Crude shafts driven blindly through dirt and rock in hopes of finding a rich seam, like a person in a dark room
digging through a pile of clothes looking for clean socks.
Think about the word: “Mine.” Hold it in your thoughts. Close your eyes, and let your imagination guide you. When thinking about a mine, what comes to the mind’s eye? Images of filthy men with pickaxes, toiling away in the dark beneath the ground? Digging for gold, for iron, for coal. Crude shafts driven blindly through dirt and rock in hopes of finding a rich seam, like a person in a dark room digging through a pile of clothes looking for clean socks. It isn’t often that one would find any beauty in holes roughly hewn in the earth, but the Piusa Sand Caves of Estonia are just that.
Begun in 1922, for more than 40 years miners excavated the caves by hand to collect sand for making glass. Humans have been making glass for more than 3,000 years, crafting the useful material for a wide variety of purposes. The silica found in the quartz sand, like the sand excavated from the Piusa Sand Caves, is the primary component of glass. Leaving behind sandstone galleries and vaults, the caves look more like works of art than works of industry. Walking through this underground, one can imagine they are on the set of a fantasy film, not in a now defunct quarry. But should you walk through these caves, I would recommend that you wear shoes you are comfortable with throwing away. Not only do people find these caves particularly interesting, but so do the bats of Estonia. Not to worry though. These are not the children of Dracula one might run afoul of in Transylvania, or the flying inspiration of costumed heroics in Gotham City.
These fuzzy flyers won’t bother you if you don’t intrude on their dozing. In 1999, it was estimated that more than 3,000 bats from five different species have colonized and thrived in the mine, coexisting here for decades. The Piusa Sand Caves are the largest hibernating area for wintering bats in Eastern Europe, making it of particular interest to the many scientists who come here to study the winged mammals. No longer functioning as a mine, the caves now serve as a nature preserve for the bats, offering marked paths and guided tours that guests might safely enjoy the subterranean hollows. The nearby visitor center provides both educational and entertaining opportunities to guests, hosting seminar rooms, a cafe, and a museum. The visitor’s center also acts as the entrance to the caves themselves, but should you choose not to disturb the bats, you can also take advantage of the hiking trail that starts here. The trail stretches 1.4 kilometers, and takes the adventurer on an excursion to see local flora, and scenic settings without the risk of falling.
Address: Piusa küla, Orava vald, Põlvamaa, 64122 Admission: 5 euro