By Dr. Johann E. Pelech


Translated from the German of

Dr. Samuel Klein


W. Bezant Lowe, B.A., F.C.S. Scholar of St. John's College, Cambridge; and Member of the Ungarischen Karpathen-Verein


Illustrated with diagrams and with 6 full-page woodcuts



Trübner & Co., Ludgate Hill




In the summer of 1878, when I was on a visit to Hungary, I had the pleasure of seeing the places which this pamphlet describes. I am much indebted to Herrn Dobay, who rendered me much assistance; and to Herrn Ruffiny, who conducted me over most of the ground, explaining the chief points of interest. The latter, as the discoverer of the Ice-Cavern, wished that the attention of Englishmen might be directed to it; and at his suggestion I undertook to translate this pamphlet of Dr. Pelech.

I have found some difficulty in rendering it into English, owing to the peculiarities of the Hungarian style of composition; and though on the whole I have given a very literal translation, I have considered it advisable in certain cases to deviate from the original.

My thanks are due to the following gentlemen:—To Dr. Pelech for the use of the copyright of his pamphlet; to Dr. Klein for the use of his translation, from which this version is compiled; to Dr. Alexander Joseph Krenner, from whose work on the cavern, the section, ground plan, and some of the notes are borrowed; to Herren Döller and Ruffiny for obtaining permission (the former from the Karpathen-Verein, and the latter from the respective authors) for me to use the above-mentioned works.


W. B. L.


H.M.S. Britannia, Dartmouth,

May 1879

Vizesés – The Waterfall

A somewhat broad curtain of rock descends from the roof to the floor of the cavern, dividing it into two unequal chambers. The one called the Small Saloon ("der kleine Salon," C, Figs. I. and 11.) is much the smaller of the two, and is reached immediately on entering the cavern. It is not situated on the same level as the Great Saloon ("der grosse Salon"), its floor being formed by an upward extension of the ice of that saloon. Here, to the left of the entrance, is a shaft-like passage leading downwards, which has not yet been explored. I myself, by squeezing down the smooth steeply-inclined passage, succeeded in penetrating to a depth of about 30 to 35 metres. In the middle of this saloon are two four-cornered masses of ice tapering to a point, called the Grabsteine. To the right is the startlingly fine Waterfall (Plate III. and near e in Fig. I.) with its Elephanten-Haupt it descends from the roof to the floor in a curve, and it is only its perfect rigidity which tells us that it is frozen: at the foot of this fall is a peculiar ice-formation which vividly reminds us of the head of an elephant. Against the over-arching wall leans an ice-pillar which rises up from the base in the shape of a hillock; this is the Tree Stem("Holzstamm"), so called because its rough surface resembles the bark of a tree: its height is 7.5 metres and diameter 2.5 metres.

Plate IV

Részlet a Nagy Teremböl – Portion of the Great Saloon

In the Great Saloon (Plate IV.) may be seen, close by the wall, a shaft-like passage with here and there a vaulted recess, leading down to the depths below, and bordered by walls of ice. In front of the entrance to this is a wall of ice, 20 metres broad and 6 metres high, in contact above with the rock, and below with the ice floor; this is the Cellar Door ("Kellerthür"). Here also occurs a rapidly growing ice stalagmite, which has increased 5 metres this year. Indeed, the ice of this saloon rapidly increases in quantity, so that ere long some will have to be cut away. The boarded footway leading round the saloon, which when placed there two years ago stood 25 cm above the ice, is now 15 cm below its level. In consequence of this a canal has been dug, running along; the side of this footway, by which the water is carried through a cutting seven Klafters (1 Klafter = 1 fathom) deep, leading down into the lowest part. By this means the formation of ice in the Great Saloon is limited to a considerable extent. Here also we find the three above-mentioned ice-pillars (Plate IV.), one of which (a, Fig. I.) rests on the ridge of a large hill of ice; their extreme translucency, even from a distance, suggests the idea that they cannot be solid; looked at from a nearer point of view, we perceive at once that they are really hollow, and, moreover, there is a continuous though small flow of water down the cylindrical hollow of one pillar, which has scooped out a small well in the ice below; this is generally filled with water, and bears the name of "Der Brunnen" (C, Fig. I.). Resting nearly upright against this pillar is a table of ice (near D, Fig. II), intersected by a large cleft. It is called the Bedouin's Tent ("Beduinen-Zelt"), and is of some interest, inasmuch as Krenner presumes that this indicates the occurrence of a glacier-like movement (see Note III.) at some former period in the ice-mass of the cave; and at the same time he supposes that this was probably an ice-pillar, which during this movement was overturned, and thus placed in its present oblique position. 

Although the pillars have, with good reason, excited our admiration by their size (8 to 11 metres high and 2 to 3 metres in diameter), by their elegant form, by their translucency, yet are we still more attracted by the myriads of ice ornaments scattered over their surface. Ribbons of ice, delicately twisted threads, parallel strings of pearls, now tied in a knot, now interwoven, glisten on the pillars; long depending tufts, splendid anemone-like fringes, here transparent fan-like plates, pinnacled cones, there again leaves, festoons, tendrils, wavy grass stems curved like sickles, make up such a variety of beautiful objects as to defy description. Every movement of the eye, every flicker of the light, brings the scene before us in a new but ever charming aspect.

Worthy of notice also is the Vat ("Die Wanne"), a kettle-shaped basin 5 metres in diameter, hollowed out by the water that drops from the roof, and furnished with an outlet. Next comes the New Pillar ("Die Neue Säule"). On the floor there was formerly a thick rough mass of ice; in the course of two years a clear transparent cone, increasing by degrees from above downwards, froze on to this, thus forming an elegant pillar 2.5 metres high.

The eastern end of the saloon contracts into a very narrow corner; it is chiefly in this part that the ice melts, and the wooden footway is often covered with pools of water: here, too, one ought to notice the landslip (O, Fig. I), consisting of earth and fragments of stone, which corresponds in position to the Ducsa landslip ("Ducsa-Einsturz"), a crater-shaped depression of about four Hectares (1 Hectare = 100 are = 10,000 sq. metres) in area, lying on the outside of the mountain and exactly opposite to this point of the cavern.

The part of the cavern which we have already traversed (C, D, Figs I. and II.) is called the Upper Stage ("Obere Etage"). There is also a Lower Stage ("Untere Etage"), by no means inferior to the upper, but which should perhaps even more excite our astonishment.

Plate V

Folvosó – The Corridor

The lower stage consists of an uninterrupted corridor (Plate V.), which, following exactly the southern side wall of the saloon, is formed in such a manner that the southern side of the dome-shaped rock-wall of the saloon, or, properly speaking, the downward prolongation of the same (line HG, in Fig. II.) constitutes the southern corridor wall, while the naturally formed huge cross section (line HE, in Fig. II.) of the ice-floor constitutes the northern. This corridor consisted originally of two portions, a right and left wing: these two wings were separated by a solid mass of ice about 6 metres thick; through this was bored a tunnel, and thus the two wings were converted into one continuous passage. The entire length of the corridor is 200 metres, that of the left wing being 80 metres, of the right 120 metres.

From the small saloon we reach the right corridor (E, Fig. I), going down a steep flight of steps (e. Fig. I.) through a natural opening. For the discovery of the left corridor (F, Fig. I.) we have further to thank Ruffiny's ardour for exploration, which never flagged nor tired. Whilst he was looking about for the course of the outflowing water, he noticed between the ice-floor of the saloon and its rock wall a narrow cleft (f, Fig. I.): thereupon he had the ice cut away at this part, making a tunnel 6 to 8 metres long, through which he reached the left corridor (F, Fig. I.) and thus verified his supposition that a hollow space must exist below. 

We now descend into the Lower Stage ("Untere Etage"). Of the two approaches we select the ice-tunnel, which is in the E corner of the saloon: we go down a flight of wooden steps, and find ourselves in the left or Ruffiny corridor (F, Fig. I.), Its length, as before-mentioned, is 80 metres, and it is 6 to 15 metres broad, with a height of 15 to 22 metres: its southern wall is a face of rock which bends over like an arch to rest on the opposite wall of ice. the mass of ice whose upper surface forms the floor of the saloon, after touching the roof (at H, Fig. II.), suddenly terminates in such a manner as to make a nearly vertical wall to the corridor (see the direction of the lines DH, HE, in Fig. II.). An uninterrupted wall of ice 200 metres long and 15 to 20 metres high, with a surface of 4644 square metres, displays such a mass as is to be seen only at the poles, but which in our latitude under normal conditions nowhere occurs.

Plate VI

Lugos – The Grotto

It seems as if the ice of the saloon had been cut through by a geologist, in order that he might be able to see its inner structure and investigate its constituent parts. And in truth the section presented by this wall of ice has given many an insight into the structure and conformation of this wonderful mass. Like the leaves of a closed book, here layer rests upon layer: we see the edges of the leaves, but we cannot count their number. The layers are here as clear as water, there alabaster-like, and vary in thickness from a few millimeters to as many centimeters, whilst in places fine layers of dust are visible: and in many places they dip simultaneously at an angle of 40°. With reference to the structure of the ice-wall, Krenner is certainly right in his assertion that "this mighty mass of ice formerly extended as far as the rock wall, and that it gradually receded, not so much through melting as through evaporation, and in this way gave rise to the wall." Thus the formation of the space between the ice and rock walls—the corridor, the lower stage of the cavern—is accounted for. The water is conducted to this spot through the canal mentioned as occurring in the great saloon, and is soon consolidated into ice. Besides the ice-wall there are other forms of ice worthy of notice: one of the most beautiful is the grotto ("die Laube", h, Fig. I.) which is situated on a hillock of ice (Plate VI.); it seems to be made up of rows of garlands twisted into a graceful arch, of palm leaves, fine grass stems, and transparent ice layers of varied thickness, while in the interior it is ornamented with thousands of ice flowers and sparkling crystals. When viewed from the outside with stronger illumination it presents a charming picture. The grotto is 6 metres high and 1.5 meter broad. Above, a circular hole, .5 metres in diameter and bounded by smooth sides, extends into the ice-wall: opposite to it a similar hole occurs in the rock wall: these are the two holes in the roof ("Dachslöcher"). We now reach the tunnel, a somewhat broad passage, 8 metres long and bored through the solid ice: this connects the two wings of the corridor which were formerly separate. Passing through this we reach the "Kapelle;" walls of ice and rock, adorned with numerous ice structures, touch one another, forming a gothic arch: a still contemplative nook. Arrived here we find ourselves in the lofty right corridor wing. 

This is the coldest and driest portion of the cavern; no trace of melting. Here the huge ice-wall, with the vaulted arch of rock pressing against it, forms the corridor; the floor sinks down into the depths below where the water that has accidentally trickled through flows off between rock débris and frozen passages (G, Figs. I and II.), thus finding a natural outlet through the deepest part of the hole. This discharges itself, according to the well-founded opinion of Krenner, at the foot of the mountain near the "Grossen Quelle," so that the remarkable coldness of its water would be the result of its connection with this outlet from the cavern. Whether this narrow channel widens out anywhere into larger cavities, and, perhaps, conceals still more wonderful treasures, I am not in a position to state.

The corridor widens, and its arch presents a zigzag appearance from the occurrence here and there of projecting points between hollows and clefts in the rock; on the steeply sloping surface lie huge shapeless blocks of stone that have fallen from above and lie scattered one upon another in wild confusion; the intervening clefts are partially filled with ice. The bizarre and fantastic forms which this part of the corridor presents have led to its being called "die Hölle." In a corner of this there leans against the wall a massive ice-block seven to 8 metres high, which, in consequence of the dark colour of the rock behind, appears in the gloom as a perfectly opaque mass with indistinct outlines; this is "Der Lucifer." 

Here is a kind of shaft extending upwards, partly coated with ice and adorned with stalactites. It has not yet been explored; I myself penetrated it to a depth of about 50 metres. Among the several ice structures we may mention the Curtain ("Vorhang"), a sheet of ice 10 metres high and 8 metres broad, hanging from the roof with a considerable interval between it and the wall. It droops to the floor like a picturesque piece of drapery, ornamented with delicate threads, garlands, freely suspended fringes, wavy clusters of blossoms and other varied interwoven forms of ice. The Organ ("Die Orgel)" is 8 metres high and 6 metres broad. On the ice-wall are perfectly regular cylindrical icicles, sometimes extremely thin, sometimes a foot thick, arranged parallel to one another like organ pipes; some of them reach the floor, others hang free. Near the "Orgel," quite free from the surrounding boulders, stands out a mass of very pure ice 4 to 5 metres high: two years ago it had a striking resemblance to a veiled woman; in consequence of the growth of the ice, the mass has become larger and broader in every direction, so that now it rather resembles a bell. A little further is another very transparent column five metres high, which has come into existence within the last three years, and is still fast increasing; this is the Glass Pillar ("Glassäule"). Besides a few scattered icicles we find here no other objects of interest. At the end of the corridor we come upon a steep flight of one hundred and fifty steps (E, Fig I.), which we must now ascend. The last step mounted, we see with astonishment that we are in the small saloon close by the waterfall. 

Of course, no plant or animal lives in the cavern: a stray gnat or a small butterfly clinging to the ice were the only living things that we met with during our stay. But in several places bones have been found in the clefts of the rock, which I have identified as those of the brown bear (Ursus arctos). 

All the curious objects in the cavern can be viewed in about one to two hours. The stay in it is pleasant, and there is not the slightest trace of a current of air: the investigation carried out by Krenner, with the help of a piece of down fastened to a simple silk thread, nowhere gave evidence of any current. The cavern is, however, so cold that it is necessary to wear warmer clothing, or at least to cool oneself thoroughly before entering.

The number of visitors to the cavern, considering all its curious phenomena, is certainly small; the cause is to be found in the fact that in more distant parts it has not become known. Foreigners have scarcely heard of its existence. Since its discovery it has been inspected by about 6000 persons, but the number of visitors increases from year to year; in 1870 and 1871 there was a yearly average of 298, while in the past year (1877) 1570 are recorded. The number of foreigners visiting the cavern is small (See Note VI.). Included among the above-mentioned visitors were about 1600 ladies.

If we now turn our attention to the causes of the formation of the ice as a remarkable natural phenomenon, a study of the temperature will be especially interesting. The temperature of the air varies in different parts of the cavern; the coldest spot is in the lower stage, in the right wing of the corridor, where the thermometer sinks as low as -3°C, in the Ruffiny corridor the temperature is -2°C, and in the saloon opposite to it, for the most part 0°C. Upon a careful examination of the Tables (See Note IV.) indicating the temperature of the air in the cavern, it is found that, as one would expect, the temperature varies with that of the air without. The temperature of the external air, however, varies to a greater extent than that in the interior of the cavern, the maximum variation of the former being 50°C, and of the latter 14°C. The mean annual temperature of the exterior is 3.59°C, while that of the cavern is -.87°C. The highest temperature that has yet been observed was in the month of August, when the thermometer outside stood at 23°C, and in the E. end of the Saloon at 5°C.; the greatest cold has been observed in December, the external temperature being then -25.5°C, and the internal -9°C. In the lower stage the temperature seldom rises above 0° C. The formation and permanence of the ice are essentially due to the fact that the temperature in the cavern never rises very high, so that the ice formed in the cold season lasts throughout the summer. As soon as we have reviewed the geographical position and the internal relations of the cavern, the explanation of its phenomena will not be found difficult.

(a.) The situation of the cavern is high (970 metres above sea-level, see Note V.), and its mouth is on the northern aspect of the mountain. In this manner direct communication of heat is prevented.

(b.) The upper opening of the cavern (the one by which we enter) is extremely contracted; the lower or exit canal very narrow; the external and internal air communicate with each other through these two openings. At the upper opening, owing to its smallness, an interchange of air by diffusion can only take place to a limited extent, and no wind can be driven in; the lower opening is nearly closed with pieces of rock, with ice, and also with the outflowing water, in such a way that little communication of heat is possible either by draught of air or by transmission through the water.

(c.) The floor of the cavern slopes downwards into the mountain from the entrance, consequently the cold, and, therefore, much heavier air of the winter months can easily penetrate all parts of it, thus cooling the walls and the contained air.

On the other hand, during the warmer season of the year this cooled air cannot easily escape upwards, and is prevented from passing downwards by the previously-mentioned lower opening. For similar reasons the external warmer and therefore lighter air cannot penetrate the depths of the cavern, and thus drive out the air which is already cooled. Did, however, the surface of the cavern slope downwards to the exterior, the warm external air in the summer time, in consequence of its lower specific gravity, would necessarily displace the cooled air, whilst the latter would flow out and escape through this lower opening, and so a regular circulation would in nowise be retarded. 

The cooling of the air and the permanent low temperature of the cavern are due to its height and northern aspect, as well as to its narrow upper opening and contracted exit canal, and to its floor gradually sloping inwards; as a result of this, the water is converted into ice, and the permanence of the latter thus insured. 

The water that percolates into the cavern, especially in the early part of the year, when its volume is greatest, is converted into ice; and this is not easily melted, since the situation of the cavern does not allow the entrance of the warm summer air. The ice-mass is continually on the increase, and would after a longer or shorter time fill up the entire space, were not artificial means taken to prevent it.

The floor and walls of ice, consisting as they do of a regular series of stratified layers, were formed by the freezing of successive quantities of water, which found their way into the cavern chiefly through the entrance. The formation of the pillars, cones, and other figures and their ornaments, is explained partly by the freezing of the water which percolates through the rock, and partly by the melting of the ice already formed and its subsequently freezing again. All these curious forms have resulted from the perpetual struggle of the ice and water with the colder and warmer temperatures.

In winter, the ice in the cavern does not melt, and there are no traces of any water circulation; the well ("Der Brunnen") is frozen up, and not one drop of water trickles down the pillars.

We now take leave of this magic ice-world: we do so with regret, looking back involuntarily to enjoy one more view of its wonderful shapes. What we have just seen appears like a dream when we emerge upon the outer world and find ourselves again surrounded with luxuriant Nature. Wrapped in thought, we ponder long over the fairy beauties and fable-like grandeur of the cavern, and feel that pen and pencil are too weak to describe or represent it.


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