In Toirano there is an extraordinary ensemble of caves, important both from a naturalistic and historical point of view. There are spectacular decorations made of stalactites and stalagmites and also some of the most ancient prehistorical remains from 300 000 years ago. The caves are famous for being the largest cave bear graveyard in Europe and one of the very few sites where have been found remains of Homo Heidelbergensis, an archaic relative of Homo Sapiens, and also of Neanderthals.
History of Toirano's Caves
The caves of Toirano offered an ideal winter refuge, because of their natural conformation, and have been used by the cave bears for millennia, before human beings. This fact causes a particular condition of these caves, that are known as “cave bear graveyard”, because of several bones belonging to this spices found in there. From 300 000 years ago there are the remains of homo heidelbergensis, also called archaic homo sapiens.
This type of hominid lived between 600.000 and 100.000 years ago, and was characterized for the big dimension of their cranium, their tallness (more than 170 cm, higher than the prior hominids) and their body structure, similar to ours. They were also similar to us for their ability in developing a language and the starting of cultures that, even though they were primitives, if compared to the previous cultures, were more complexes.
Then the caves were inhabited by Neanderthals from 80.000 to 40.000 years ago, and homo sapiens came late, around 12 000 years ago, but used the caves not for residential but religious purposes. This kind of use of the caves was adopted again, since XV century, when one of them was transformed in a sanctuary, and then was named after cave of Santa Lucia.
Today the caves are part of the special preservation area of Monte Ravinet- Rocca Barbena, and distinguish themselves for their natural structure and prehistorical remains.
The preistoric caves of Toirano
It is possible to have a guided tour inside the caves, that follows a spectacular path of tunnels and corridors excavated in the rocks, punctuated by stalactites and stalagmites that create natural and particular decorations. The temperature inside is constant around 16 °C.
Cave of Bàsura
The Cave of Bàsura (Witch cave) was the first cave to be discovered and the most studied by geologists and archaeologists. Its structure is very articulated and it is made of many chambers, and each one of them is characterized by a variety of particular natural concretions. The path starts from the corridor of footprints that is named after the footsteps of the first human beings that passed in this cave, and leads to the chamber of the lake, in which there is a small natural pool that hosts nimphargus, a small hypogeum crustacean.
At a lower level in the same cave it is possible to found the most peculiar elements: first of all the cave bear graveyard, where are preserved the proves that this cave was a refuge for these animals. You can see ground paw prints, and claw marks on the walls, and most of all a notable number of bears’ bones.
Secondly, there is the majority of human remains into the depths of the cave, in particular in the “Amphitheatre of mysteries”, where are visible prints of hands, feet, knees on the ground, and numerous small balls of clay stuck to the wall thrown for ritual purposes. The “Cybele’s cavern”, is characterized most of all for naturalistic peculiarities, a flow of alabaster and huge breast shaped concretions, covered by a uniform layer of yellow calcites crystals.
The cave of Santa Lucia
The cave of Bàsura is connected by an artificial corridor to the cave of Santa Lucia, that is divided in an upper and lower part. The first one is notable for the presence of the sanctuary of XV century, and are visible the inscriptions left by pilgrims that testimony their passage, and in the deepest part there are the remains of prehistorical settlement of very ancient age.
In fact, there have been found object of Mousterian culture associated to the presence of Neanderthals in this caves, and then there is the hypothesis that some of the remains belong to an earlier period, and so that should be related to the homo hiedelbergenis.
The lower part of the cave was precluded to men in prehistory, and was opened only in the recent times, when the excavations made it possible to see the naturalistic peculiarities: the walls are covered by flower shaped aragonites crystals and there are monumental stalactites and biggest breast shaped concretion that creates an 8 meters high column.
The Dove’s Cave
In a higher position related to the other caves, there is the Dove’s Cave, normally closed to public because of the studies in progress. It is composed by a wide gallery and one lateral chamber, and inside there are human remains from different ages, in particular is important for the certain presence of proves of homo heidlbergensis, that are very rare to be found.
Imagine copyright: By Rinina25 / Twice25 - Self-photographed, CC BY 2.5
Monday-Sunday: 9.30-12.30 a.m.; 2.00-5.00 p.m.
Full ticket: 12,00 € (October-May); 13,00€ (June-September)
Reduced ticket: 7,00€ (children between 5- 18 years)
Free entrance for children under 5 years
Tickets include also entrance to Ethnographic Museum of Toirano and allow you to get the reduced ticket in all the Italian Caves, and to Archaeological Museum of Finale Ligure
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE CARD:
AGE: Lower Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic
CIVILISATION: Homo Heidelbergensis (early homo sapiens), Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Sapiens
ADMINISTRATION: Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici della Liguria
DISCOVERY: XIX century
How to get to Caves of Toirano
BY CAR: From Genova take motorway dei Fiori A10 until exit Borghetto Santo Spirito, and take the provincial street to Toirano for 3 km.
BY BUS: From Pietra Ligure, Loano or Borghetto Santo Spirito it is possible to take a bus circolare 81 Loano-Boissano-Toirano-Borghetto-Loano that takes you to Toirano in Piazzale delle Grotte
BY TRAIN: you can get by train until the station of Loano, and then change with the bus circolare 81 to Toirano. Alternatively it is possible to take a taxi from Loano railway station, to get to the Caves