The International Writers Magazine
: Balerics

Mallorca Artá Caves
Habeeb Salloum

"I ‘m so pleased! Tomorrow it will be different! We will be seeing a real handiwork of nature – the greatest of all artists", I remarked to a colleague as we departed from yet another art gallery in the city of Palma – capital of Mallorca and also of the Balearic Islands.

We had examined dozens of mostly modern paintings in a number of galleries in the old city and although some of our group, including our guide, were enthusiastic about modern art, I had my reservations.

Now as we made our way on a four-lane highway driving toward the Artá Caves, I felt elated. The warm autumn sun, the green countryside filled with vineyards and orchards and the thought of exploring the handiwork of nature made my world serene. I was dreaming when the voice of our guide announced we were now in Manacor – 50 km (31 mi) from Palma.

The city with a population of 30,000 is the second largest town on the island of Mallorca. It is famous for manufacturing furniture but, above all, as the centre of the artificial pearl industry -the main reason for tourists to visit the Island. Visitors usually stop here to buy pearls even though better prices are found in Palma’s shops.

Past Manacor the road narrowed to two lanes and soon we were travelling through tree-covered hills until we reached the Artá Caves located near Capdepera in the Cap Vermell region. Spectacular caves, they are surrounded by mountains that tower above the edging waters. Located 46 m (151 ft) above the sea, the Caves, (Cuevas de Artá) is a fascinating network of caverns. A daring work of nature formed by rain seeping through the rocks, they draw travellers from all over the world to admire their imposing grandeur. The caves majesty is so overwhelming to some visitors that they want them to be declared the ‘ninth wonder of the world’.

The first mention of the caves was recorded in 1229 when Jaime I during the Christian conquest of Mallorca, found 2,000 Arabs hiding in the caves. During the ensuing centuries, hermits, pirates and smugglers employed the caves as hideaways. In 1876, Edouard Martel, a renowned French geologist was the first to thoroughly study them and it is believed that Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth was inspired by his visit to the caves.

After paying the entrance fee we entered the partially lighted Entrance Hall where many shapes of stalactites hang from the high roof while tall stalagmites rise up from the floor. It was a stunning sight. I was moving in the semi-darkness when I stepped on a rock and just about fell on my face. Steps have been built and pathways have been marked all through the caves, yet one has to be careful.

Next we entered a Chamber where a very short light and sound spectacle gave us an overview of the caves. On and on we continued. The scenic aura was fantastic and I was so engrossed with nature’s handiwork that numerous times I just about fell on the often wet and slippery floors. Pushing 83 years, I found that the staircases, many quite high, were hard to manage but I struggled on trying to keep up with our group.

Like most visitors, the famous ‘Queen of Pillars’ stalagmite held my attention for quite a while. A stalagmite, 22 m (72 ft) high tall, it resembles a Gothic column. Growing upwards at the rate of 2cm every 100 years, it is estimated that in 5,000 years it will be joined to the ceiling.

As we moved along, I found intriguing the names of the various chambers that we traversed such as Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Theatre, Organ and the Chamber of Flags. After about a half hour we stopped for some time to view an astonishing formation in the shape of an elephant then stopped again at the so-called Diamond Stones that resemble gemstones – formed as a result of their carbon composition.

After walking the one and a half km (1 mi) length of the caves, I felt tired as we arrived at the exit. Back in the bright sunlight we were greeted with a spectacular and beautiful view of the waters of Canyamel Bay. For me it was a tiring yet fulfilling journey through a well-organized series of caves; for the young an adventure in nature’s underworld. We left the caves with the words of the guide ringing in our ears, "It is said that for one who is stressed the caves emit serenity to a hectic world."

Some 15-minute drive on the way back to Palma we stopped in the medieval village of Artá – a town of some 8,000 63 km (39 mi) from Palma. From the highway our first view of the town was stunning and impressive. The Santuari Sant Salvador and below it the Parish Church of the Transfiguration sat atop the village dominating the town, spreading down on the hillside – their spires and walls seemed like guardian angels watching over the town.

We parked by steps leading up to the churches. I looked up! The steps seemed to reach upward to a great distance. "There must be 300 steps to the top. I don’t think that I can make it!" I remarked to a young colleague walking up by my side. She smiled, "Don’t worry! I will help you if you can’t make it."
I was totally exhausted when I reached the top. Thinking that my ordeal was over, I turned to see that there were more steps to the churches. Discouraged, I sat down on the bench to rest and gaze at the churches above me. The lower Parish Church of the Transfiguration looked huge with vaulted gaps up on the roof.

From the Parish Church, one struggles 180 steps to the Santuario de Sant Salvador, built on the site of a Moorish fortress. The highest point in Artá with great views across the town and the surrounding landscape, it is the symbol of the town and the goal of every visitor. As we walked down for lunch, I thought of these two holy structures that were really what Artá is all about.
Enjoying our ‘meal of the day’ costing only 11 euros at the Hotel Sant Salvador Ca’n Epifania Restaurant, I reminisced about our day’s exploration of the Artá Caves and the town of Artá, still retaining its medieval charm. It was a journey from nature’s wonder, to a town set in a postcard setting, capped by fine food. "What more can a traveller seek?" I thought to myself.

1) The Artá Caves opening hours in May to October are 10am-6pm, and November to April they're 10am-5pm. The visit to the caves lasts between 25 and 40 minutes. Only one group can enter at a time, approximately every half an hour. Guided visits are conducted in Spanish, French, English and German.
2) The time to come to Artá is on Tuesdays when the weekly market is held.
3) The main foreign language spoken in Artá is German. There are a good number of German ex-pats who call the town home.
4) Pearls are the gifts to buy while visiting the Balearics. Mallorquin artificial pearls, manufactured in the town of Manacor, are world famous.
5) The favourite Mallorquin sweet is ensaimada – a spiral-shaped bun and sobrassada is the islands’ most famous sausage.
6) Leaving a small tip is customary - in bars, restaurants and hotels, from 5-10% of the cost of food or drink.
Where to Stay:
Hotel Sant Salvador, a small cosy hotel with 8 rooms and a fine restaurant located just below the churches, it’s the place to stay when exploring the region. Calle Castellet, 7 o 07570 ArtB o Islas Baleares.
Tel. 0034 971 829 555. Fax 0034 971 829 598. E-mail: Website:
In Palma, one of the top hotels to stay is Castillo Son Vida, situated in a castle of medieval origin, surrounded by 500 hectares of subtropical parkland and with magnificent views of the bay of Palma, the hotel is a 5-star top luxury abode. 07013 Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Tel: 34 971 790 000. Fax: 34 971 790 017. Email:

For Further Information Contact:
Check Website: or e-mail:
Tourist Office of Spain, 2 Bloor St. W., 34th Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4W 3E2. Tel: 416/961-3131. Fax: 416/961-1992. E-Mail: Website:
The Spanish Tourist Office, 666 Fifth Ave. 35th, New York, N.Y. 10103, U.S.A. Tel: 212/265-8822. Fax: 265-8864. E-mail:

© Habeeb Salloum
December 2006

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