The 13.000 m² Barbarossa Cave is one of just two anhydrite rock show caves in the whole world and therewith an absolute geological rarity. The curious charm of the underground magical world lies in the individual, beautiful, multi-layered, more or less immense play of colours contained within the white – grey rock of a thousand fold shapes and forms that continually inspire wide-eyed wonder.

Here you can learn about the characteristics of the cave that fascinate our visitors time and again in more detail:   

Extensive, Hall-like, Flat Hollow Spaces


Entrance Hall: span width: 38 m, height: 10 m

Dance Hall: span width 42 m, height 7 m

High, Dome-like Vaulting


Olympus: 25 m high

Cathedral: 18 m high


Spectacular, Bizarre Ceiling Formations

In the tannery some bizarre, up to 1-metre long „gypsum lobes“ can be found hanging from the ceiling and they’re reminiscent of hides and furs that have been hung to dry out.


Such unusual formations as these cannot be viewed in show caves anywhere else in the world!

They are created when anhydrite turns into gypsum via a hydration process. The anhydrite rock actually doesn’t contain any water, but can absorb water on its surface. The water contained in the 98 % high air humidity is sufficient and gypsum is created as a result. The volume of the stone increases by almost 60% and pressure rises so much that the rock surface is dissolved and grows downwards from the ceiling in the form of these strange lobes. These grow at a rate of 3 – 5 cm every hundred years. The speed of growth is dependent on the rock, the air circulation and the humidity. The flaking process means the lobes loosen more and more until they become so heavy that they break off. Afterwards the process begins all over again.

Crystal Clear Lakes

The numerous crystal-clear shimmering blue-green lakes with their impressive ceiling reflections are striking.
Due to uncanny optical illusions such as the reflection on one hand and a high level of light refraction on the other, the lakes deceptively appear to be much deeper than they actually are.

"Swiss Landscape": 3,50 m deep

„Grotto Lake": 3 m deep

Manifold/ Diverse Layers

Fascinating rock structures: clayey and dolomitic layers of rock separate the 50-metre thick anhydrite layer and the alternation between pale and dark layers is visible throughout the cave.

Alabaster Eyes

White alabaster eyes can be seen in many places in the cave. Alabaster is the purest from of gypsum. In these cases the pure calcium sulfate collected in certain places before it solidified and then hardened to form alabaster spheres.


Snake Gypsum

Particularly observant visitors will notice some interesting „snake gypsum,“ formations in a few places.

The way snake gypsum is created hasn’t been fully explained from a geological point of view, but it certainly took place at the time the precipitated anhydrite was still lying on the seabed as mud. Movement caused individual layers of it to slide and fold, which created movement folds with the smallest of puckering right through to muddled slides and folds of mush.    


The Barbarossa Cave is an anhydrite cave. These types of caves have no outside entrance and have developed at a great depth as a result of formation water under impermeable rock coverage.

It developed in 3 phases:

1. A roughly 5 metre-thick layer of sedimentary Zechstein calcium sulfate forms the cave’s foundation. This conducts water very well, so rainwater and surface water penetrated it via clefts and chasms. The Werra anhydrite layer directly above it dissolved significantly better in the water than the Zechstein calcium sulfate. This led to extensive break up of Werra anhydrite layer on the boundary layer of both types of rock, which created flat, expansive hollow spaces known as cavities.


2. In these cavities karst water formed at a consistent level. This water was sated with aqueous stone. A permanent inflow of fresh, absorbent water however, entered the hollow spaces, so that further horizontal depletion took place at the level of the karst water.


3. In this way the hollow spaces continued to grow. The large widths of the halls meant that the ceilings collapsed, even breaking through to the earth surface. The caved-in rubble often filled the hollow spaces, but the water continued for the most part, to break them down again. Today, the real floor of the cave is hidden under metres of caved-in rock.


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.”

Barbarossahöhle Rottleben, Eigenbetrieb der Gemeinde Kyffhäuserland
Schreyer, Anke, Werkleiter
Mühlen 6, 99707 Kyffhäuserland, OT Rottleben

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Schreyer, Anke, Werkleiter

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Barbarossahöhle im GeoPark Kyffhäuser
Mühlen 6, OT Rottleben
99707 Kyffhäuserland

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