The history of caves of Barać
The first records of this area, including Caves of Barać, can be found in the History of Cartography of the Area of Krajina by Marsiglia published in 1699. Marsiglia spent time in this area and produced the first known topographic maps of
Croatian-Turkish border divided in 37 sections in the scale of 1:30000.
The first records of these caves can be found in the book by I. T. Bunek, Die Wassernoth im Karste, 1874. Special attention to paleontological and archaeological explorations of the caves was given by Mijo Kišpatić, PhD, who published his findings in the Croatian Archaeological Society Gazette in 1885, as well as in his book Slike iz Geologije (Geology Impressions).
Wishing to preserve the paleontological and archaeological site at the entrance of the caves, Kišpatić encouraged the founding of the Committee for Exploration and Maintenance of the Caves of Barać. The idea quickly became reality with the help of Ogulin Property Municipality, on 20 February 1892. The Committee consisted of 14 members (Ante Biljan, Lazo Odanović, Franjo Marković, Josip Radaković, Pero Radaković, Franjo Brajdić, Vjekoslav Cindrić, Željko Šebalj, Pavao Šebalj...). They closed the caves with iron grid doors, built paths and little bridges, and fenced off more dangerous spots. The caves were opened to public on 14 August 1892, the day before the feast of the Assumption.
Noble Josip Sugh gave a more popular description of his visit to the Caves of Barać in the magazine Obzor, issue of 4 August 1898. Caves of Barać are almost in fantastic fashion described by Dragutin Hirtz in his books Lika i Plitvička jezera (Lika and Plitvice Lakes) published in 1900 and Prirodni zemljopis Hrvatske (Natural Geography of Croatia) published in 1905. In his book Plitvička jezera i okolina (Plitvice Lakes and its Surroundings) published in 1910, Prof. Dragutin Franić described the renovation of the caves, including the Third or New Barać Cave, much like Hirtz did in his works. In 1913, the renowned palaeontologist and speleologist, Josip Poljak, PhD, together with Koch, explored the caves in the area surrounding Plitvice Lakes and published, in 1914, the book Pećine hrvatskog krša II (Caves of Croatian Karst II - caves in the area surrounding Plitvice Lakes, Drežnik and Rakovica). The research was conducted as part of the Natural Science Research of Croatia and Slavonia, commissioned by the Mathematics and Natural Sciences Department of the Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb. This was the first public release of drawings and photographs of Caves of Barać – Upper and Lower. As can be concluded from the description of the caves, they were already quite neglected at the time – broken stalactites and stalagmites, destroyed walls, scattered bones...
The last record of the caves before World War II was made by Ivan Krajač, PhD, the famous mountaineer and speleologist. He visited the Caves of Barać in May 1925 and described his visit in the mountaineering journal Hrvatski planinar No. 7. These records show that he visited the place with a local from Kršlje who knew the caves well and that nobody looked after the caves at that time. In the words of Krajač’s companion, thirty years before that, the caves had had numerous visitors, which was apparent from the large number of carriages parked at the foot of Barać Hill. The visitors came from Plitvice, Rakovica and Senj.
The caves were again mentioned only after World War II, in the writings of the exquisite speleologist and hydrogeologist, Srećko Božičević, PhD, in the journal Naše planine No. 4, 1956 (article Croatian Mountaineers and Speleology), and at the 2nd Yugoslavian Speleological Conference held in Split in 1958, when Božičević published his work Zaštita pećina u Hrvatskoj i njihovo uređenje u turističke svrhe (Protection of Caves in Croatia and Their Renovation for Tourist Use).
Mirko Malez, PhD, in the Chronicle of the Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1960, published the paper titled Paleontological Research and Speleological Explorations in 1959. Our speleological “historian” Vladimir Božić, M.Eng. also wrote about the caves in his paper Caves of Barać - Present and Past published in Speleolog journal in 1983.
As part of the systematic research of Lika in 1960, speleologists from the “Željezničar” speleological society from Zagreb explored the caves led by Ivica Posarić, M.Eng. In 1971, another group of “Željezničar” speleologists photographed the caves, and during 1972, they thoroughly researched the caves and performed another topographic survey. After this research, according to the dwellers of the surrounding areas, apart from the groups mentioned above, Caves of Barać were visited by only a few individuals whose names or intentions they did not know.
Speleological interest in the Caves of Barać and entire area of Rakovica Municipality gained momentum in 1983, when the speleologists from the “Velebit” speleological society discovered a large system of caves, Panjkov ponor-Varićakova špilja (Muškinja, Ponor Kršlje…). Speleologists of DISKF (Society for Research, Surveying and Filming Karst Phenomena) joined the expedition, whose contribution mainly refers to the Varićak Cave, Mašvina area (Volovska jama, Kojina jama and several other smaller pits and caves at Mašvina, and springs in the direction of Korana River - Crno vrelo, Zečevac...), area of Lipovača, springs and caves at Stara Kršlja, and diving in the cave system Panjkov ponor - Varićakova špilja (I Main Siphon; repetition of the lost rope Siphon several times, Green Siphon – Crno vrelo).
In this period, the crew of “Velebit” speleological society led by Marijan Čepelak, M.Eng., made a thorough speleological and hydrogeological exploration of the Rakovica wider area. The connection between speleological sites and the entire hydrography and hydrogeology of the area and details about the explorations were described in detail by Marijan Čepelak in the journal Naše planine, No. 7/8 in 1984, and in the journal Speleolog No. 30/31, published the same year. In the article published in Naše planine, he wrote about the visit and exploration of the Caves of Barać, mentioned that they made a topographic drawing of the Upper and Lower Caves, and located them in space.
After the World War II, Caves of Barać were almost forgotten by the tourists, neglected, in terms of visits and maintenance, although some elements of upkeep could still be visible. It was only recently, through the Decree of the Municipal Council of Rakovica Municipality, that action was initiated and the Committee for the Revitalization of Caves of Barać was formed. The appointed members of the Committee included Franjo Franjković, M.Econ., Mira Bićanić, M.Eng., Tihomir Kovačević, PhD, Mladen Garašić, Juraj Božičević, PhD, Matija Franković, PhD, Antonija Dujmović, PhD, Nikola Magdić, M.Eng. and Ivan Bertović. The Committee met once and came to some conclusions, the most important being that the holder of the entire project of revitalization of caves would be Rakovica Municipality.
Meanwhile, several large-scale, international speleological expeditions were organized that proved very successful: a lot of new speleological sites were discovered and explored. The first Croatian speleologists’ centre was built in Nova Kršlja, the Lower and Upper Caves were barred with iron grid gates, the area surrounding the Baraćevac spring was cleaned, the intensive development of the Cave Protection Survey began, along with preparations for opening the caves to visitors. The Third or the New Cave was rediscovered after keeping its secrets and stories hidden for about a hundred years. The new topographic drawings of all three Caves of Barać were made.
In July 2004, the Caves were again open to general public after 112 years.