Friday, October 22, 2010

Sprawling monastery and gigantic caverns, part 2.

In part 1 I described the hillside cave-monastery of Vardzia in the eastern European country of Georgia.  Now let’s turn our attention to the second part of the title, the vast cave complex of Krubera (aka Voronya).

The Krubera caves are the deepest yet found (depth measured from the cave entrance rather than against sea-level).  At its lowest point it is 2,191m below its sole entrance, making it the only known cave beyond the 2000m mark, and the total extent of the caves is over 13km.  It was only discovered in 1960 and the initial explorations only descended 60m

Since 2001 teams from the Call of the Abyss project have explored the caves out to their current extent and to do so they need to treat the caves the way alpinists treat mountains.  From the BBC's article on the 2004, 56-member team expedition:

Carrying about five tonnes of equipment, they had to negotiate vertical drops and freezing torrents of water. They were also forced to blast rubble from passages that were critically narrowed or blocked by "boulder chokes".

They set camps at depths of 700m, 1,215m, 1,410m and 1,640m, where they cooked meals, slept up to six people to a tent and worked for up to 20 hours at a stretch.

The cavers kept in touch with the surface base camp by rigging nearly 3km (two miles) of rope strung with a telephone wire.

The level of organisation that these teams have is something that no game I’ve been part of has ever considered.  I also think that it’s interesting to see how many repeated visits the teams make.  They don’t simply go the once, look around, and declare the job’s done; in these huge and complicated environments they make visit after visit, exploring places that they’ve already been to see if they missed opportunities to reach even further and newer sections of the cave.  They spend weeks at a time underground using a variety of techniques to map the area, including using coloured dyes to determine how the water flows through the caves (put purple dye in a stream, and if you don’t see the purple in other parts of the cave, you know the stream is going somewhere else).

Now, the reason that I linked posting these caves and the Vardzia monastery together wasn’t just because they are both in Georgia, but because I first read about each of them in a terrific post on the “architectural speculation” blog BLDGBLOG.  That post was what really put the idea of a blog like this in my head, when towards the end he mentions that there is no connection between the monastery and the caves, but:

… how exciting would it be to discover that Vardzia had, in fact, been constructed as a kind of architectural filter above the stovepipe-like opening of a titanic cave system, and that, 800 years ago, monks alone in the mountains reading books about the end of the world might have sat there, surrounded by fading frescoes of saints and dragons, looking into the mouth of the abyss, perhaps even in their own local twist on millennial Christianity standing guard over something they believed to be hiding far below

I won’t steal any more of his thunder, but in the paragraph after this he throws out an idea that I sincerely hope someone turns into a game.  Enough said, go see for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment