National Natural Protected Areas in Hungary

- Cave Lands -




The Aggtelek National Park





 The park is the forth national park established in Hungary, but it is the first whose primary purpose is to protected the geological heritage of the superficial rock formations and caves stretching under the surface. The natural park is situated in the picturesque Northern Hungarian karst region, in an area lying between the state border and the River Sajó and Hernád. The area that enjoys the protection of the national park consists of the Hungarian section of the territory of the Gömör-Tornai karst, encompassing altogether almost 60,000 ha, the greater part of which belongs to Slovakia since the Trianon Treaty. The extraordinary natural heritage of this nearly 20,000 ha area has been protected since 1st January 1985. Some 4791 ha of the national park are strictly protected, and 230 ha form the core area of the Biosphere Reserve.


The rock Bunting nests in the open areas of karst scrub forests on the southern slopes.


The various parts of the national park land were formed in different, rather distant geological periods. The history of their geological evolution has been different. They reached their present location in the Cainozoic era as a result of horizontal movements triggered by tectonic forces. The ground rock in most of the territory was formed about 230 million years ago in the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era. It is the characteristic of theses rocks that determine the features of the landscape, and because of these the region’s world-famous caves and other karst formations first saw daylight. Such formations, as well as some other rock associations and their explorations that now serve as key  geological sections, are unique in Hungary.

The present form of the Aggtelek Karst Region is basically the result of karst phenomena and processes related to the destruction of the limestone ground rock. Nearly all the typical phenomena of temperate zone karstification, that began in the Ice Age and have occurred ever since, can be found here in a relatively small area. However, besides natural forces, human activity has also played its role in shaping landscape.

The only Hungarian site of the Austrian Dragonhead is the Tornai Karst.


In some areas which were once forested, the trees dissolved the milestone lying beneath the topsoil by acids emanating from their roots, and thus created tube-like holes in the ground. Deforestation and the ensuing agricultural utilisation of the land opened the door for precipitation to erode the soil unhindered. The ground rock was thereby revealed, and the remnants of the vegetation left in its tiny cavities (the so-called ‘root karrs’) gradually decomposed. This rugged, riddled and barren surface is called ‘karr’ or in folk terminology the ‘devil’s poughland’. The most beautiful example of such a karr formation is hillside of Tóhegy (Lake Hill), located just above Aggtelek. The national park is a genuine open/air museum of surface karst phenomena. The wooded plateaux are dotted with holes like a piece of cheese: these are sink holes as well as dolinas, where the ceiling of a dissolved hollow collapsed. At some places the remains of karst ravines and collapsed former caves stretch among the limestone blocks.


The natural opening of the Baradla Cave at Aggtelek, with the plaque confirming the World Heritage satus.

In the course of karstification, the precipitation becomes acidic from the carbon-dioxide dissolved by water from the ground. As the acid water infiltrates the crevices in the limestone, it dilutes them and thereby the way for the quartz pebbles to be washed down by the rain into the underground fissures. The pebbles polish the inner surface while calcium carbonate precipitates from the water slowly dripping through the hair-line crevices, creating a rich layer calcium-carbonate dripstone formations on the walls and floor of the evolving caves. The stalactites and stalagmites, coloured by multifarious minerals washed underground by the rainwater, together with dripstone columns, draperies, thin hay dripstones, coralloids and coral-like formations, helictites, curves dripstones and rimstone terraces glittering with calcite crystals, constitute a uniquely rich underground treasure-trove.

Altogether, there are more than 700 caves known to exist on the Aggtelek Karst and the Slovak Karst, which together form an integral whole by virtue geological and geographical features. Among them, one can equally discover large, horizontal with an active brook and deep almost vertical shafts in the north-eastern parts of the national park. Their treasures have been included in the World Heritage List. Here shall stand only a few rapturous lines from the Canadian geologist Lloyd Trevor about their enchanting impression of theses miraculous caves:

 “In the course of my entire tour of Europe, obtained the deepest and most lasting impressions when visiting your Aggtelek Cave… It is not only the scientific significance of your cave that is immeasurable, but  the gigantic horizons of its underground cavities and the enthralling mass of the crystal formations that make even the lay visitor come to realise that this unparalleled masterpiece of nature has been called to existence by the very same geological forces and processes that still play a major role in developing the crust of earth.”


A group of student near the entrance of the Baradla Cave - By Aranyi Laci


The Aggtelek National Park, thanks to its geographical position and geological structure, has very special climatic and hydrological conditions. The amount of precipitation falls short of the average of medium elevation hills; this is because the area is surrounded by higher hills and mountains on all sides. The annual mean temperature of the region is 10 °C, and the daily figures are below the national average. In deeper valleys (in the period when deciduous trees have their foliage( and in the caves, the level of air humidity can approach 100%. A special characteristic of the region’s clear air is that the pollen of several plants causing allergic symptoms, cannot be found in the Park’s area.

The most important characteristics of the flora and fauna of the Aggtelek Karst are their marginal position and transitory character. In terms of phyto-geography it belongs to an independent floral district that has evolved under karst conditions at the overlapping of Carpathian and Pannonian floral sectors. The enormous wealth in species and habitats that this mostly forested area possesses in indicated by a series of species with a wide range of ecological needs and characteristics.

One of the most characteristic forest communities of the karst land is the mixed hornbeam-oak wood, which provides a general basis for the numerous flora and fauna association. One can find several steppe and wooded steppe species in the warmth-loving oak forest lying on southern slopes, and there are sub-Mediterranean and middle eastern species in Downy Oak dominated karst scrub forests and in rock grasslands. This is the only place on earth where the International Red Book species íof the Tornaian Golden Drop can be found, which naturally enjoys strict protection, and the only Hungarian sites of the Austrian Dragonhead are here.

The mosaic-like communities of scrub forest and rock grasslands treasure a spectacularly rich fauna. Especially, the orders of butterflies and Orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets) are represented here by rare species. The invertebrates of these multicoloured and flower-rich grasslands include a large grasshopper, Saga pedo, and Clouded Apollo butterflies. Tiny Snake-eyed Skinks and more corpulent Green Lizards lurk in the crevices of rocky outcrops that divide wind-ruffled fields of Feather-grass. The beautiful scarlet Pyramidal Orchid represents the orchid family in the secondary hillside meadows, while in autumn one is bound to witness the blooming of various blue Gentian species.

The stream valleys dividing the karst land are garlanded by pretty resinous alder groves. A rare amphibian of the cool, shady stream valleys is the Fire salamander that is the logo of the Aggtelek National Park. The cross bog meadows with Cotton-grass and wet meadows are a riot of colour in the lower river sections.


A group of student next to the exit of the Baradla Cave, just in the Hungarian-Slovakian national border - by Aranyi Laci

A Europe-wide rare nesting bird of tall sedges is the Corncrake. The national park gives home to the largest Hungarian population of the Hazel Hen, the only grouse native to Hungary. Here is the nesting place of the rarest breeding songbird of the country, the Dipper, and the Imperial Eagle also broods in this area. The most frequent bird of prey is the Common Buzzard. In the past decade several large predators, that were once native to this region, such as the Wolf and the Lynx have resettled in the national park.

oMan has been constantly present in the territory of the Aggtelek karst since prehistoric age. The extensive forest teeming with game animals attracted hunting tribes and the cultivation of land began in the Neolithic period. The tools and remnants of the artistic line-decorated earthware of the Bükk culture were found in large numbers at Aggtelek. Archaeologists also unearthed several fine, thin-walled ceramic items ornamented by bundles of lines. The late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age are represented by golden bracelets, rings and bright black bowl fragments. Some pottery has also remained from the Roman Age.

The settlements of the region were established in the Middle Ages. As soon as the Tartar invasion ended, the reconstruction work began. Not only churches were erected by the hundreds in the country, but monasteries were also established one after the other. At a distance of only about an hour’s walk from the Martonyi settlement, there are the ruins of a Pauline cloister, founded in 1947, but now overgrown by vegetation. The round church in Szalonna, dating from the time of the Árpád dynasty, is worth visiting for the fragmented frescos on its inside walls, and the Romanesque church in Rakacaszend, with the straight back wall of its chancel is also noted for its precious fresco fragments and painted wooden ceiling dating from 1657. The twin-chancel Roman Catholic church in Tornaszentandrás in unique among Hungarian protected monuments.

 The 13th century Protestant church, since the rebuilt several times furnishes an impressive view with its sunk panel ceiling, wooden shingle roof and wooden belfry. The Romanesque church in Ragály is much simpler, but its not, without a spire, has stood in its place virtually unaltered since the 13th century. The painted sunk panel ceilings of the Jósvafő and Tornakápolna churches are valuable pieces of art dating from the 18th century. The pieces of wooden furniture (e.g. benches, pulpits and ceilings) in the above mentioned churches and products of master painters belong to the most beautiful relics of Hungarian folk ornamentation. One can also discover cemeteries with beautiful wooden grave-pots at peripheral villages in the Aggtelek karst, namely in Aggtelek, Teresznye and Jósvafő.

Similarly to the other regions of the country, castles were built one after the other in the second half of the 13th century in north-eastern Hungary. To the north of the Szögliget settlement, the Szád Castle was erected on Szárd Hill in the 1250’s by the command of King Béla IV in defence of his domain in Torna. This castle was reckoned to be one of the largest Hungarian castles at that time. In the garden of the Baroque castle in a protected park in Tornanádaska, a 15th century well from Venice can be seen, equipped with an iron winch structure. The building presently as an institution for the handicapped.

The medieval settlements surrounding the territory proper of the national park stretch out along a valley or along a road, and predominantly have a longitudinal structure dominated by one main street. The bulk of their dwelling houses were built at the turn of the century or afterwards. The region has retained its natural, historical and cultural heritage almost intact, accompanied be elements of traditional peasant agriculture.

Visitors of the Aggtelek National Park are offered a rich programme during any season. The Baradla-Domica cave system is an outstanding sight which can be visited throughout the year with guided tours of different length and difficulty. The alternatives range from ground tours (village walks, eco tours, botanical tours), ornithological trips, visits to Hucul stud (kept for the purpose of genetic preservation) and horse riding excursions to the cultural highlights of the villages nearby. Student groups can participate in all tours organised by the National Park with a 50% reduction in price. Among the numerous programmes organised for tourists and among cultural events in general, the annual series of cave concerts stands out vividly. Guests wishing to have a profound rest and perfect relaxation are most cordially welcomed by the various accommodation facilities operated by the park management, like the Baradla Tourist Hotel and Camping in Aggtelek, and the Hotel Tengerszem (Hotel Tarn) in Jósvafő, as well as by the cheap pensions and tourist houses in the surrounding settlements.


The caves of the Aggtelek Karst

The Map of Baradla Cave 


Wonderful dripstones - by Aranyi Laci

 The list of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage sites includes numerous caves, mostly designated because of their cultural-historic value. Caves as natural formations have so far only acquired World Heritage status in four cases. After a joint application by Hungary and Slovakia, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee included the caves of the Aggtelek Karst and the Slovak Karst in its list of the world’s most treasured natural assets at its meeting held in Berlin, in December 1995. The Mammoth Cave (USA, Kentucky) with an extension of 560 km below surface, and registered as the world’s longest cave, was first included in the list in 1981. Following this, in 1986, the Skocjani Cave (Slovenia), which forms a subterranean riverbed with the world’s highest water output, was put on the list. Finally, in 1995 – at the summer time as the caves of the Aggtelek and Slovak Karst – the caves of the Carlsbad National Park (USA) were included, and among its numerous caves – along with its name-giving cavern – there is a cave, which is considered the most beautiful in the world.

The area of Aggtelek and Slovak Karst (once called the Gömör-Torna Karst) is divided by the Slovak-Hungarian state border, nevertheless it forms an integral unit not only geographically, geologically hydrologically and ecologically, but also from the point of view of cultural history, and more than 700 hundred caves are known there. This subterrain world of diverse origin embodies one of the most complex sets of temperate karst formations yet discovered in mountains of medium height. With its abundance of forms versatility of speleothems, unique fauna, as well as its archaeological and historical relicts, this underground world proudly occupies a place in the first category of the Natural Heritage list.


Another ones - By Aranyi Laci

Of the caves classified as a World Heritage site, 280 lie beneath the surface of today’s Hungary. This figure constitutes approximately 8% of the more than 3500 registered caves. The length of seventeen caves exceeds 200 metres, and eight caves are over 1000 metres long. Fifteen caves stretch more than 50 metres below the surface, and six descend beyond 100 metres. This is where Hungary’s longest and third longest caves are situated. The length of the Baradla-Domica system is put a 25 km, and that of the Béke (Peace) Cave at 7.2 km. The estimated length of the latter is expected to increase in the near future as a result of recent exploration. Hungary’s second deepest cave, the Vecsem-Bükk Shaft which has a spectacular entrance and has been explored to a depth of 236 metres, is also located in the Aggtelek Karst right on the Slovakian border. 


A lonely one - by Aranyi Laci

The most famous caves at Aggtelek are those with origins, which can be traced back to streams. The dissolving formed these caves and polishing effect of watercourses wove their way below the hills via swallets. Many of theses, such as the Béke and Kossuth Caves, have water streaming in them the whole year round, however, there are also caves in which water only enters after winter snows have thawed or after heavy rains. Caves with such temporary activity include the Meteor, Szabadság (Liberty) and Vass Imre Caves. In the southern, lower-lying parts of the karst region, the nearly horizontal caves with streams and shorter or longer tributaries joining the main stream, are typical. In upland areas the water, which flows underground through seasonally active swallets, forms steep caves with a gradual and vertical shafts divide ‘step-by-step’ decline and which. However, the vast majority of this type of cave has become inactive due to karst activities, so the channels in them were filled with sediment.

Another major cave type includes the vertical system that is presumed to have developed as a corollary of the dissolving effect of waters seeping through surface cracks. This type of cave is typical of the region’s karst plateau. Within this type there are 64 caves belonging to a sub-class characterized by parallel shafts. These shafts, whose walls could be likened to those of a well, are concentrated in the area of Alsó-hegy (Lower Hill) where they appear in unique density. Around d a third of the known caves here are located within half a square kilometre.

22 that have been formed by ascending waters complement the diversity of cave types. Theses are thought to have been created by the dissolving effect produced when warm and lukewarm waters mixed together in the limestone block of the Esztramos Hill. This giant block is located in the Szalonna Karst to the south/east of the main karst region.


A group of Dripstones - in a picture postcard

 The caves also contain numerous spectacular mineral deposits, the most common being calcite and aragonite, along with gypsum and temporarily appearing ice-formation. So far, 20, of the 25 existing basic types of carbonate speleothems have been identified, a fact regarded by the international scientific community as a real rarity. The most common forms are the stalagmites, stalactites, draperies and flowstones, all which vary in shape, size and colour, and often cover large surfaces. Rimstone dams, pools and cave pearls, which are linked to dripping or flowing water, are also frequent. Likewise, aragonite bushes, popcorn-ícoralloids, helicties, cave rafts, moonmilk, cave shields and shelfstone resulting from seeping and stagnant waters, can be found. The coralloids in the Rákóczi Cave, registered within the international scientific literature summing up minerals of the world, are said to be one of the world’s best displays of the type.

The Baradla-Domica cave takes the most prestigious place among the caves registered as world heritage being the longest temperate climate cave that contains an active stream and is richly decorated by dripstones. Domica is the 5.6 km long section of this multi-entrance system that extends below Slovakia. Baradla, which in the last century was considered to be the second longest cave in the world, was ranked eighth in 1965, fourteenth in 1969 and twentieth in 1973. Today, it unfortunately does not even rank amongst the 100 longest cave in the world. However, in the temperate zone, none of the active stream caves that are longer than Baradla contain such a wealth of speleothems. The first written document, which – although with the wrong determination of position – mentions the Baradla Cave’s petrified dripping, dates from 1549, and the first Hungarian language description appears in a schoolbook written in 1788. Since the end of the 18th century the cave has attracted many scientists from abroad who published their findings. The Englishman Townson visited the site as early as 1794, Hunter soon after in 1799, with the Pole Staszic following in his footsteps in the same year, the Russian Glinka visited Baradla in 1808, and the Frenchman Beudant arrived in 1818. The cave’s first sketch map, drawn by the Hungarian Sartory József, is regarded in international literature as the first map of a cave worked out by an engineer. After Vass Imre discovered an extension to Baradla in 1825, it became the world’s longest charted cave of the time. Baradla was also one of the very first caves to be opened to tourists. There were organized tours to the cave at the beginning or the 18th century, and in 1806 – to ease wandering – bridges, steps and footpaths were constructed, and when high-ranking guests paid a visit the cavern was even furnished with candles to illuminate the way. A connection between the Baradla and Domica caves was predicted as early as 1801 and finally proved in 1932.  


The Aggtelek Well Shrimp is a characteristic inhabitant of the underground waters of the Aggtelek Karst.

The cave’s 7 km long main branch, which stretches from Aggtelek to Jósvafő, is the bed of a subterranean stream. The rock tunnel is on average 10 m wide, 7-8 high and widens into enormous chambers at several points, and auxiliary branches join the principal passage. The channels are decorated by ornate stalagmites and stalactites of various colors and shapes which appearing on mass offer a spectacular view with fantasy-moving forms, huge sizes and gleaming colors. The largest stalagmite, called the Observatory, is some 18 m high. Nowadays, the stream only flow through the entire length of the main branch in times of flood, and it sinks via swallets into Lower Caves, which lie 30-40 m deeper. Two independent lower caves are now known to lie below Baradla. Cavers have succeeded in penetrating along a 1 km long section of the so-called Short Lower Cave after having pumped out the water. 

 Among the large active stream caves of the temperate zone, the richness of dripstones in Baradla Cave is unmatched - in a picture postcard

Water from Baradla Cave is swallowed by the Short Lower Cave and then spouts forth to the surface through an artificial heading.

 The caves of the Aggtelek Karst are also precious for their wildlife, since they provide habitat to over 500 animal species, some of which are visitors whilst other live permanently in the caves. Some species are endemic and were first described here. Biological research at Baradla began in the 19th century. The Hungarian Dudich Endre - the founder of modern cave biology – conducted the first in-depth research, which took into account the physical attributes of the cave habitats. In his monograph, published in Vienna in 1932, he described 262 species occurring in Baradla, an announcement unparalleled at the time in Europe. In the Fox Branch, one of the cave’s offshoots. Dudich Endre maintained a specially equipped biological laboratory from 1958. Research carried out in the caves of Aggtelek Karst has shed light on approximately 500 cave-dwelling (troglobiont) species invertebrate species and sub-species, as well as on species that occur in cave-like (troglofile) habitats. A total of 38 species proved to be new and 35 species were first identified here in Hungary. The species of Duvalius Hungaricus, which is of outstanding importance, can be found only in the caves of the Aggtelek and Slovak Karst. Typical cave-dwelling invertebrate here include Mesonicus graniger, the Aggtelek Well Shrimp, which often appears in springs and wells, and worm species whose one and only known habitat is Baradla’s short Lower Cave. 

 Dripstones with a stream - by Kádasi Adrienn 5a

Bats (trogloxene species) are arguably the most important representatives of species that spend only certain periods of their lives in caves. Of the 30 European bat species, 21 have been recorded in this area. Besides the two species registered as vulnerable in the 1994 IUCN (International Union for Conserving Nature) Red List, namely the Pond Bat and the Greater Mouse-eared Bat, the colony of around 1500 specimens of Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat, which winters in the Baradla-Domica cave system, is European significance.  


Groups of wonderful dripstones - in a picture postcard

 The World Heritage listed of the Aggtelek Karst are also important as geological sites since their passages and channels facilitate the study – to otherwise inaccessible depths and over large surfaces – of the various types of limestone and fossil remains from the sea that covered the area in the Triassic Period. In the main branch of the Baradla Cave, seven wall sections, constituting the most representative of the explored sites, have been classified as geological key profiles. Indeed, these are the world’s only geological key sections to have been explored in a cave. Sediments that have accumulated in the smaller caves, crevices and paleo-karst cavities are rich in fossil remains of vertebrate species with ages ranging from the middle Pliocene to the late Pleistocene era. Findings in the Eszramos Hill are of special significance as these have provided essential data on the stratigraphical division of geological history. The internationally recognized middle Pliocene bio-stratigraphic stage in the development of vertebrates, ’Estramontinum’ acquired its name from this location. The excavation site No. 7 is an international reference site of findings indicating the boundary between the Pliocene and the Pleistocene layers.

Archaeological evidence has shown that in the pre-historic times man knew some of the caves that have been classified as a World heritage site. The Baradla Cave is on of the most well-known prehistoric excavation sites in Hungary with the first excavation conducted here in 1876. A large number of findings – have been found in the passage of the main entrance of the cave and in its adjacent chambers. The cave opens up near Aggtelek at the foot of a 50 m high rock, which appears glittering white when seen from afar. Among theses findings depicting the so called Neolithic Bükk culture (5000-3000) years BC) there are the traces of posts from earlier cottages, remnants of fireplaces, a great quantity of debris, as well as numerous intact ceramics, which were produced without a popper’s wheel and enamelled with parallel lines. Certain signs attest to the fact that following this; the cave was uninhabited for quite some time, since subsequent findings only date back to the late Bronze Age. The hypothesis of archaeologists suggest that in the Neolithic Age the cave was used as winter dwellings and a source of water, whereas in the late Bronze Age as a burial and possibly worship place. The caves, particularly the Baradla, have many times provided refuge to our forebearers from historic times, until more recent times.

Another drawing - by Kiss Norbert

 Aggtelek’s World Heritage caves are outstanding underground museums and on-site laboratories for the natural sciences research carried out in this region has played a major role in the development of the natural sciences, since the caves and their formations are still in a state of continual change and thus provide an excellent opportunity to study subterranean processes and the surface phenomena which influence them. The Jósvafő Karst Research Station was the first in the world to show, by means of continuous measurement, how the tidal phenomenon affects the fluctuation of the water output of karst springs. Studies at the Lófej (Horsehead) and Nagy-Tohonya springs have made its possible to construct a model of complex siphon effects. The result of hydrological research point to the existence of tens kilometres of as yet unexplored cave channels. This provides for further excavation, especially in Baradla’s Long Lower cave, as well as in Kossuth. Vass Imre and Meteor caves. 


Stalagtits and stalagmits - in a picture postcard

 Guided tours of different character and level of difficulty enable visitors to experience the treasures of theses museums created by nature which are registered as World Heritage sites. Nearly 200,000 people visit the opened caves annually, with many visitors arriving from different countries of Europe and other continents.

Besides their importance as scientific research and centres of education, the caves have other practical benefits, too. Several of the settlements in the karst region are supplied with drinking water from the springs of active, water-carrying caves. The particularly clean and invigorating air of the Béke Cave, the first in Hungary to be declared a therapeutic cave, has been a centre for curing respiratory disorders for three decades. The process of declaring the Baradla Cave a therapeutic cave is also underway.

According to the regulations of the World Heritage Treaty only those most outstanding natural treasuries are to be included in the list, and which are relatively intact whose protection can be guaranteed. The caves of the Aggtelek Karst meet this set of criteria, since the vast majority of them can be considered to be in a prestine state. This is due to the fact that most of them were only discovered over the last few decades.





Clear mountain brooks provide a habitat fot the Dipper.

A village of Hungary, in the county of Gömör, situated to the south of Rozsnyó, on the road from Budapest to Dobsina. In the neighbourhood is the celebrated Aggtelek or Baradla cavern, one of the largest and most remarkable stalactite grottos in Europe. It has a length, together with its ramifications, of over 5 miles, and is formed of two caverns — one known for several centuries, and another discovered by the naturalist Adolf Schmidl in 1856. Two entrances give access to the grotto, an old one extremely narrow, and a new one, made in 1890, through which the exploration of the cavern can be made in about 8 hours, half the time it took before. The cavern is composed of a 1'abyrinth of passages and large and small halls, and is traversed by a stream. In these caverns there are numerous stalactite structures, which, from their curious and fantastic shapes, have received such names as the Image of the Virgin, the Mosaic Altar, &c. The principal parts are the Paradises with the finest stalactites, the Astronomical Tower and the Beinhaus. Rats, frogs and bats form actually the only animal life in the caves, but a great number of antediluvian animal bones have been found here, as well as human bones and numerous remains of prehistoric human settlements.


Finely scalliped Flowstone can be seen in several caves of the Aggtelek Karst.


Aggtelek National Park Directorate

Address: H - 3758 Jósvafő, Tengerszem oldal 1.
H - 3758 Jósvafő, Pf. 6
Telephone/Fax: (+36 48) 350-006
Website :



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