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Sezlim Cave

Szelim: A Cave Full of Legends and Archaeological Treasures


Legends of dragons guarding magnificent piles of treasures in caves across the world have grabbed our imaginations and entertained us for centuries. One particular dragon is said to have guarded the gold of a sultan in Szelim Cave in Hungary.

The cave, only fairly recently discovered and excavated by archaeologists in the 1930s, has to this day not given up its treasure of gold and jewels, but the researchers have found something much more valuable: ancient artifacts and proof of human occupation from as far back as 200,000 years.

Szelim cave is located in northwestern Hungary, 948 feet above a valley, near the city of Tatabánya. The cave has been used for shelter by local villagers over the centuries. These days it is easily accessible and the cave is watched over by a memorial of Turul.


Turul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Turul is a mythological bird of prey and the national symbol of modern Hungary. Its roots presumably originated as the clan symbol used in the ninth or tenth centuries by the House of Arpad who ruled the Kingdom of Hungary until 1301.

According to legend, in approximately 820 AD the Turul appeared to Emese, a daughter of the House of Arpad, in a dream when she was pregnant. The Turul became the protector spirit of her son Álmos, who became the first head of the federation of the Hungarian tribes from around 850 AD. 

Álmos, The Hungarian Chieftain

Álmos, The Hungarian Chieftain (Public Domain)

In a second dream, the Turul appeared to Álmos himself - an eagle (the emblem of their enemy) attacked their horses and mythological protector came and saved them.

Late Stone Age Artifacts Found

In 1932 Hubert Kessler began excavations at Szelim and in 1934 the Natural History Research Council supplied the financial means for further work by István Gaál who continued the work. Hearths, stoves, carvings, animal bones and human remains, some of which date to the era of Turkish invasions in early modernity, have been excavated.

Human remains found at Szelim

Human remains found at Szelim (Public Domain)

The sediment is more than 39 feet deep in most areas of the cave and within a few months, rich archaeological finds that were found right down to the bedrock were excavated. The artifacts and stone tools discovered date back to the Late Stone Age, between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.

In 2013, the site was declared a protected natural national asset by the Hungarian government.

The short hike of less than a mile from the Turul monument to the entrance of the cake is a beautiful one although there are two entrances to the cave. The interior is 147 feet, 42 feet wide and was formed when water eroded the soft limestone.

The origins of the name ‘Szelim’ are disputed and explained by several theories. According to the first, the name Suleiman was changed into Szelim. The Sultan of the Ottomans, Ian Sulaiman, invaded the area and destroyed many of the local villages, killing thousands. The second theory is a Hungarian linguistic explanation. The shape of the cave is similar to the eye and the Hungarian word for eye is szem.  But according to Slovakian linguists, the word szellim means saddle although how this would lead to the naming of a cave, no one is quite sure.

Legends Dwell in The Cave too

According to the oral stories told for generations, the people of seven neighboring villages escaped during the Turkish invasion in the 1500’s when the soldiers of Yavuz Sultan Selim Han (Selim I), the Ottoman ruler, swarmed the entire area. The unfortunate villagers were discovered only because a young boy started crying and although his mother tried to hide and keep him quiet, she was found and forced to reveal the hiding place of the others. The soldiers lit fires at the entrances and killed them by the carbon monoxide poisoning as smoke poured into the cave. Perhaps this is the root of the legend of the dragon breathing fire?

Yavuz Sultan Selim Han

Yavuz Sultan Selim Han (Public Domain)

A less well-known version says that during the same invasion, a noble woman from a nearby castle sought water and shelter in the cave, but she was refused access by the villagers. The desperate woman was found by the invading soldiers and, possibly taking revenge, or because she was forced to, she revealed the location of the cave. Because the soldiers could not reach the cave in the narrow creek, they dug a large hole into the top of the mountain. The roof collapsed, crashed down, and buried the people within.

Top Image: Sezlim Cave                Source: (Susulyka/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

By: Michelle Freson


2018. What do we know about our local caves?

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Hoffman, Z. 2012: Hungary. Komárom-esztergom county. Szelim cave. DiscoverWorld

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Szelim Cave:

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Michelle Freson is a professional writer and editor and has spent many hundreds of wonderful hours working with and learning from fiction writers based all over the globe.

Born in July, 1971, Michelle has long since stopped working out her... Read More

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