Frasassi Caves: the jewel of Italian speleology

The Frasassi caves are among the most important places of interest in the Marche region. It is an extremely complex set of underground cavities that were discovered around the seventies of the twentieth century.

After our visit to the caves of Toirano we went to discover the beauty and grandeur of the limestone structures that over the millennia have formed inside the caves of Frassassi that offer the eyes of tourists absolutely unforgettable views, completely alien to the passage of time in the surrounding world.

Frasassi Caves - exterior
Grotte di Frasassi – esterno – Photo credit: roy.luck on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Trip to the Frasassi caves

The Frasassi Caves can be explored by anyone: the classic routes for tourists are flanked by educational workshops for children, but there are also two explorative experiences of increasing difficulty, suitable for those who have some experience in speleology and some familiarity with speleologist’s equipment (which is provided free of charge when starting one of the two routes).

Plunging into the abysses of the caves that extend below the town of Genga will, however, be an unforgettable and surreal experience, in some cases even mystical.

The history of the Frassassi caves

Dr. Mario Marchetti, co-founder of the CAI Speleological Group of Ancona, “stumbled” at the entrance to the Grotta del Fiume in 1948. From that moment on, the Marchigiano Speleological Group of Ancona committed itself to the constant and systematic speleological exploration of the caves below the territory of Genga.

However, the most sensational discovery came many years later: only in 1971, by a group of explorers from Jesi. At that time the explorers enlarged the tunnel renamed Strettoia del Tarlo to make it easier to explore the deep branches of the tunnels: during one of the expeditions that followed, the speleologists from Jesi decided to follow the course of the wind that crept into the tunnels and reached what was renamed Terrazzino del Brivido. Overlooking an enormous underground cavity that it was impossible to illuminate or explore with the means at their disposal, the speleologists decided to throw a stone to estimate the height of the cave: it was measured approximately one hundred metres.

Frasassi caves inside
Grotte Frasassi interno – Photo credit: oRi0n on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

That enormous cavity, today the most famous of the whole complex, took the name Abisso Ancona to celebrate the origin of the speleologists who had the fortune and honour to discover it. Later it was estimated that the Abisso Ancona could contain the entire Cathedral of Milan and that it could therefore be counted among the largest caves ever discovered underground in Italy.

From that moment on the fame of the Frasassi caves grew out of all proportion and great energy was dedicated to their complete exploration. Today in its entirety the complex measures over 20 km, 3 of which have been made accessible and explorable by ordinary visitors.

The main areas

As already mentioned, there are many more or less large cavities that make up the complex set of the Frasassi Caves. The main and most famous ones have extremely suggestive names, which evocatively describe their appearance:

The abyss Ancona

If it is certainly one of the largest underground caves in Italy and Europe, the Abyss Ancona is probably also one of the largest caves in the world. It measures 180 metres long and 120 metres wide. Contrary to what the very first explorers of the Abyss estimated, the cavity is not “only” one hundred metres high, but measures a good 200 metres in height at the furthest point from the ground.

This enormous hollow structure originated from collapses and landslides that progressively detached large portions of rock: the remains of landslides have been lying on the bottom of the Ancona Abyss for millennia and give a tangible measure of how powerful the telluric movements that undermined the original structure of the cavity were.

Niagara Falls

Dominating the Ancona abyss are the white calcite formations known as Niagara Falls. This formation, of imposing dimensions and stratified course, recalls the continuous flow of waterfalls on rock terraces: hence the name that speleologists have decided to use to indicate it.

The Giants

At the centre of the Abyss Ancona stands an impressive group of stalagmites that has developed over millennia. The structures that compose it are up to 20 metres high, have a diameter varying between 2 and 5 metres and are universally considered the most important stalagmites of the entire hypogeum complex.

Hall of the Two Hundred

Contrary to what one might be led to think, the two hundred to which the name of this portion of the Frasassi caves refers indicates the number of speleologists involved in its exploration, but simply the length of the tunnel expressed in metres.

The Castle of the Witches

What strikes the imagination of those who enter the Hall of the Two Hundred is the bristling formation of stalagmites similar to spires known as the Red Castle or Castle of the Witches. The evocative illumination developed by the curators of the Caves makes the resemblance to a ruined Gothic castle even more evident.

Obelisk and Sword of Damocles

The Obelisk is a stalagmite of enormous importance, as it has provided speleologists for decades with a constant reference point for orientation inside the cave. 15 metres high, it was formed on the base of a rock that collapsed from the vault of the cavity. The Sword of Damocles is a perfectly white stalactite over 7.40 metres long. The colour is characteristic of calcite, the material from which the Sword is largely composed.

Gran Canyon

This area of the Frasassi caves has earned the name of Gran Canyon due to the fact that it has cavities flooded by the water of the water table at the bottom of the cave and that comes from the water of the river Sentino.

Organo cane

In the Grand Canyon a group of close and parallel stalactites has developed, made up of conical – lamellar concretions which have the particularity of resonating with different tones if delicately struck from the outside with a metallic body.

Infinite Hall

This room has a roughly circular plan which led the speleologists who attempted their first explorations to repeatedly lose their bearings and turn in circles several times before they were able to identify an exit passage from the room, in an apparently endless path.

stalagmite Frasassi caves
grotte di Frasassi stalagmiti – Photo credit: oRi0n on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Visit the Frasassi Caves

The Frasassi Caves have a constant temperature throughout the year, which is around 14°, while the humidity level is 100%. Given the particularly harsh climatic conditions and the often slippery ground, it is advisable for tourists to wear very warm clothing and comfortable shoes.

The route is open to ordinary visitors and takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Visitors with motor disabilities can explore the Abyss Ancona and the Hall of the Two Hundred, while all the others can take advantage of the artificial walkways built in 1974 just before the cave complex opened to the public.

Adventure Routes

Since 1993, two speleological routes of varying degrees of difficulty have been set up, allowing the more adventurous visitors to explore parts of the caves that are not equipped with lighting and walkways.

The Blue Path is the simplest, intended for those who have some experience of caving, although very vague; the Red Path, on the other hand, presents higher level difficulties but is still accessible to people of medium build and who have a normal level of health. On the other hand, it is impractical for people who are obese, claustrophobic or suffering from circulatory diseases due to the narrowness of some tunnels, about 20 metres long.

The two routes depart from the end of the artificial routes intended for ordinary tourist visits, so those who choose to have a speleological experience of the Frasassi caves can still enjoy the tourist route.

Timetables of the Frasassi Caves

The complex of the Frasassi Caves is kept open all year round by the Frasassi Consortium, which manages the influx of tourists to the site and takes care of its integrity since the time of its discovery.

The only days in which the Frasassi Caves are closed to the public are 4 December, 25 December and the period from 10 to 30 January.

  • From 1st March to 31st October the Caves are open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and the entrance is allowed every hour. From July to September an entrance is added at 6.00 p.m. while in August only there are continuous entrances with an entrance every 10 minutes.
  • In the bridges the Caves will be open all day from 9.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., while the entrance of visitors will be organized with variable frequency.
  • From November to 28 February the caves will be open from 11.30 am to 3.30 pm on weekdays. On Saturdays the only times when access is allowed are: 11:30, 14:30, 16:30.
  • On Sundays and holidays, as well as during the Christmas and Epiphany festivities, the caves will be open every hour from 10:00 to 17:00.

The speleological routes are generally held on weekends and holidays and, again as an indication, leave at 9.30 or 15.00. They must be booked exclusively at the number 0732 90090. The consortium also accepts bookings on weekdays by groups of a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 25 to 30 people.

On the day the visit has been booked, visitors must arrive at the ticket office one hour before the departure time.

Frasassi Caves Tickets

The full ticket to visit the Frasassi Caves is 18 Euro per person. Reduced tickets, to which various categories of visitors are entitled including CAI registered speleologists, journalists and professors, cost 15 Euro.

Children between 6 and 14 years old pay a 12 Euro ticket while guided tours cost 100 Euro plus the entrance ticket to the caves.

The speleological routes cost 40 Euros (Percorso Azzurro, lasting 2 hours) or 50 Euros (Percorso Rosso, lasting about 3 hours).

How to get to the Frasassi Caves?

The most practical way to reach the Frasassi Caves is certainly by car: you will need to take the A14 motorway and exit at Ancona Nord. From here the State Road Ancona – Rome will allow you to exit at Genga after about 25 minutes.

The railway station of Genga – San Vittorio Terme is the closest to the site and is located on the Ancona – Rome railway line.

Grotte di Frasassi il gioiello della speleologia italiana
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