In many cases, the world below us is just as fascinating as the ground we walk on. Across Europe, there is a hidden, often millennia-old subterranean realm of tunnels stretching from the north in Scotland leading down to the Mediterranean.
It is an underground world of never-ending tunnels, massive caves, and labyrinths dug by unknown ancient men. There are also underground labyrinths that have not been fully explored yet. One of them is located about 52 kilometres from Constanța, historically known as Tomis, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania.
A Vast Underground City Where You Can Get Lost
This vast labyrinth of 12 hectares lies beneath the plateau of Limanu. Researchers started to investigate the place in 1916 and discovered traces left by humans, carved walls and ceilings, and ancient ceramic fragments. Drawings and inscriptions in Roman and Cyrillic alphabets on the walls prove the cave was inhabited between the 1st century BC and 10th century AD.
The labyrinth is vast, with a total length of passages approximately 3.5 km. Dacians used it to hide from the Roman proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus (c. 115 B.C. —53 BC), who played a vital role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. The cave’s early inhabitants used a marking system to avoid getting lost.
Approximately 4,000 meters in length, Limanu Cave is the longest in Dobrogea. It has a chaotic branching of galleries, like the street network of an ancient city. Some researchers believe that at least some of the galleries were entirely dug by human beings, as there are tooling marks on the walls. Certainly, Limanu Cave represented an important human refuge, even since Dacian times.
The network of galleries resembles a city street map, like the street network of an ancient city developed chaotically, thus the impression of an underground city.
Some of the galleries have rectangular, very regular sections, and it seems humans carved them as signs of chiseling are visible. In order to avoid the collapse of ceilings, supporting walls and pillars were built in limestone slabs.
The drawings of galloping horses are of particular interest, while their riders have faces displayed from the front. Their silhouette and presentation strikingly resemble those of Dacian riders depicted on pottery discovered in many settlements in the area inhabited by Thraco-Dacians.
The earliest drawings are very likely from the prosperous time of the Geto-Dacian culture, the time when the cave was furnished as well. Other pictures show Christian religious symbols, letters, or words in the Cyrillic alphabet. This artwork belongs to the Roman-Byzantine period and the subsequent times.
According to Ph.D. Adina Boroneant, “Vasile Pârvan” Institute of Archaeology, Romanian Academy, the Limanu Cave was a shelter for the local population until later, 10th-11th centuries AD.
Surveys have revealed archaeological material proving that local Dacians inhabited the cave even in that era. Existing evidence allows us to assume that a local Geto-Dacian authority ordered the maze of Limanu as a defense measure against the Roman danger.”
The account of Dio Cassius shows that the cave was a place of refuge, purposefully chosen and renovated, not some adventitious cavern,” Ph.D. Boroneant writes in his ‘Labirintul subterrane de la Limanu’ (The Underground Labyrinth of Limanu).
Tales Of Mysterious Sounds Coming From Underground Realms
Local stories mention strange and frightening wails like a prolonged high-pitched cry of grief, pain, or anger coming from the depths of the earth.
A scientific explanation for these strange sounds provided by speleologists is that the eerie wails are produced by the wind that sweeps through many underground galleries at Limanu. This noise affects the human psyche.
The cavern has a unique characteristic: although it is located on a complex of lakes and close to the Black Sea, it is so impenetrable that not even water can pass through.
The cave is also known as Caracicula (the old name of Limanu settlement), Bats’, or Icons’ – due to some images carved in stone that once guarded the entrance.
Limanu Cave is one of the three habitats in Romania for horseshoe bats – Rhinolophus Mehelyi. The species decreased from over 5,000 specimens to about 300 individuals. However, ecologists warned about the vulnerability of the cave, which is a magnet for treasure hunters. Through their actions, they tend to destroy the fauna.
Being located near the border with Bulgaria, Limanu cave had the reputation of a tunnel carrying fugitives across the border, particularly during the communist time.
There are many reasons to suspect the Dobrogea caves are hiding mysteries still waiting to be discovered.