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Monday, February 12, 2007
Cave tourism catching up in Turkey
Turkey has found a novel way to attract tourists. Both big and small investors in alternative tourism are turning to what may be called ‘cave tourism' as a profitable new venture.

The Mineral Research and Exploration Institute (MTA) of Turkey has been studying caves for the past 28 years. Dr Lutfu Nazik, a researcher, says that the demand for cave management has been on the rise.

According to Nazik, the MTA Cave Research Group has been conducting studies with a team of 10 people, who spend about seven or eight months in a year in the field, thanks to the high demand by the private sector.

The MTA has developed cave projects for 15 out of the 22 caves since the 1990s, ensuring that the caves are protected and managed properly.

There are no laws in Turkey at present regulating the utilisation of caves, so those interested in renting them for tourism purposes are required to apply to the local administrations and not the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

If the cave is in a forest, then it is the Forestry Ministry that oversees the procedures. If a cave is on Treasury's land, then it falls under the National Real Estate Management.

So far, only the Tinaztepe and Dim caves have been assigned to private businesses. All the others have been rented by private or local administrations.

"We are preparing a legislative proposal with the Culture and Tourism Ministry and the Environment and Forestry Ministry that encompasses many issues ranging from the preservation of caves to their development. If it is passed, it will help investors," Dr Nazik said.

The number of local and foreign visitors to the caves is increasing. Tourists from the Arab countries are especially interested in the caves.

Tinaztepe Cave, Turkey's longest and the world's third longest cave, was opened for tourism by a private operation. The 22-kilometre-long cave is located in the Konya district of Seydisehir.

Recently, the Tinaztepe Cave found a place in famed explorer Jacques Cousteau's list of "wonders of the world."

The first visitors to the Oylat Cave, 20 kilometres outside Bursa's Inegol district, began arriving only five months ago. The cave, made up of two connected floors, currently offers its guests 650 metres of visiting space. Another 200 metres will be added.

One of the main attractions in the Oylat Cave is the colourful stalactites and stalagmites, which have taken thousand of years to form.

The environment inside the cave, accessed by stairways and pathways made of steel, resembles a film studio. As one goes deeper into the cave, one is met by columns made out of stalactites and stalagmites, which also resemble statues like a man with turban, a grandmother and a child.

Tilting labyrinths and hidden corridors also await the visitor.

Millions of bats live in the Oylat Cave, where photography is not allowed in order not to scare away the bats and to protect the stalactites and stalagmites. Lights are turned on only during visiting hours.

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