Turkey's western Black Sea region has always attracted visitors to its scenic beauty above ground, but now offers marvels below ground too. Beneath the verdant forests and meadows of this region are hidden sights of a quite different kind. Caves slowly carved into the rock over tens of thousands of years are as strikingly lovely as works of art produced by master painters and sculptors. One of these caves is Inalti at an altitude of 1070 metres above sea level south of Ayancik in the province of Sinop. The cave system is 2200 metres in length, but although only the first 400 metres is at present open to the public this is quite sufficient to appreciate the cave’s beauty. Speleologists who have explored the cave report that there are lakes in its depths. The huge cavern at the mouth of the cave narrows to less than 1 metre in width after a few hundred metres, although the roof never drops too low to obstruct progress.
The first impression upon entering the cave is hard to express in words. It is an overwhelming and enchanting sight. You seem to have entered a cathedral carved out of the rock by the finest stonemasons in the world, who have exercised all their powers of imagination in decorating its stone walls. The formations on the walls are so fascinating that everyone interprets them differently. As you advance the shapes of the limestone become increasingly abstract, and depending on your mood you might liken them to a wild animal or a tree laden with fruit. Lighting at the sides enables you to see these formations in full detail. Ahead the high ceiling of the cavern begins to drop and the walls to close in, until two people can no longer walk side by side.
Towards the end of that part of the cave open to visitors, water begins to drip from the roof, the floor becomes wet, and the air humid. These are the first signs of the underground river and lakes which lie deeper in the cave. When you turn and look back you see a wonder of the world created by the hands of nature alone.
Caves generally form in limestone, which is eaten away by water to form cracks and cavities. These become steadily larger over time and join together to form cave systems that sometimes contain lakes and waterfalls. Studies by geologists of the terrain in this region around Sinop have found that there is a thick layer of limestone, and therefore believe that there may be other as yet undiscovered caves here.
Speleologists divide cave systems into two main categories, vertical and horizontal. Inalti is a horizontal system that runs alone a system of cracks and faults in the limestone. It is thought to have formed in two stages. In the first, water seeping down from the surface reacted with carbondioxide in the soil to form an acidic solution that eroded the limestone, widening the existing cracks and creating an underground water course. In the second stage, as the land here was pushed upwards, the flow of water diminished and the evolution of the cave stopped. The underwater stream that had probably been linked to dolines at a higher level found a new course for itself, leaving the cavern dry. Once this had happened stalactites, stalagmites and travertines began to form.
Inalti Cave was opened to the public a few months ago as a result of a joint project between Sinop local authority and Black Sea Technical University .
To reach the cave head south on the road to Boyabat from Ayancik, a small town west of Sinop, and after 17 kilometres take the turnoff to the left to the village of Inalti. From the village it is a walk of 10-15 minutes to the cave, which is surrounded by thick forest. Under the project the path to the cave has been widened and and the steps paved. The lighting system within the cave has been designed according to specifications prepared by the university so as not to disturb the cave’s natural structure.
This spectacular underground world leaves indelible impressions on your memory. Finding words to describe its wonders is hard. My companion was quicker to do so, summing it up as 'magical and sometimes scary,' and adding that she would not like to be left alone inside.
When we left my mind was filled with images of the cave below, mingled with those of the pine forest rising into the sky above.
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