Caves of Drach; a work of art made by nature
The Caves of Drach are a group of four large caverns of karst origin located in the municipality of Manacor, near the town of Porto Cristo, on the eastern side of the island. The main set of caves is 2400 m long and reaches a depth of 25. However, recent explorations have revealed that the total set would be more than 7 km long, although a significant part would be submerged sections.
The main caves are called Cova Negra, Cova Blanca, Cova de Lluís Salvador and Cova dels Francesos
In the latter is Lake Martel, which is 117 m long, 30 wide and up to 17 deep, and is considered one of the largest underground lakes in the world.
Although known since ancient times, the Caves of Drach rose to fame at the end of the 19th century, when they were systematically explored and mapped
They are even cited in Jules Verne’s book Clovis Dardentor (1895). Guided public visits began in 1888, and at the beginning of the 20th century they became one of the main attractions of the incipient tourist industry in Mallorca.
In the 1920s, important works were undertaken to improve accessibility, opening the current entrance in 1929
In 1931 concerts began to be offered on some of the visiting days and in 1935 the installation of electric lighting was carried out.
In addition to the spectacularity and natural beauty of the caves, the main tourist attraction is the concert on the lake
A string quartet on board a boat performs several pieces of classical music while the play of lights stages a sunrise on the lake.
Price and timetables
The Drach Caves are open every day of the year, with one-hour visits, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the locker of the same complex, or through its website.
- The price at the box office is 16€ for adults and 9€ for children between 2 and 12 years old
- Babies under 2 years old do not need a ticket to access the caves
- The price through the website is somewhat lower: 15€ for adults and 8€ for children
Although each shift is one hour, the tour lasts slightly less, about 40 minutes
To this must be added the 10 minutes of the concert on the lake with the Amanecer en el Lago light show. Then you can cross the lake to the exit in one of the boats, or follow the path on foot.
How to get to the Caves of Drach
The Caves of Drach are located next to the tourist town of Porto Cristo, in the municipality of Manacor, in the east of Mallorca
Porto Cristo is 12 km from Manacor and 65 from the capital, Palma. The route to follow is perfectly signposted.
- From Palma we have to take the Ma-15 towards Manacor, and from there follow the indications to Porto Cristo and the Caves of Drach
- From the northeast, in the Capdepera and Artá area, we will take the Ma-4023 and from there we will continue towards Porto Cristo
- If we are in the south of Mallorca we will first go to Portocolom and then we will follow the indications to Porto Cristo
If we want to get there by public transport there are two lines that stop at the entrance of the caves
- From Palma we have line 412
- From Cala d’Or, to the south, or Cala Ratjada, to the north, we can take the 441
How the Caves of Drach were formed
Since the first systematic explorations of the Caves of Drach at the end of the 19th century, various hypotheses have been raised about their geological origin.
Most of these hypotheses agree that the caves originated by different processes of subsidence of the land, but differ in what geological or chemical processes caused these subsidence in the first instance and the subsequent erosion that has given rise to the caverns that we know today.
After his first investigations, Martel concluded that the main factor had been erosion of marine origin
In fact, he described the caves as a “sea cavern”, but particularly extensive. He ruled out leaks from the Llebrons torrent, a little further north and which flows into the current marina, due to the absence of evidence of leaks from the surface.
In 1912 Jacques Maheu proposed for the first time the hypothesis, rejected by Martel, of the action of an underground river as the origin of the Caves of Drach
For this he was based on the existence of currently submerged stalagmites, and that therefore they must have existed before the sea water penetrated the caves. He held that the lakes and caves were the bed of an ancient underground river.
This hypothesis, more or less nuanced, was the most accepted until the 1960s. According to the authors, more or less importance was given to the erosion suffered by the intrusion of seawater, by leaks from higher levels, or by the presence of phreatic conduits. .
It was not until the 70s when Joaquín Ginés and Ángel Ginés first point out a possible phreatic origin of the Caves of Drach
It would be in the zone of mixture between fresh and salty waters where the landslides that would have given rise to the caves would have occurred. The stalagmite formation processes would have continued later, giving the appearance that we know today.
Despite the investigations carried out, there are still many doubts about the exact moment and the mechanism of formation of the Caves of Drach, and other similar cavities in the south of Mallorca. Most likely they were formed during the Miocene, but since the original remains were buried by subsequent landslides and these strata were not accessible, it is difficult to determine.
The most complete hypothesis about how the Caves of Drach were formed involves several steps
First, small cavities would be formed by the dissolution of calcareous rocks in the phreatic levels, mainly where fresh waters and brackish waters from the sea mix. Increasing the size of the small cavities would lead to cave-ins and greater seepage. Stalagmites would form on these new soils that would hide the original soil. The mechanical action of the fluctuations of the marine waters would contribute to the modeling of the caves.
All these processes could have started between 5 and 11 million years ago but have continued only 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age
Investigations in karst caves in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and in other similar ones in Mallorca and Menorca, have helped to understand some of the processes involved, but there is still no definitive answer to the origin of these cavities of such singular beauty.
The Caves of Drach in history
From prehistory to the Middle Ages
The Caves of Drach were known and used since prehistoric times, as revealed by certain archaeological finds such as fragments of indigenous ceramics
Near the natural entrance of the cave (currently the exit of the tourist itinerary) there is a corridor of cyclopean construction that seems to date back to the end of the Bronze Age, between 1000 and 1500 years BC.
The following archaeological remains found in the Caves of Drach already take us to the Muslim era
Since there are numerous ceramic remains that indicate that access to the caves for water supply was common.
Already in the Christian period, in 1338, appears what is believed to be the first written reference to the Caves of Drach, but not under this name, but with the name of Sa Cova Vella (The Ancient Cave)
The origin of the name Coves of Drach remains uncertain and could be related to the legend of a dragon that guarded a fabulous treasure inside the cave. Such type of dragons are recurrent in different mythologies around the world, specifically in Europe, and within Spain especially in the Catalan-speaking territories.
The document in question is a letter from Roger de Rovenach, Governor of Mallorca. addressed to the mayor of Manacor where he informs him that a certain Bernat Gatell has permission to carry out an incursion into a cave in the municipality, but at the same time requests to be informed of the activities carried out in the cave. At that time raids into caves in search of treasures and minerals were common. The exceptionality of the explicit permission and the requirement for a later report would indicate that it was a raid into a large cave, not small caverns that were already routinely explored for treasure.
The Caves of Drach during the Renaissance
The first written appearance of the toponym “Cova del Drac” occurs in the Història General del Regne de Mallorca, by the Manacor priest Joan Binimelis i Garcia
Completed in 1595, but practically unpublished until the 20th century. When speaking of Cala Manacor (where the current Porto Cristo is located), he mentions that “at the end of this cove is the Cave they call the Drac”.
In 1632, in the first volume of the Historia General del Reyno Balearico, by Juan Dameto, at the time appointed general chronicler by the Gran i General Consell, the Caves of Drach reappear: “Cala Manacor, with its watchtower, next to the one that is the cave that they call commonly the Drac”
After this, in different maps of the 18th century the caves are mentioned indirectly. On Cardinal Despuig’s map of 1784 it is said that “in his district (Manacor) there is a cave of very worthy and curious attention.” In the guide Viajes a las villas de Mallorca (Gerónimo de Berard, 1789) it is mentioned that next to Cala Manacor there is a “famous large cave with exquisite regular petrifications”.
The Caves of Drach in the 19th century: first explorations
In 1878 there is an incident that would give popularity to the Caves of Drach
The Catalan hikers Josep Llorens i Riu and Salvador Riu i Font, accompanied by Joan Jaume Ballester, who years later would be the mayor of Manacor, entered the caves with the intention of exploring them. However, they got lost and had to be rescued by a group of locals led by Francesc Femenías, who ran the inn where the Catalan hikers were staying.
This incident led to a new excursion by the Catalan Excursion Association in 1880 (which would also visit the Caves of Artá, then popularly known as Cova de l’Ermita)
One of the hikers would once again be Josep Llorens, who would make a detailed description of the caves known up to that moment. It also details that the visit had a cost of 100 reales (the caves are on a private estate), which included guide services and lights.
However, the first rigorous attempt to map the Caves of Drach had taken place a few weeks before
Archduke Luís Salvador, who had already been living for long periods in Mallorca for several years, had a great interest in caving. He himself was a member of the Société de Spéléologie and published several notes on caves in the Balearic Islands in the magazine Spelunca.
Coinciding with a stay in Mallorca by his mother, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, a visit to the Caves of Drach was organized, in which, among others, the German entomologist Friedrich Will participated. At the request of Archduke Will, he made a planimetry and a stratigraphy of the three great caves known until that moment.
For this visit, several paths were adapted inside the caves. A few days later, on May 23, taking advantage of these paths, public visits to the Caves of Drach were inaugurated with a price of 2 reais per ticket, which, as we have said, included a guide and lighting service.
Friedrich Will’s survey was published that same year and incorporated the three great caves known at the time.
Baptized as Cova Negra, Cova Blanca and Cova de Lluís Salvador, and also the Lake of the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. It also included the presence of a large body of water beyond that lake, although at that time its presence could not be confirmed. Small elements and geological formations present in the rooms were also baptized.
This plan was also included by the archduke in volume 5 of his work Die Balearen, an encyclopedic compendium of the landscape, flora, fauna and traditions of the Balearic Islands from the 19th century. In 1885, the book Álbum de las Cuevas de Artá and Manacor, by Sebastián Gay and Baltasar Champsaur, was published, which includes detailed descriptions of the Caves of Artá and those of Drach, as well as engravings and the plan drawn up by Friedrich Will.
These works contributed to increase the popularity of the Caves of Drach among European travelers
The British Charles William Wood visited the Caves in 1886 after having read about them in Die Balearen and having a meeting with Archduke Luís Salvador. He recorded his visit in the book Letters from Majorca, where the letters he sent to his sister during their stays in Mallorca are collected.
In 1888 the French traveler Gaston de Vuillier toured Mallorca in the autumn, publishing that same year his report Voyage aux îles Baléares in the weekly travel and exploration magazine Le Tour du Monde, illustrated with high-quality engravings. In 1892 the photographer and journalist also French Edmond Cotteau, and also a collaborator of Le Tour du Monde, took one of the first photographs in the Caves of Drach.
But the great impulse for the exploration and systematic investigation of the Caves of Drach came in 1896, with the first campaign of Édouard Alfred Martel
This French lawyer interested in natural sciences, geography and cave exploration is considered the founder of modern speleology. He was the promoter and founder of the Société de Spéléologie, of which we have already seen that Archduke Luis Salvador was a partner.
His friend Gaston de Vuillier was the one who told him about the Caves of Drach and put him in contact with the Archduke to organize the expedition to study the caves. During the first exploration using folding boats, they were able to cross the lake then called Miramar (as one of the Archduke’s residences) and discovered rooms that until then were virgin and are known as the French Cave.
Martel made a detailed cartography of the caves at a scale of 1: 2000, also collecting numerous details about them: rock crystals, origin of the waters, temperature, etc. At that time he postulated that the origin of the caves was marine.
The Caves of Drach in the 20th century: fame, tourism and research
In April 1901 Édouard Alfred Martel returned to explore the caves, as well as other nearby cavities, and also others in the Sierra de Tramuntana
He added details to his original cartography and numerous photographs were taken. From this second exploration he qualified his first conclusions about the genesis of the caves. In his opinion, it could be due to the sinking of the Porto Cristo coast, but they would have been expanded by the action of the sea. The wide dissemination of Martel’s works on the Caves of Drach popularized them worldwide, making them an important tourist attraction.
On the scientific side, in 1904 the Romanian biologist Émile Racovitza explored the caves in search of their specific fauna
As a result of the collection of specimens, he was able to describe a new species of crustacean, the Typhlocirolana moraguesi (named in honor of Ferran Moragues, a Mallorcan entomologist who accompanied Racovitza on his explorations). It is an aquatic and cave-dwelling crustacean endemic to the Balearic Islands (it has been found in caves in Mallorca, Menorca, Cabrera and Dragonera).
In 1911 the botanist Jacques Maheu also explored the Manacor caves, also financed by Archduke Luis Salvador
Although he focused on the Caves of Hams, he improved the topography of the Caves of Drach elaborated by Martel and discovered two new rooms, unknown even to the guides of the time.
In 1905 the Fomento del Turismo de Mallorca had been founded, a private association dedicated to the economic development of tourism on the island
In 1927, Juan Servera Camps, owner of the land under which the Caves of Drach are found, joined as a member. The entity promoted the improvement of communications with Porto Cristo and brochures and photographic albums were published to promote the caves, among other actions.
In the decade of the 20s, refurbishment works were carried out, opening the current entrance in 1929
Through this new access, the infant Jaime de Borbón, second son of King Alfonso XIII, and General Primo de Rivera visited the Caves. During this visit, the first concert was offered from a boat on the lake. In 1931 concerts began to be offered regularly in the caves.
Various hydrographic studies begun in 1922 establish that the cave system is somehow connected to the sea. New topographic and rock studies suggest that the origin of the caves is due to the action of groundwater, not seawater.
In the 30s, excursions by train and car were already organized for the visit
In those years, specifically in 1935, the electric lighting installation designed by the architect, engineer and lighting technician Carles Buïgas, author, among other projects, of the illumination of the Montjuïc Fountain was inaugurated. As part of the project, the so-called Sunrise on the Lake is included, also beginning the celebration of the concerts by a string quartet from a boat. Thus begins the modern commercial exploitation of the Caves of Drach.
During the civil war and the post-war period, tourist and scientific activity was practically paralyzed, and only began to recover at the end of the 1940s
In the successive tourist booms of the 60s and 80s, hardly any new studies were carried out in the Caves of Drach, but those carried out will be of great importance.
Starting in 1991, teams of local speleologists took an interest again in caves, and recovered their study in the light of the most current knowledge on coastal karst reliefs.
Thus, the importance of the sinking processes in the formation of the caves in the Porto Cristo area (those of Drach and of Hams) is established.
Also in those years cave diving is developed, so that underwater explorations of the Caves of Drach can be carried out. In several dives carried out in 1990 and 1991, more than 600 m of submerged caves were discovered, making the group of caves have a length of 2400 m.
Between 2010 and 2015, systematic exploration campaigns of the submerged caverns were carried out, establishing that the total length of the system was more than 6500 m
Finally, in 2018 the gallery that communicates the Cuevas del Drach with the nearby Cala Murta was discovered. In this way the cave system exceeds 7 km.