Cova de la Font Major

Cueva de la Font Major - L'Espluga del Francolí - Spring of the river Francolí


Useful Information

Location: L'Espluga del Francolí, Conca de Barb.
42km north of Tarragona, 100km from Barcelona.
From the coast motorway A7 take motorway A3 to the west, leave at exit 9 Montblanc. From Montblanc take the N240 to L'Espluga del Francolí, about 3km. (41º 23' 54.21, 1º 6' 9.95)
Open: SEP to JUL Tue-Sun 10:30-13:30, 16-18.
AUG daily 10:30-13:30, 16-19.
Adventure route: after appointment.
[2020]
Fee: Adults EUR 7.40, Children (9-14) EUR 5.10, Children (0-8) free.
Reduced, Disabled and Families: Adults EUR 5.20, Children (9-14) EUR 3.90.
Groups (25+): Adults EUR 5.30, Children (9-14) EUR 3.90, Disabled EUR 4, Disabled Children (9-14) EUR 3.60.
Adventure route: Per Person EUR 42.
Groups (10+): 10% discount.
Minimum age 8.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. Conglomerates.
Light: electric.
Dimension: L=3,590m, T=14-17°C, water 12°C.
Guided tours: L=500m, D=75min. V=50,000/a. Català - Catalan
Audioguides in English Español - Spanish Français - French русский - Russian
Adventure route: L=900m, D=4h.
Photography: not allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: M. Bergadà, Josep Cervello, David Serrat (1997): Karst in conglomerates in Catalonia (Spain) : Morphological forms and sedimentary sequence types recorded on archaeological sites, Quaternaire. 8. 267-277. 10.3406/quate.1997.1579. researchgate
Address: Cova de la Font Major, Patronat municipal de la cova, Av. Catalunya s/n, 43440 L'Espluga del Francolí, Tel: +34-977-871-220, Fax: +34-977-871-343. E-mail:
Oficina de Turisme, Plaza de l' Esglesia, 9, 43440 L'Espluga del Francolí, Tel: +34-77-871166.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

21-APR-1853 Font Major Cave discovered by accident, but soon forgotten.
28-AUG-1956 Font Major Cave rediscovered.
1956 first speleologic exploration by Diego Ciuraneta i Franch, he is the first to cross the first sump.
1957 opened to the public.
1957 Bronze Age remains excavated.
1990 intensive explorations increased the known lenth to 3,590 meters.
1992 construction of multimedia museum in Font Major Cave started.
1994 first cave museum inaugurated.
1994 begin of Adventure tour.
2000 new museum inaugurated in Cova de la Vila.
2020 engravings discovered.

Description

The Cova de la Font Major (Cave of the Big Spring) is a river cave. The cave river disappears inside the cave in swallow holes and reappears in a spring at the surface. This is the spring of the river Francolí and called Font Major (Big Spring). The cave system is formed in conglomerate, which is very rare for karst caves, and it is rather big too. It is the 10th longest conglomerate cave in the world [2020]. The conglomerates were formed 40Ma ago during the Cenozoic era, when the debris of surrounding mountains was washed into a huge lake covering the Conca de Barbera. During the cold periods of the ice age the area was rainy and covered by forest. The huge amounts of rain water caused the karstification of the conglomerate. The caves are sometimes called Coves de l’Espluga, named after the town L'Espluga del Francolí which was built on top. There are actually two caves, Cova de la Vila and Cova de la Font Major which were once connected.

The first 275m of the tour are dry passages, until the visitor reaches the underground river. The tour follows the river for 465m to the first syphon, in the Sala del Pou de Biela (Hall of the Well of Biela). It is often called Museum of Font Major, as the tourist route includes a multimedia exhibition of the Stone Age. Dioramas are showing the development of nature and Neolithic man. The museum tries to explain the Stone Age in a new and more interesting way.

The reason for the creation of this museum were numerous archaeological finds made in the cave. The caves were open to the surface and frequented by animals and later humans. The oldest remains were 300,000 years old animals bones, including rhino, hyena, deer and horses. In Cova de la Vila Moustérien remains, most likely Neanderthal, were found. There were no human remains, but the remains of a flint tool factory. Remains of Neolithic man, like carved silex and pottery, are only 6600 years old from the era locally called Francolí. The special thing here is, that they were at the fringe to sedentary life. They were cultivating the land for wheat and barley, lentil and peas, and domesticating animals, sheep, goats and bovids. At this time the cave was used as burial place, seven individuals were discovered with stone axes and necklaces.

And the cave was also visited during Bronze Age, as numerous bronze objects, particularly needles, hairpins, a sword, an axe and a dagger were excavated. The needles are quite unique, similar objects were found in the French Jura, so there were speculations they were traded. The remains are from the 8th century BC and were found in a hoard, 50m from the entrance. They are thought to be some kind of offering or probably cenotaph.

Remains from the Iberian time are mostly cultic. They were discovered in the Lake Room or Room P, in the inner part of the cave. This room is water filled, so the worship was probably related to rebirth and regeneration. The remains were covered by river sediments and well protected. Because of the water the layers were completely undisturbed. But excavations were only possible during times of low water level.

During the 20th century the cave was used for the growth of mushrooms and to age cava, the Spanish red wine. During the Spanish Civil War the cave was used to store explosives during the battle of Ebro. At the end the explosives were blown up. From the 1960s to the 1970s a nativity scene was installed in the cave.

The newest discovery in 2020 were carvings discovered by researchers led by Josep Maria Vergès of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES). The 15,000 years old carvings depict horses, deers, bulls, and abstract figures. They were made in a layer of soft sandstone on the irregular surfaces of the wall. To preserve the fragile engravings Vergès and his team scanned them with a 3-D scanner.

For a few years a second tour is offered, a cave trekking tour called Ruta d’aventura (adventure route). Visitors are equipped with a wetsuit, helmet and headlight and follow the cave river from the spring to the developed part and leave the cave on the tourist route.