Electric lights lit up in Postojna Cave 130 years ago

On 24 May we celebrate exactly 130 years since electric lighting was introduced to Postojna Cave.

Before electric lights were set up inside Postojna Cave, illumination had been provided by cave guides by means of oil lamps and by cave lamplighters who lit up and put out candles on the wall as they went along. The amount of lighting provided depended on the fee visitors paid for their tour. They could choose between a few candles only or "lighting on a grand scale" for which four to five kilograms of candles were used.

Electric lighting was temporarily installed in Postojna Cave in 1883 at the time of the visit from Emperor Franz Joseph. Three electric lights lit up the Great Hall. A year after, electric lighting was installed inside the cave as a whole and Postojna Cave was thus illuminated by means of electricity for a whole three years before London.

This is what the then Cave Committee chairman Anton Globočnik wrote in his Chronicle at the time: »Electrical wiring has become a reality. On 24 May 1884, installation was completed and the cave was illuminated during a visit from students of the Rijeka Naval Academy. This was a tremendous success. When the lights were turned on, the splendours of stalactites and stalagmites that had never been seen before appeared in front of our eyes. Twelve arc lamps, each with the power of 1,400 candles, illuminated the six most prominent spots in the cave: the Great Hall, the Dance Hall, the Laundry, the Crossroads at the Grave, Belvedere and Calvary«.

It had been a few years prior to that, in 1878, that the Cave Committee chaired by Anton Globočnik became interested in electric lighting. To realize this goal the Committee sought solutions in Vienna and Paris and following lengthy talks with Viennese electric companies Globočnik had electrical wiring installed at the time that coincided with celebrations of the 600th anniversary of Carniola being united with other Habsburg Lands. On this occasion, Postojna Cave was once again visited by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph - his visit took place on 15 July 1883.

Electricity was generated by a steam locomotive, which was temporarily accommodated in a wooden shack not far from the entrance to the cave. It was connected to the lights in the Great Hall and the Dance Hall in a simple way, by means of the three-phase direct current. It was delivered a mere few days before the Emperor’s arrival. Electrical wiring was supplied by the Viennese company Siemens & Halske. Besides the electricity, the cave was additionally illuminated by 16,000 candles and adorned by 600 colour balloons.   

Postojna Cave thus became one of the first places in the then Duchy of Carniola to have electric lighting and at the same time also featured one of the first subterranean illuminations in the world. With the onward march of progress in the field of electric lighting, illumination was continuously updated, modified and improved, which remains the case in the present day.