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St. Michaels Cave, Gibraltar

Visit the 'Gates to Hades', an unforgettable experience

By Nick Nutter | Updated 8 Sep 2022 | Gibraltar | Places To Go | Login to add to YOUR Favourites or Read Later
St Michael's cave Gibraltar

St Michael's cave Gibraltar

Gates to Hades

The ancient Greeks called St. Michael’s Cave on Gibraltar, the ‘Gates to Hades’, believing the caves, situated in one of the legendary Pillars of Hercules, to be bottomless.


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The Gates to Hades, Gibraltar

The Gates to Hades, Gibraltar

Today over one million visitors a year visit St. Michael’s Cave and successfully return from the underworld.


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When St. Michael's Cave formed

Calcite formations, St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

Calcite formations, St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

The limestone in which the caves formed was laid down on the seabed over a long period of time, from 200 million years ago until about 60 million years ago. Trillions and trillions of tiny sea creatures contributed their shells and skeletons to make a limestone layer some 460 metres thick. It is known today as Jurassic limestone from the period in which it first started to form.


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Calcite formations, St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

Calcite formations, St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

Between 60 and 20 million years ago, the tectonic pressures resulting from the African tectonic plate pushing into the European tectonic plate caused the limestone to rise out of the sea. This uplift is still occurring, and from Europa Point at the southern tip of Gibraltar, you can actually see raised beaches and sea caves high up on the side of The Rock. As soon as the limestone was exposed to the atmosphere, rainwater started to seep through the limestone, dissolving it as it went. Eventually, after many thousands of years, the caverns and passages that we see today were formed.

How St. Michael's Cave formed

Columns in St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

Columns in St. Michael's cave, Gibraltar

As soon as the first small cavity was created, the water now dripping from the roof, started to leave behind tiny amounts of calcite that over the millennia, formed the stalagmites, stalactites, straws, columns and calcite curtains that give us the magnificent formations seen within the cave. The various colours you see in the calcite are caused by tiny traces of minerals within the calcite.

The Lower Caves

Beneath the section that can be visited by the general public are the Lower Caves that can be visited by arrangement. Beneath those are another level that is currently only visited by scientists studying the ancient formations to deduce climate change over the millennia. The study started in 2004 and is ongoing.

Legends of St. Michaels Cave

The oldest legend is related to the Greek belief that St. Michael’s caves were an entrance to Hades. Cathedral Cave was believed to be bottomless until well into the 19th century and it was surmised that there was a tunnel beneath the Gibraltar Straits that connected Gibraltar with Morocco. It was even suggested that the Barbary macaques found their way to Gibraltar through this tunnel. In reality, the macaques probably arrived with the Muslims after 711 AD.

Colonel Mitchell

During the 19th century, it was fashionable for young officers stationed on Gibraltar to explore the passages and caverns. Sometime after 1840 a story began circulating that a Colonel Mitchell and one other officer named Brett, had embarked on such an exploratory adventure and had never been seen since. The story gained traction and led to extensive explorations in 1840, 1857, 1865 and as late as 1936 and 1938. No trace was ever found of Colonel Mitchell or his companion. There is also no trace of Mitchell or Brett in the military records of the time. Who needs Facebook to start a good rumour?

St. Michael's Cave Concerts

Every year, St. Michael's Cave is the venue for musical concerts. The 600 seat auditorium has wonderful, natural acoustics and, with imaginative lighting, provides a dramatic setting.


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For information about St Michaels caves opening times and concerts, click here

Tell Us What You Think about St. Michael's Cave

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Comments

  • Phil Nguyen - 8 Aug 2022
    It was incredible. I felt like I was On The set for a sci-fi movie. Surprised Hollywood hasn’t used it yet.
    • Nick Nutter - 9 Aug 2022
      Did you see the light and sound show, 'The Awakening'
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