as a shrine to Hercules.
It was at one time believed that when the Spaniards first tried to retake the Rock from the British in 1704, a party of 500 of their troops spent a night in the Cave after climbing the precipitous east face of the Rock by a path shown to them by a shepherd.
Next morning however the alarm was given and troops from the garrison surprised and overpowered the raiding party.
Colonel Mitchell accompanied by a second officer were said to have descended into the cave some time before 1840 and were never seen or heard of again.
This disappearance led to extensive explorations of the cave in 1840, 1857 and 1865, but no trace of the missing officers was ever discovered.
Between 1936-1938, a scientific expedition was mounted and every hole, crevice and passage within the cave were explored but did not reveal any human bones or recent rockfalls which could have covered the remains of their officers.
The cave consists of an Upper Hall, connected with five passages, with drops of between 40 feet and 150 feet which lead to a smaller or Lower Hall.
Beyond this point a series of narrow tunnels lead to a further array of chambers, reaching a depth of some 250 feet below the entrance.
During the Second World War, the cave was prepared as an emergency hospital, but was never used.
Whilst blasting an alternative entrance to the cave a further series of deeply descending chambers were discovered and this is now called The Lower St Michael’s Cave. These lower chambers end in a small lake.
Special pre-arranged guided tours to this lower section can be arranged.
St Michael’s Cave proper, is open to visitors and makes a unique auditorium for concerts.