A tourist attraction for 200 years
In 1819 Archduke Ferdinand I visited the cave and became the first official visitor. This gave rise to the tourism in Postojna and this date is considered the official start of modern cave tourism although signatures dated from the 13th century can be found in the cave.
The entrance portions of the cave must have seen their first visitors in the 13th century, but the largest part of its interior was discovered on 14 April 1818 by the local cave lamplighter Luka Čeč. During preparations for the Austrian emperor's visit, he wandered off from the group of workers in charge of the ceremonial decoration and illumination of the front part of the cave with the Great Hall. Climbing a wall, he found a so far unknown passage. When he returned, he cried out to his friends: "There's a new world here, a paradise!"
His discovery was a turning point in the history of Postojna Cave and Postojna. It opened a way far into the heart of the underground, where the karst world was hiding its millennium-old creation. Postojna was quick to realise the importance of the new discovery. The district authorities immediately closed the cave to protect it from any uninvited guests.
On 17 August 1819, the first visitor to walk through the newly discovered part of the cave was the Austrian Crown Prince Ferdinand. His visit threw the door to Postojna tourism wide open in 1819; by introducing register books for visitors, which were in use until April 1941, it marked the official launch of modern cave tourism. The register books show how the number of cave visitors increased, and the variety of their occupations and origin testify that Postojna Cave was even then known not only in Europe but also beyond.
The Cave Committee
Five years after the discovery, the Cave Committee was founded as the first administrative body of Postojna Cave. The Committee took charge of organising cave development and tour-guiding. In 1824, the first cave statute was issued, an admission fee was introduced and soon after, the cave was fitted with lighting.
A noted and successful Cave Committee President from 1868 to 1885 was the Postojna district prefect Anton Globočnik. In his time, the cave lighting was modernised, railway tracks were laid, a bridge was built across the Pivka in the Great Hall, the paths through the Calvary were improved and multilingual signs were introduced – besides German, also Slovenian, Italian and Czech. He made sure that Postojna Cave remained public property and that profits were invested only into cave infrastructure improvements.
The Cave Committee was Postojna Cave's administrative body until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Whit Monday festival
For financial and publicity reasons, the Cave Committee representatives decided to hold a cave festival every year on Whit Monday. It took place in the Dance (Convention) Hall of Postojna Cave, and the first festival was organised in 1825.
The Whit Monday festival was so popular with the locals that it became a town holiday in Postojna, a day on which the memory of the cave discovery was celebrated in the most merry and festive way. Eventually, similar folk festivals were also introduced in August and September. A crowd of native and foreign visitors would gather on the Dance Floor (in the Convention Hall) to take a leisurely spin to the rhythm of military and civilian brass bands. On Whit Mondays, the admission was a great deal lower and for locals it was even free.
The once traditional Whit Monday festival was revived in the early 1990s. A festive mood at the celebration, including a mass which usually takes place in the Concert Hall, is annually created by home bands as well as visiting instrumental and vocal groups.
Along the "steel road"
In 1857, the Vienna-Trieste railway line was pulled through Postojna. The modern transport connection also brought the Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth into town. Postojna Cave had never before been so luxuriously illuminated. It was fitted with over 12,000 lights, 1500 of them in the Great Hall alone. Three velvet litters were made for the empress and her maids of honour, which could later be hired by other wealthy guests.
Owing to the railway, Postojna Cave was visited by as many as 4000 travellers in 1858. The guests who came to see the cave by train had a considerable ticket concession. The cave was advertised with bills and leaflets at all major railway stops along the line and its fame also spread through ads in newspapers, tourist guides and selected presentations, for example at the international expositions in Paris (1867) and Vienna (1873).
The cave railway
The cave railway was launched on 16 June 1872. Tracks, with a total length of 2260 metres, along which cave guides pushed the cars with visitors were laid from the stalagmite formation called the Pulpit to the foot of the Big Mountain.
However, the small manual railway was not practical during large visits such as the traditional cave festivals. The increased visiting prompted the administration to consider a more effective means of cave transport. Motor traction that had been planned before the First World War was introduced in 1924. In 1928, a new administrative building sprung up at the entrance to Postojna Cave, now called the Cave Manor, which housed a restaurant as well as a new boarding stop for the cave railway and a visitor reception area.
In the 1950s, as the rate of cave visits persistently grew, the pre-war single track railway with merely two sidings along the entire route caused increasing hold-ups. A second railway track was added in 1964 and three years later a double track circular line through the cave was completed. It finally allowed smooth transportation of large numbers of visitors.
Mass tourism was signalled by the increase in visitor numbers in the 1950s and 60s, but Postojna tourism saw its true heyday in the period between 1970 and 1990. In that time, Postojna Cave was seen by more than 16 million visitors from all over the world. So far, the record year was 1985 both in terms of the total number of visitors (942,256 visitors) and the number of guests from abroad (757,318). The largest number of visitors to see Postojna Cave in one day was recorded on 8 July 1978 when the guides showed it to as many as than 12,025 tourists.
Before electric lights lit up the cave, it was illuminated by cave guides with oil lamps and by cave lamplighters who lit up and put out candles on the wall as they went along. The scale of the lighting depended on the fee the visitors paid for a tour. The guest could choose between a few candles or "big lighting" for which four to five kilograms of candles were needed.
Electric lighting, the first in the province of Carniola, was temporarily arranged in 1883 during a visit from Emperor Franz Joseph. Three electric lights lit up the Great Hall. The next year, Postojna Cave became the third cave in the world to have permanent electric lighting (a year earlier electric lighting was set up in the Kraushöhle cave in Austrian Styria and even earlier, in 1881, in Luray Caverns, USA). The cave was illuminated by 12 arc lamps, each with the power of 1400 candles. Electricity was supplied by two generators powered by a steam engine.
The electric installation system was modernised in 1901. A new engine house supplied power to the cave as well as the whole town of Postojna.
Today, classic bulbs have been mostly replaced by halogen bulbs. An electronic system makes sure only certain cave sections are lit up at one time and the power lines are, like most lights in the cave, discretely covered.
The oldest underground post office
Postojna Cave and the Pošta Slovenije postal service have an interesting common history of 112 years. They can boast the oldest underground post office in the world.
In the second half of the 19th century, advances in printing and photography, the introduction of post stamps and people's desire to explore interesting places brought about a postcard printing and mailing boom. Until 1894, postcards were rare, but after that, their use rocketed. The number of postcards sent from Postojna or Postojna Cave rose from year to year.
The cave administration took up an opportunity and sent a request to the Austrian ministry of commerce in Vienna to open a post office. In 1899, a small facility was built at the Dance Hall to provide post office services. According to the information available, this is the oldest underground post office in the world; it was entered in the list of post offices by the world postal association and the Austrian post in 1901.
The figures about the number of postcards sent are remarkable. On Whit Monday in 1909, the cave had 12,000 visitors who mailed 37,000 postcards within three hours. In 1911, 75,000 postcards were mailed on Whit Monday and another 47,800 on the Feast of Assumption that same year.
At first, the post office in the cave was open only on special occasions, but after 1911, its service was regular. It employed four post officers. Five tables sheltered by a roof were set in front of the office, where visitors could write the postcards without water dripping on them from the cave ceiling. During the summer season of 1911, between 6000 and 11,000 postcards were sold daily.
Today, the Concert Hall houses an exhibition of the 112-year history of the underground post office. Visitors can buy postcards and special stamps with motifs from Postojna Cave. One of the postcards available features a photograph of the world's first underground post office, which was published in a Viennese newspaper in 1911.
Source: Postojnska jama