Eisriesenwelt Cave, Home of the Legendary Ice Giants
The Austrian Alps are renowned for their beauty and of course for winter sports, such as skiing. There are also a number of important caves in the county and perhaps the most well-known of these is Eisriesenwelt as it is the biggest ice cave in the world.
The History of Eisriesenwelt Cave
Although local people have been aware of the Eisriesenwelt Cave for centuries, these hardy mountain people did not explore the cave as they believed that it was too deep and either the gateway to hell, or home to a race of ice giants. They did not venture further than the mouth of the cave that is perennially covered by ice. As a result of these terrifying tales, the cave was not explored until the 19 th century.
Eisriesenwelt was first investigated by the Austrian naturalist, Anton von Posselt-Czorich, in 1879. He published information on his discovery, but the public was not interested. An Austrian speleologist, Alexander von Mörk, who appreciated the significance of Posselt’s research, carried out several expeditions of the Eisriesenwelt cave between 1912 and 1913. Sadly, he was killed in action in World War I. After the war more people visited the cave and a cabin was built to accommodate them.
After WWII a number of paths were built to the cave and a cable car to the site was also constructed. This shortened the time it took to climb up to the cave to just 90 minutes. The cave is owned by the Austrian State, but since 1928 they have leased it to the Salzburg Association of Cave Exploration.
The Sights of Eisriesenwelt
Eisriesenwelt cave is located in the Hochkogel Mountain in the Tennengebirge Massif, in the Austrian Alps. The cave labyrinth spans a length of more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) and was created over a very long time period in prehistory.
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Within the ice entrance of Eisriesenwelt (tak / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The cave is situated in a karst escarpment and is primarily made of limestone, some of which has been dated to 100 million years ago. The chemical dissolution processes and water erosion caused holes to appear in the limestone and this ultimately led to the cavern. Ice covers the mouth and first 1000 meters (3000 feet) of Eisriesenwelt cave as the freezing wind flows through the galleries. The cave has its own microclimate and generally has sub-zero temperatures.
Just beyond the entrance lies Posselt Hall, a gallery with many stalactites which leads to the Great Ice Embankment, a massive ice formation that is 75 meters (246 feet) high and rather like a mini glacier. A cave gallery known as Hymir’s Castle and named after a legendary Norse giant leads from the ice mass. It was so named because of the old legend that the cave was once the home of ice giants. The number of stalactites form a curtain of ice and are known as Frigga’s Veil. It is, however, only one of many spectacular ice formations within.
Spectacular ice formation within Eisriesenwelt Cave (MG007/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Alexander von Mörk Cathedral, named after the explorer, is one of the largest rooms in the cave. To honor the man who brought the caves to the attention of the world, his ashes were placed in this chamber.
In the 1920s and 1930s, a frozen lake measuring 230 ft x 82 ft (70 x 25m) in a massive chamber known as the Ice Palace was used as an ice rink. It lies 1312 ft (400m) underground.
Exploring Eisriesenwelt Cave in Austria
The cave is located near the beautiful city of Salzburg and is open from open from 9 am to 4 pm, from May to the end of the Fall every year. Appropriate clothing must be worn as it is typically below freezing inside. Photography is not permitted.
Visitor traverse the cave along a wooden causeway and a carbide lamp is given to every fifth person to provide lighting. The round-trip tour through the cave takes around one hour and 15 minutes.
Top image: The entrance of Eisriesenwelt Cave Source: ttinu / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
May, B., Spötl, C., Wagenbach, D., Dublyansky, Y., & Liebl, J. (2011). First investigations of an ice core from Eisriesenwelt cave (Austria). The Cryosphere, 5(1), 81-93.
Available at: https://www.the-cryosphere.net/5/81/2011/
Milius, J., & Petters, C. (2012, July). Eisriesenwelt–From laser scanning to photo-realistic 3D model of the biggest ice cave on Earth. In GI-Forum (pp. 513-523)
Smith, G. K. Eisriesenwelt-Ice Cave