One scary cave.

scary caves
Castellana Grotte in Apulia. Italy. Courtesy of Alessandro e Damiano.

Scary Caves in Italy.

No there are no scary caves in Venice. Underneath the city, there is only mud. It’s not like the Bond-film Casinò Royal, where a whole palace is sinking right on the Canal Grande. Well, that could never happen.

Venice is closed. Nobody comes here anymore. The tourists are gone, and soon the high water season will be over us and after last year I don’t think it will be a pretty sight. Business is terrible, money is rare… I can’t remember what a pay-check looks like anymore…

Am I exaggerating? Yeah maybe I am, but these days we are living with a considerable strain to our economy, our psychological well-being, and our capacity to see the silver lining on the clouds. They are there because I remember that I could see them before, but now… Well, it’s kind of greyish. And no silver in sight.

So what do you do?

Already at the beginning of June, we were able to travel within Italy as well as within the European Union without any restrictions. So, even if certain countries still are risky, especially now that we all are opening up and people are out and moving, it is definitely possible to travel. And if traveling to other countries isn’t on the map, Italy has quite a lot to offer. Italy is in fact the one country in the world with the most historical tourist sites. and the most Unesco World Heritage sites. 

So we packed the car and went to Apulia. Kids and wife wanted the beach, but the beaches were packed with people (… Don’t they know there’s a pandemic going on?), so we tried to go where it was a little less crowded.

Anyway, it wasn’t that, I was going to tell you about… It was this one scary cave. A terrifying experience, and I was totally alone when it happened.

Scary caves in Apulia. 

scary caves
Grotta dell Trullo, Fasano, Apulia, Italy

Apulia, the heal of the Italian boot, is a karst landscape. It’s like swiss cheese, full of holes, tunnels, caves, and underground rivers. In Apulia, there are no rivers on the surface cause all the water penetrates the soil and is accumulated under the ground. The water runs and drops and doing so it digs caves and tunnels, and it creates the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites inside those caves. The most beautiful is without a doubt Castellana Grotte. But there are many others, and only a handful is open to the public. One of those is the Grotta del Trullo in Putignano, another astonishingly beautiful cave.

But this is not what I was going to tell you about…

It was another of those caves, one that is hidden, and far away from the tourist trails.

Grotta San Martino

Castellana is a major tourist site. It’s crowded, and you have to sign up for a guided group… You will have to wait quite a bit if you go in summer, or on the weekends. It’s lit up and you follow the guide on a fixed path with railings. You can’t fall behind, and you can’t go wrong.

The cave, I’m going to tell you about here, one of the scary caves, was very different. The Cave of San Martino is so unknown that not even the tourist information in the close-by town knew anything about it. I’ve even talked to a friend of mine who’s from that area, and she didn’t even know it existed.

So, to get there I had to drive miles and miles passing other scary caves through olive groves on dirt roads sometimes so bad that if I hadn’t had my trusted 4 wheel drive, I would still be there now, swearing and cursing the Italian road administration, with the car stuck in the mud.

scary caves
The opening

But, in the end, I got there. I stopped the car, went out, and there was absolutely nothing… Apart from millions of olive trees. Then I spotted a small sign. It was so old and rusty that nothing could be drawn from it… Not one single word. But it was a sign and there was a small path into the field from the road.

The Opening.

After a few hundred meters going downhill, the path turned, and on the backside of the slope, I spotted an opening. It was no more than a hole straight into the ground. Dark and foul, it was in no way inviting, but since I got all the way out here, I figured I should at least take a peek.

Did I mention that I was alone? The rest of my family had opted for the Zoo-Safari in Fasano nearby. They aren’t into exploring scary caves in forgotten corners of the world. Alone is actually an inaccurate word as it could make you think of alone – as in alone parking the car while the others are going ahead.

This was a strange solitude-like feeling… As if nobody in the whole world was there anymore. A dead, silent stand-still. I remembered that driving there I had passed farmers in the fields, on tractors, but now there wasn’t a sound in the air… The diesel-engines of the tractor-engines couldn’t be heard. Not even the high, sun-burnt grass swayed in the wind. It was silent.


scary caves
The entrance to the first tunnel

Inside the cave, it was very dark coming from the sunlight outside. I lit the torch of the mobile and saw a round hall. Maybe 15 meters across and 2 – 3 meters high. It was covered with gravel… Some garbage in a corner, a few pointed wooden poles, an old plastic chair… Stuff like that. But not as much as you would expect if it had been inhabited by some poor homeless. It was definitely not inhabited.

At the far end, there was an opening to some sort of a tunnel. 1 meter wide and 1 meter high. I closed the flashlight and when my eyes had adjusted to the dim, natural light I pressed forth. The floor of the tunnel was covered with the same gravel as the entrance hall. People had walked here. The tunnel narrowed very little, almost non-perceptible, and after some 15 meters I had to go down on all four. Another 10 meters in it wouldn’t have been more than 40-50 centimeters high. I didn’t want to crawl and ruin my clothes, so I went on on four legs, hitting the roof of the tunnel continuously. Uncomfortable! I also had to light my way with the mobile phone. A short turn and there was another room, 7-8  meters in diameter and maybe 1 meter and a half in height.

The sound.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any images from this chamber… I stood up and looked around, and noticed another small opening at the far end. Much like the first, bigger room, there was a tunnel-opening, and just like this space was much smaller than the first, the tunnel was also much smaller… The entrance was about half a meter.

I had just decided to not go any further when I heard a sound. A muffled thud. As if somebody hit a big wooden object at something… Thump! Thump! Regularly beating with maybe 5 seconds in between. Thump! Thump!

It wasn’t reassuring at all. Was there somebody else in there with me?

Thump! Thump!

Maybe somebody needed help?

– Hello! I shouted, in a voice that was too low to actually be heard.

San martino
Inside the first tunnel.

The sound stopped. Then I heard something that sounded like crawling or slithering. It wasn’t feet moving but long scraping sounds…

– Hello! I said again, this time with a little more courage.

And the sound stopped.

I know that it could resemble a horror novel, but there was a stench coming closer. I had noticed it already when entering the small chamber, but now it was stronger. Overwhelming. 

One more thud, but this time it was much closer. Just inside the opening of the gallery on the far side. I waited for half a minute.

Scary caves and why you should avoid them.

Then I turned to start heading out again. The situation was not to my liking. Trapped inside a cavern with just a small tunnel where I would have to crawl to get out…

I looked back at the tunnel-opening one last time, and there I saw it. 

San Martino Cave
Looking at the entrance from 10 meters into the first tunnel.

I pointed the light towards it, but mobile phones don’t direct the light at where you aim. They light up everything around you, and the tunnel opening was still in shadow. There was a person, a shape, a figure. He was built like a man. Very dark. I couldn’t see if he was dressed in dark clothes or why he was so dark, but the figure was black.

He seemed to be looking at me, and for an instant I got the impulse to ask if he needed help, but I didn’t. I just threw myself back into the tunnel and started crawling with insane speed. I hit my back, I scratched my knees, and when I reached the part of the tunnel where I could stand up, I got up with such a force that I hit my head. It was still very low.

Once out in the big room, I calmed down somewhat. I hurried to the entrance opening and only there I turned around to look back.

Nothing. It was as calm as when I had entered. The smell was still there though, and when I walked out I noticed how millions of flies whirled confused outside the opening. I could hear one or two wasps as well but the number of flies was incredible. I’ve never seen so many in my life, and they hadn’t been there when I entered. I looked around to see if there was any carcass of some dead animal, but I couldn’t find anything.

The Insight.

I hurried back to my car. With the engine running and the first gear in place, I stopped again to think about what had happened. And there was something about all this that didn’t add up, didn’t make sense. And then it hit me.

The tunnel opening in the second, smaller room was small. I estimated it to be half a meter in height. Still, the person had stood up in his full length when I saw him. He had been right in the opening standing up, not bending or curving his head, but in his full length. Could I have mistaken the size of the opening? Could the absence of light and my cell-phone flashlight have created shadows that had tricked me in believing it was smaller than it was? But the ceiling in the cavern was low. I couldn’t stand up fully. And the tunnel was much lower.

The figure would have been 40 or 50 centimeters high… Was it a child?


I didn’t go to the police. Actually, I didn’t tell anybody except my wife, but she is of the opinion that I have a very imaginative imagination and doesn’t always believe me. In this case, she didn’t.

I know that I have to go back sometime in the future. I’ll bring someone with me, and I will bring better equipment, better lights, and better clothes. I probably won’t find anything special or extraordinary, but I want to get close to the second opening to see how high it is. If it’s a meter or more, it could have been a homeless guy, a drifter that had found shelter in the abandoned cave. That wouldn’t be the first time in history that happened, and maybe he even tried to scare me, to keep visitors from coming there and bother him.

… But if it’s a big as I remember it, around half that size, well, then it has to be something different.

In any case, of all the scary caves I’ve been into, this one was by far the scariest…

I’ll keep you updated.

scary caves
Driving home

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