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Jeita Grotto

Type of Location
Monument, Caves
About Location

Jeita Grotto is a compound two separate but interconnected karstic limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres (5.6 mi). The caves are situated in the Nahr al-Kalb valley within the locality of Jeita, 18 kilometres (11 mi) north of the Lebanese capital Beirut. Though inhabited in prehistoric times, the lower cave was not rediscovered until 1836 by Reverend William Thomson; it can only be visited by boat since it channels an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to more than a million Lebanese.In 1958, Lebanese speleologists discovered the upper galleries 60 metres (200 ft) above the lower cave which have been accommodated with an access tunnel and a series of walkways to enable tourists safe access without disturbing the natural landscape. The upper galleries house the world's largest stalactite. The galleries are composed of a series of chambers the largest of which peaks at a height of 120 metres (390 ft).

Aside from being a Lebanese national symbol and a top tourist destination, the Jeita grotto plays an important social, economic and cultural role and is a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition.

Ancient vestiges of a foundry were found in a smaller cave near the Nahr al-Kalb river, suggesting that the cave was used in antiquity to produce swords.The modern discovery of the underground river of Jeita in 1836 is credited to Reverend William Thomson (an American missionary) who ventured some 50 metres (160 ft) into the cave. Reaching the underground river, he fired a shot from his gun and the resulting echoes convinced him that he had found a cavern of major importance.

In 1873 W.J. Maxwell and H.G. Huxley, engineers with the Beirut Water Company, and their friend Reverend Daniel Bliss, president of the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut) explored these caverns. In two expeditions carried out in 1873 and 1874 they penetrated 1,060 metres (3,480 ft) into the grotto which is the principal source of the Nahr al-Kalb that supplies Beirut with water. They were impeded by "Hell's Rapids" torrents which break onto razor sharp rocks. Dr. Bliss, Mr. Maxwell and the other engineers recorded their names and the year on "Maxwell's Column", a great limestone pillar some 625 metres (2,051 ft) from the entrance. About 200 metres (660 ft) further on, in the so-called "Pantheon", they wrote their names and details of the expedition on paper, sealed it in a bottle and placed it on top of a stalagmite. The lime-impregnated water has since covered the bottle with a thin white film, permanently fixing it to the stone.

How to Reach

By Car

You can get to Jeita by car. A paid parking area is provided.Open Tuesday through Thursday from 9 am to 6 pm and Friday through Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.Closed on Mondays, unless it is a national holiday.

By Road

If you prefer land transportation,a Disney-like "train" pulled by a small replica of a steam engine makes regular runs up and down the hill between the parking area and the upper galleries.Near the entrance to the upper galleries is an air conditioned theater which has scheduled showings of a film about Jeita in several languages. Check which time the language you want is shown so you can coordinate the film with your visit to the cave.

From here the fun begins with a short ride up the mountain in one of four Austrian cable cars.

Key places to visit
The Lower Galleries, The Upper Galleries


Places to Visit

The Lower Galleries

This part of the cavern takes you to a beautiful underworld millions of years in the making. Both the 600-meter boat trip on a subterranean lake is only a sampling of the system that has been explored for almost 6,910 meters.The first impression is the sound of rushing water and a sensation of clean cold. But the roar of the waterfall at the entrance gives way to profound silence as you glide deeper into the cave. An effective new lighting system illuminates expert rock climbers-and marvel at the columns and sculptures fashioned by those great architects-water and time.

The Upper Galleries

The approach to these dry galleries through a 120-meter-long concrete tunnel does little to prepare you for the surprising world beyond. Formed several million years before the lower caverns, this section shows what the entire cave system was like before geological conditions displaced the subterranean river to its present level.For 650 meters you wind your way through different levels of the caverns, contemplating the flowing stone draperies and other formations. Perhaps the most dramatic sight is the yawning canyons and sink holes, some seen at a drop of over a hundred meters.Near the entrance to the upper galleries is an air conditioned theater which has scheduled showings of a film about Jeita in several languages. Check which time the language you want is shown so you can coordinate the film with your visit to the cave.

Right Time to Visit

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