Wonders of Iran: Qouri Qaleh Water Cave

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tamara Ebrahimpour

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The Qouri Qaleh water cave is one of the outstanding tourist attractions of the western Iranian province of Kermanshah.

Located 84 kilometers from the city of Kermanshah, Qouri Qaleh is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world and the longest water cave in Asia.

Some locals hold that the cave is named after a nearby Sassanid castle, which the Kurdish inhabitants of the region called 'Goura Qaleh' -- meaning the 'big castle'. Over time this name changed into 'Gouri Qaleh' and finally became 'Qouri Qaleh'.

Others believe it was named after a village of the same name, which was surrounded by numerous castles, one of which was built in the form of a teapot (Qouri in Persian).

A group of British and French speleologists discovered Qouri Qaleh between 1976 and 1977. The team explored 620 meters of the cave but was forced to cease further exploration and return after reaching a point where the water level was as high as the cave's roof.

A group of Iranian spelunkers carried on the expedition in 1989, exploring to the depth of 3,140 meters and going through about 12 kilometers of the tortuous paths to map the area.

Made of Cretaceous and Triassic lime sediments, Qouri Qaleh dates back to the second geological age, about 65 million years ago.

The cave has yielded a number of archeological finds, including coins and crockery, which date back to the time of Sassanid king Yazdgerd III.

Archeologists also found a number of human skulls, prehistoric earthenware and circular crockery adorned with animal designs and arabesque and lotus floral patterns.

Qouri Qaleh includes numerous halls, which are named after the nature-created shapes of the stalactites and stalagmites decorating them.

Mary, Ferdowsi, Amir Kabir, Beethoven, Mushroom, Pisa Tower, Elephant, Heart, Ship and Waterfall are among the names given to the cave's many halls.

The first hall is called the Hall of Mary, which looks like a big lake surrounded by beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

The entrance to the hall was blocked by a huge rock. A young man from the nearby Qouri Qaleh village volunteered to hammer the rock into the cave, who was then given the title of Qouri Qaleh Farhad -- Farhad was a Persian hero who was exiled by his rival in love, the monarch Khosrow II, and was forced to carve stairs out of the cliff rocks of Bisotun mountain.

The 'Beethoven Hall', located at a depth of 1,000 meters, contains a beautiful pool and stunning stalagmites that produce melodic sounds when touched.

The 1,500-meter-deep 'Bride Hall' is naturally decorated with white and shiny crystals which are easily marked by footsteps. One of the hall's unique features is its pen-shaped stalactites hanging from the ceiling, which are made of lime sediments and look like crystal. They are 2 to 8 meters long, transparent and fragile.

The most horrifying part of the cave is the 'Purgatory Tunnel', which is a 220-meter-long passage, half filled with water.

Qouri Qaleh is an attractive destination for researchers, spelunkers, zoologists and tourists, who can explore 500 meters of the cave, equipped with lighting.

Visitors can also enjoy four 10- to 12-meter-high spectacular waterfalls at the depth of 2,700 meters.

Zoologists say the cave is a good habitat for a rare species of bat named mouse-ear; a large number of the vertebrates lived there before it was spotted.

With a temperature between -7 to 11 degrees Centigrade and a relative humidity of 89 percent, Qouri Qaleh is considered an all-season tourist spot.

Qouri Qaleh has been registered as one of Iran's seven national natural heritage sites.


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