Into the depths of Vrelo Cave
By Zoran Nikolovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje – 17/08/09
Diving approximately 192m into the enormous underwater Vrelo Cave, an international team of divers and speleologists explored the subterrain recently.
The team of 13, made up of Italian, Belgian and Macedonian divers, believe that the cave is actually deeper than reported, but had to call off their ten-day mission due to muddied water caused by heavy rain.
“All caves are different, they have their own morphology, but Vrelo is a magnificent cave, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, in the Balkans,” said Italian cave diver Luigi Casati.
“I am returning next year, so that we resume exploration.”
Vrelo’s entrance is about 1.5km from the Matka Dam, on the Treska River, and forms a canyon lake covering about 5,000 hectares. There is also a ground section above the cave’s entrance, called Suva, which has stalactites and stalagmites.
The cave has been nominated for this year’s Seven World Wonders competition and has made it to the semi-finals.
In 2007, the cave ranked 77th, after being explored by diver Mark Vandermeulen, on a list of the deepest underwater caves. Vandermeulen was also part of this year’s diving team.
Vrelo ranks 14th on the list of the deepest caves explored by humans, and some speculate it might be underestimated.
The deepest explored underwater cave to date is the Bushman Hole in South Africa.
Macedonia’s ministry of economy gave the expedition about 1,300 euros in funding, and Minister of Economy Fatmir Besimi visited the explorers, pledging additional funds for promotion, exploration and protection of the cave.
A documentary on the beauties of Vrelo, the Matka Canyon ( 20 km from Skopje), and footage of this year’s exploration is in the works, and will be edited in Italy.
The cave is located in the Matka Canyon, near Skopje, which boasts 1,000 plant species, 20% of which are endemic, as well as various butterfly species not found anywhere else in Europe. The canyon is also home to vultures, and occasionally bald eagles, which are protected by law to save them from extinction.