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THE STALACTITE GROTTOES OF XAGHRA

As already indicated, the village of Xaghra is poised on a high limestone plateau. As limestone is soft and porous, rainwater percolates through and by chemical action melts the more soluble materials, leaving the harder ones to stand. This explains the formation of caves and grottoes in limestone terrains.

Two such underground caves have been discovered at Xaghra: the first in 1888 by Joseph Rapa, in a field known as ta' Ninu (belonging to Anthony); the second in 1923 by Joseph Xerri, beneath his own home.

The two men were digging wells for rain water, when they came across the caves. On the two occasions, further digging and investigations revealed fairly large grottoes and an amazing sight of crystal-like formations - some hanging from the top, others shooting up from the ground, and others needle-shaped or thick as tree-trunks.

The men later learned that the strange formations were stalactites and stalagmites, formed by carbonate of lime in the rain-water seeping through the rocks. As the water evaporates, the dissolved chemical stiffens while it drops from the cave. Some of it hardens in hanging strips and become stalactites - other drops fall on the floor and build themselves in upright shafts or stalagmites. The process may take thousands of years.

The two caves soon caught the people's imagination.

Many visited the curious caves and ever since the two sites came to be known as Scerri's Grotto and Ninu's Cave respectively.

They have both been opened to the public at the owner's own initiative.

XERRI'S GROTTO lies within a private house at Gnien Imrik Street, not far from the church. It is reached by a flight of 36 steps.

NINU'S CAVE is also located in private premises, in January Street, to the left of the church. The cave is 24 metres long and reaches 18 metres in width. On both sites, admittance is at a small charge, and visitors are shown around by a family guide.

Next to their sumptuous church and the temples of Ggantija, the people of Xaghra have these two wonders of nature very much at heart.

Text courtesy of the National Tourism Organisation - Malta.