South of Lecce along the Salento coast of Puglia, on your way to the very tip of Puglia’s heel, St. Maria di Leuca, you will find Grotta Zinzulusa.
Once you make your way past the entrance, you will walk along a narrow and somewhat slippery path to the grotto entrance where you can see how the cave got its name. Zinzulusa comes from the word zinzulo which means “rag” because when seamen were approaching the grotto, the entrance resembled rags.
You can only visit the grotto with a guided tour and you will be reminded that, due to the fragility of the grotto, it is critical not to touch anything (the cave is “living”) and to watch your step along the wet, dimly lit path. What captures our immediate attention, however, is the huge and fascinating primordial cave of stalactites and stalagmites. Incredible!
Although only discovered in 1793, Grotta Zinzulusa dates back many many millennia, an estimated 23 million years, in fact. Fossils of penguins and elephants dating back to the last ice age have been found here, as well as the remains of 63 other aquatic and terrestrial species. There is a fresh water “lake” where excavated objects were found indicating that “water cult” rituals were practiced here.
Our path is only from the 50′s and at the very end it leads us to a “cathedral”-like dome over 25 meters tall! At one time this entire cavern was completely filled with bat waste, known as guano. And I’m telling you that’s a lot of bat waste! Workers who had unenviable task of shoveling it all out back in the early 1900′s left graffiti to “celebrate” their efforts on the opposite wall using, si, you guessed it!
The Grotta holds the key to many secrets and today, and while it is delicate and endangered, it is fortunately well protected.