The Jeita Grotto is a system of two separate, but interconnected, karstic limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres. The caves are situated in the Nahr al-Kalb valley within the locality of Jeita,18 kilometres north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, the upper galleries house the worlds largest known stalactite. The galleries are composed of a series of chambers the largest of which peaks at a height of 120 metres, aside from being a Lebanese national symbol and a top tourist destination, the Jeita grotto plays an important social, economic and cultural role in the country. It was one of top 14 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition, the Jeita cave is situated at the center of the western flanks of the Lebanon mountains, more specifically in the Nahr al-Kalb valley, its natural entrance is about 100 metres above sea level. Its located 5 kilometres east of the Mediterranean coastline and 18 kilometres north of Beirut within the confines of the municipality of Jeita, in the caza of Keserwan. Ancient vestiges of a foundry were found in a cave near the Nahr al-Kalb river. The modern discovery of the river of Jeita in 1836 is credited to Reverend William Thomson who ventured some 50 metres into the cave. Reaching the underground river, he fired a shot from his gun, in 1873 W. J. Maxwell and H. G. Huxley, engineers with the Beirut Water Company, and their friend Reverend Daniel Bliss, president of the Syrian Protestant College explored these caverns. In two expeditions carried out in 1873 and 1874, they penetrated 1,060 metres into the grotto before finding their progress blocked by an underground waterfall, the waterfall became known as Hells Rapids, as the torrents break onto razor sharp rocks. Dr. Bliss, Mr. Maxwell and the other engineers recorded their names and the year on Maxwells Column, a great limestone pillar some 625 metres from the entrance. About 200 metres further on, in the so-called Pantheon, they wrote their names and details of the expedition on paper, sealed it in a bottle, the lime-impregnated water has since covered the bottle with a thin white film, permanently fixing it to the stone. Between 1892 and 1940 further expeditions were carried out by English, American and their expeditions brought them to a depth of 1,750 metres. Since the 1940s, Lebanese explorers have pushed even deeper into the Jeita grotto, many of these spelunkers are members of the Speleo Club du Liban founded in 1951 by the first Lebanese speleologist Lionel Ghorra. Their expeditions revealed an underground system which is now explored to an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres. In 1958 the lower caverns were opened to the public, meanwhile exploration was still underway mainly by the Lebanese Caving Club and this exploration led to the discovery of the elevated dry branch of the grotto later referred to as the upper galleries. In 1962, the Spéléo Club contributed to a study of the upper galleries aiming to provide a tunnel which was to be dug for touristic development purposes. Work on the tunnel was begun in 1968. Its opening was followed by the installation of a series of walkways which permitted tourists safe access to the upper galleries without disturbing the natural landscape
Upper cave at Jeita with the walkway
Cableway that transports visitors to the area of the grotto
Reverend Daniel L. Bliss, one of the first explorers of Jeita cave.