Tourist Tip #156 / The Soreq Cave of Stalactite Wonders

An underground stone forest of naturally formed figurines in the Judean Mountains lets your imagination run wild.

A scenic drive through the Judean Mountains leads to the Avshalom Reserve Stalactite Cave, more commonly known as the Soreq Cave, where 45 years ago a quarrying blast shook the earth, revealing a 91-meter-long “rockcicle” wonderland, with stalactites and stalagmites galore. Ten years of work and research later, the cave was opened to the public.

Stalactites and stalagmites are formed when rainwater seeps in through crevices in limestone and slowly and steadily dissolves the rock. How slowly? Over the 45 years since the cave’s discovery, hardly any change can be discerned. It kind of puts life and time in a whole new perspective.

Speaking of perspective, it’s amazing to think that water can dissolve rock, but the great second-century Rabbi Akiva, illiterate until he was 40, understood its significance. Once, the story goes, while at the height of his first career as a shepherd but longing for knowledge, he observed how dripping spring water had made a hole in rock. It is said that right then and there he decided – “if water can dissolve this rock, I can learn to read.” The rest is history...

…Or geology. If you’re looking for the scientific explanation, here it is: Rainwater comes into contact with the carbon dioxide in a certain form of limestone and creates a weak acid. That’s what dissolves the rock. When a drop of water penetrates the cave, it either remains suspended on the ceiling or falls to the floor, hardening again into rock, in various shapes. In this particular cave they’ve taken on an amazing variety of shapes, recalling animals, cartoon characters and even political figures (no, those two last categories are not interchangeable). There’s even natural cuisine-art – “macaroni stalactites” – which are formed when a drop moves so slowly once it penetrates the cave that it ends up creating a thin, hollow ring of calcite around the base of the drop. When this “pipe” becomes clogged, it turns into a thick base, narrowing toward the top, called a “carrot stalactite.” There are even ice-cream cones complete with a cherry on top.

In the zoological realm, water flowing at varying rates from the ceiling produced curtain-like “elephant ears,” along with rabbits and lions. Facial features in the rock recall John F. Kennedy and David Ben-Gurion. There are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as well as an architectural formation called “pagoda city.” For soap opera aficionados there’s “unrequited love.” This one appeared after a stalactite dripped its way down from the ceiling to a point where it almost – but not quite – reached a stalagmite rising from the floor. Because the particular water source there dried up, alas, never the twain shall meet.  

Without rain seeping underground through the type of limestone and soil in the Judean Mountains and the specific plants and trees that grow there, experts say that the Stalactite Cave would not have formed. This is also the only active stalactite cave in the country (meaning that the dripping is still going on) that's open to the public. So on both counts, it’s a site well worth adding to your Jerusalem -area itinerary.

Hours: April-September: 8 A.M.– 5 P.M.; October–March: 8 A.M. – 4 P.M. On Fridays and holiday eves the site closes one hour earlier than above. Tours in English, for groups of 50 only, are by reservation by calling 02-9915756.  There are many stairs to the site through the main entrance, but the mobility-challenged can avoid them by coming via a “back door” road. For directions, call:  057-7782278. (There are steps inside as well; wheelchair users can go as far as a platform with a good view at the start of the tour.)

Michal Fattal