Dobsina Cave in 1861

The Cave of Szelicze, or Szilitze, in Hungary [1]

from: Rev G F Browne (1865): Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland, pp 237- 239.

The Rev Browne must have been a clergyman with a private income to be able to spend so much time visiting the ice caves of Europe.

Martin Bell, the historian of Hungary, sent an account of this cavern to England, in the middle of the last century, which was printed in the original Latin in the "Philosophical Transactions of 1739-40" (pp 41 &c.).

This account states that the cave is in the country of Thorn, (not far from Kaschau) among the lower spurs of the Carpathians. The entrance, which faces the north, and is exposed to the cold winds from the snowy part of the Carpathian range, is 18 fathoms[2] high and 9 broad; and the cave spreads out laterally, and descends to a point 50 fathoms below the entrance, where it is 26 fathoms in breath, and of irregular height. Beyond this no one had at that time penetrated, on account of the unsafe footing, although many distant echoes were returned by the farther recesses of the cave; indeed, to get even so far as this, much step-cutting was necessary.

When the external frost of winter comes on, the account proceeds, the effect in the cave is the same as if fires had been lighted there: the ice melts, and swarms of flies and bats and hares take refuge in the interior from the severity of the winter. As soon as spring arrives, the warmth of winter disappears from the interior, water exudes from the roof and is converted into ice, while the more abundant supplies which pour down on to the sandy floor are speedily frozen there. In the Dog-days, the frost is so intense that a small icicle becomes in one day a huge mass of ice; but a cool day promptly brings a thaw, and the cave is looked upon as a barometer, not merely feeling, but also presaging, the changes of weather. The people of the neighbourhood, when employed infield-work, arrange their labour so that the mid-day meal may be taken near the cave, when they either ice the water they have brought with them, or drink the melted ice, which they consider very good for the stomach. It had been calculated that 600 weekly carts would not be sufficient to keep the cavern free from ice. The ground above the cave is particularly rich in grass.

In explanation of these phenomena, Bell threw out the following suggestions, which need no comment. The earth being of itself cold and damp, the external heat of the atmosphere, by partially penetrating into the ground, drives in this native cold to the inner parts of the earth, and makes the cold there more dense. On the other hand, when the external air is cold, it draws forth towards the surface the heat there may be in the inner part of the earth, and thus makes the caverns warm. In support and illustration of this view, he states that in the hotter parts of Hungary, when the people wish to cool their wine, they dig a hole 2 feet deep, and place in it the flagon of wine, and, after filling up the hole again, light a blazing fire upon the surface, which cools the wine as if the flagon had been laid in ice. He also suggests that possibly the cold winds from the Carpathians brings with them imperceptible particles of snow, which reach the water of the cave, and convert it into ice. Further, the rocks of the Carpathians abound in salts, nitre, alum &c. which may, perhaps, mingle with such snowy particles, and produce the ordinary effect of the snow and salt in the artificial production of ice.

Townson (Travels in Hungary 1797 pp 317 &c) visited this cave half a century later, and concluded that Bell was in error with regard to the supposed winter thaw and summer frost, although he himself received information at Kaschau which corroborated the earlier account. He describes the approach to the village of Szilitze as leading by a by-road through a pleasant country of woods and hills, with much pasture-land, the cave lying a mile beyond the village, and displaying an entrance 100 feet broad, and 20 or 30 feet high, turned towards the north. The descent of the floor of the cave is rapid, and was covered with thin ice, at the time of his visit, for the last third of the way: from the roof at the farther end, where the cave is not so high as at the entrance, a congeries of icicles was seen to hang: and in a corner on the right, completely sheltered from the rays of the sun, there was a large mass of the same material. It was a fine forenoon in July, and all was in a state of thaw, the icicles dropping water, and the floor of ice covered with a thin layer of water; while the thermometer in all parts of the cave stood at zero of Réaumur's scale. The rock is compact unstratified limestone, in which so many of the famous caverns of the world are found.


[1] The Caves of Szilicze are mentioned in Murray's Handbook of Southern Germany (1858 p 555), where the following account is given of them: "During the winter a great quantity of ice accumulates in these caves, which is not entirely melted before the commencement of the ensuing winter. In the summer months they are consequently filled with vast masses of ice broken up into a thousand fantastic forms, and presenting by their lucidity a singular contrast to the sombre vaults and massive stalactites of the cavern"
[2] one fathom or one klafter is six feet or 1.83m

Found and digitized by Tony Oldham (2002). Used with kind permission.