August 11, 2021

Journey to the Center of Portugal (and to the Center of the Earth)

When we think of Portugal, it’s unavoidable not to think of its magnificent beaches along the coast, the fabulous castles and ancestral palaces, the stunning Douro with its scenic landscapes, the wide Alentejo plains and the picturesque inland villages.

Somewhere in the district of Leiria, where the rivers run silently far from the surface and out of sight, one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal is hidden in the heart of the earth.

The Mira de Aire caves are the largest caverns in Portugal, about 11 kilometers long, of which only 600 meters can be visited.

They were formed 150 million years ago, through the permeable and rich in limestone soil, typical of the area. The rainwater has penetrated the earth and carved magnificent underground areas of tunnels and galleries. The force of the water rubbing against the porous stones has created (and continues to create) fabulous stalagmites and stalactites, which grow about 1 centimeter per century.

We can only imagine what the discovery of the Mira de Aire caves was like: in 1947, a group of men stood before a window to the abyss. In semi-darkness and with rudimentary methods, they used ropes to go down, while the echo of their voices resounded in the depths.

I visited the Natural Park of the Aire and Candeeiros Mountains almost by chance. I went without expectations. The location was simple and the entrance to the caves a bit hidden.

The visit must be guided. It started with the projection of a video with the presentation of the caves, from their discovery to its geological formation.

683 steps towards the center of the earth began there, beyond a door.

After the first steps and the almost sudden change in temperature (the cave is around 17ºC all year), I had the feeling that I was in a parallel universe. An enormous beauty and grandeur, a sublime scenery that gets lost in our endless look, for 180 meters of descent. Along the way, they explained what we were seeing and I was completely dazzled, lost among words and images.

A whole new world to discover, here so close to us, hidden a few meters from the surface and taking us directly to Jules Verne's fiction.