Research history of Barać Caves
The first written materials describing this area, and thus also Barać Caves, can be found in the History of Cartography in the area of Krajina by Marsiglia from 1699. While staying in this area, he made the first known topographic maps of the Croatian-Ottoman border in 37 sections and with a scale of 1:30000. The first writing on these caves can be found in the work Die Wassernoth im Karste by I.T. Bunek, which dates from 1874. Professor Mijo Kišpatić, PhD, devotes special attention to paleontological and archaeological research of the cave and published his findings in the Bulletin of the Croatian Archaeological Society in 1885, as well as in his book Pictures in Geology. In an effort to contribute towards the preservation of the paleontological and archaeological site at the entrances to the caves, he encouraged the foundation of the Committee for the Research and Restoration of Barać Caves. The idea was, with the help of the Municipality of Ogulin, turned into reality very soon, on 20 February 1892. Iron gates were placed at the entrances to the caves, trails were groomed, and bridges and railing were set up in hazardous places. The caves were opened on 14 August 1892, a day before the Assumption of Mary. The issue of Obzor published on 04 August 1898 contains Josip pl. Sugh’s popular description of a trip to Barać Caves.
Dragutin Hirtz also wrote about Barać Caves in his book Lika and Plitvice Lakes from 1900 and Natural Geography of Croatia from 1905, describing them in almost a fantasy-like way. In his book Plitvice Lakes and the Environs from 1910, professor Dragutin Franić described the organisation of the caves, while mentioning a third cave – New Barać Cave – as did Hirtz in his works. The eminent paleontologist and speleologist professor Josip Poljak, PhD, explored the caves in the surroundings of Plitvice Lakes together with professor Koch in 1913, and in 1914 published the book Caves of the Croatian Karst II (caves of the environs of Plitvice Lakes, Drežnik and Rakovica). This is the first time that drawings and photographs of Barać Caves – Upper Barać Cave and Lower Barać Cave – were published. According to the description of the caves, it can be concluded that they had been quite neglected – broken dripstones, demolished wall, scattered bones…The last writing on the caves prior to World War Two was penned by Ivan Krajač, PhD, a renowned alpinist and explorer of Croatian caves. He visited Barać Caves in May 1925 and described this visit in the 7th issue of the magazine Croatian Alpinist of the same year. From his writings, it is evident that he visited them together with a local from Kršlja who was well acquainted with the caves, as well as that nobody was taking care of the caves during this period. According to Krajač’s companion, the caves received masses of visitors, which was obvious from the number of carriages that were parked at the foot of Barać Hill. The caves were not mentioned again until after World War Two, in the writings of the eminent speleologist and hydrogeologist Srećko Božičević, PhD, in issue no. 4 of the magazine Our Mountains from 1956, and at the Second Yugoslavian Speleology Conference, which was held in Split in 1958. In the bulletin of the Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences and Arts from 1960, Academician Mirko Malez, PhD, published a work titled Paleontological Research and Speleological Reconnaissance in 1959.
The “cave historian” dipl. ing. Vladimir Božić, also wrote about Barać Caves, publishing the article Barać Caves Then and Now in the magazine Speleologist in 1983. As part of the systematic exploration of Lika in 1960, speleologists from the Speleology Department of the “Željezničar” Mountaineering Club, led by dipl. ing. Ivica Posarić, also explored the caves. In 1971, a group of speleologists from the same club photographed the caves, and explored them in detail in 1972 and took new topographic images of them. According to the locals, only several individuals visited the cave after this, and they were not familiar with neither their names nor their intentions. Interest in Barać Caves and the entire region of the Municipality of Rakovica from a speleological perspective boomed once again in 1983, when speleologists from the Speleology Department of the “Velebit” Mountaineering Club discovered the large cave system of Panjko’s Ponor – Varićak’s Cave on this territory. Speleologists from the Society for the Research, Surveying and Filming of Karst Phenomena joined in on the research. After World War Two, Barać Caves were nearly forgotten by tourists and neglected, both when it comes to visits and maintenance, although traces of grooming can still be seen today. By virtue of the decision of the Municipal Council of the Municipality of Rakovica of 31 August 1999, an initiative was launched to create the Committee for the Revitalisation of Barać Caves.
In the meantime, several large-scale cave diving expeditions were organised to great success, as many new cave structures were discovered and explored. The first refuge of all speleologists in the Republic of Croatia was established in Nova Kršlja, Upper Barać Cave and Lower Barać Cave were closed off with iron gates, the surroundings of Baraćevac Spring were groomed, intense work on drafting the Cave Preservation Plan commenced, and preparations were made to open the caves to tourists. A new topographic map of all three Barać Caves was drafted. In July 2004, the caves were once again opened to visitors after 112 years.