The Barbarossa Cave was discovered purely by chance in connection with the revival of copper shale mining.
At the time, a black, roughly 50cm thick layer of stone; the copper shale seam, had been mined in the area of Mansfeld in the southern Harz region for 900 years. Copper shale mining had been present in the Kyffhäuser area since the Middle Ages, but no great find had been made and it hadn’t proved a profitable enterprise.

In the middle of the last century Herthum, the later Counsellor of Mines from the Royal Schwarzburg Könitz Mining Authority, sponsored the search for copper shale close to Rottleben.
So it was, that on 31.8.1860, five miners drove an exploration tunnel into the mountain beneath the Falkenburg Castle ruin. For over five years they advanced metre by metre into the rock until, quite unexpectedly, after hollowing out a stretch of 178 metres, they came across some natural hollow spaces that were both impressive in size and beauty. The mountain opened up in front of them and the Barabarossa Cave had been discovered. As it was December 23rd 1865, the locals referred to the discovery as an early Christmas present. By the light of their lanterns the amazed miners saw the strange and bizarre formations on the walls and ceilings of the caves for the very first time.


Later, with the aid of a second tunnel, copper shale was also discovered, but a lucrative mining project never came to fruition because the amount of ore present was inadequate and the seam wasn’t thick enough. For this reason, the caves were soon opened to the public.

News of the discovery of this enormous cave spread like wildfire and it was first named the "Rottleben" or "Falkenburg Cave". The first official visitors were members of a Frankenhausen Workers Association, who were guided through the cave on January 7th, 1866. On 31st January 1866 the Könitz Mining Authority issued the first set of cave rules that controlled the flow of visitors. Even though the cave had not been discovered in its entirety at the time, it soon became a popular tourist destination. In the first year after it was discovered, 2,676 visitors were recorded.
Little by little the cave was turned into a tourist attraction. Over decades hard-working cave –management employees and numerous scientific specialists, created conditions conducive to a pleasant experience, accompanied by a high degree of educational content. Herthum, the Counsellor of Mines had taken the first step in this direction in as early as 1866, when he initiated a scientifically based survey and processing of the caves. 

After complicated ownership issues were clarified in 1891, intensive development work was introduced, which resulted in a sudden increase in visitor numbers (a number that has now reached 200,000 per year):

  • Since 18th April 1895 the cave has shone brightly under the glow of electric lighting. 
  • On June 27th 1898 the new 160 metre-long entrance tunnel was opened.   
  • In 1913 Dr. Berg, curator of the Frankenhausen Museum of Local History at the time, began to explore the cave and discovered new previously untouched spaces, such as the continuation from the "Grotto Lake" to the  "Cathedral". His work provided the foundation for the construction of the small exit tunnel in 1926, which enabled visitors to be guided through the cave in one direction. 
  • On 7th April 1935 Nordhausen researchers under the guidance of Dr. Stolberg found the opening to the "Good Friday Halls".
  • In 1954 more cave sections were opened to the public. 

Der 178 m lange Entdeckungsstollen

No further notable caves have been discovered to this date, but their existence can by no means be ruled out.
It was undoubtedly the construction of the Kyffhäuser Memorial from 1890 – 1896 that prompted an increase in visitors to the Kyffhäuser area and also contributed to rapid growth in the influx of visitors to the caves, but even more visitors became interested in the attraction when cave tours were linked with elements of the Barbarossa Legend. The task of finding a suitable name for the cave suddenly became very easy.

A crucial part of the Barbarossa Legend was the story of Kaiser Frederick I Barbarossa’s return, which has been centred around the Kyffhäuser Mountains since the 16th century. It was revived when the Kyffhäuser Memorial was built and was transferred to the cave at the turn of the century. According to the legend, Kaiser Barbarossa didn’t die, but is in a deep enchanted sleep in an underground castle for as long as there are ravens still flying around the mountain. He is sitting at a marble table and over the centuries his red beard is supposed to have grown right through it. It is documented that Barbarossa really did reside in the Kyffhäuser Mountains and for this reason the cave was declared to have been a fitting domicile for Kaiser Redbeard – as he was otherwise known – and named the Barbarossa Cave after him. To live up to expectations, Barbarossa’s table and chair were constructed from stately stone blocks in the area of the cave known as the “Dance Hall.”

Kontakt

Barbarossahöhle im GeoPark Kyffhäuser
An den Mühlen 6, OT Rottleben
99707 Kyffhäuserland

Telefon: +49 (0)34671 5450
Fax: +49 (0)34671 54514
Mail: service@hoehle.de

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