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A show cave—also called tourist cave, public cave, and in the United States, commercial cave—is a cave which has been made accessible to the public for guided visits.
A show cave is a cave which has been made accessible to the public for guided visits, where a cave is defined as a natural occurring void beneath the surface of the earth, per the International Show Caves Association.
A show cave may be managed by a government or commercial organization and made accessible to the general public, usually for an entrance fee. Unlike wild caves, they may possess constructed trails, guided tours, lighting, and regular opening hours.
The term is used inconsistently between nations: many countries[which?] tend to call all caves which are open to the public show caves. However, there are many caves which are not developed with trails, light and tours, which are visited by very many people. This kind of cave is often called a semi-wild cave. Access may involve anything between an easy stroll and dangerous climbing. Most cave accidents happen in this kind of cave, as visitors underestimate the difficulties and dangers.
The oldest known show cave in the world is probably Reed Flute Cave in China with inscriptions from 792 in the time of the T'ang Dynasty. Other old show caves are Postojna Cave in Slovenia, with the presumed first record of a cave tour in 1213. Other early show caves are Jasovská jaskyňa in Slovakia with inscriptions from 1452, the Sontheimer Höhle in Germany which was reportedly visited by Herzog Ulrich von Württemberg on 20 May 1516 and Vilenica Cave in Slovenia where entrance fees were taken from 1633 on. In 1649, the first "authorized" cave guide started guiding Baumannshöhle in the Harz in Germany though this cave was intensively visited much earlier.
The development of electric lighting enabled the illumination of show caves. Early experiments with electric light in caves were carried out by Lieutenant Edward Cracknel in 1880 at Chifley Cave, Jenolan Caves, Australia. In 1881, Sloupsko-Šošůvské Jeskyně, Czech Republic, became the first cave in the world with electric arc light. This light did not use light bulbs, but electric arc lamps with carbon electrodes, which burned down and had to be replaced after some time.
The first cave in the world with electric light bulbs as we know them today was the Kraushöhle in Austria in 1883. But the light was abandoned after only seven years and the cave is today visited with carbide lamps. In 1884, two more caves were equipped with electric light, Postojna Cave, Slovenia, and Olgahöhle, Germany.
Because of the unwanted development of lampenflora (algae attracted to heat and light) around incandescent electric lights in show caves, many of these attractions, such as Ingleborough Cave in England, have switched to cooler-temperature LED lighting.
Notable show caves (in alphabetical order)
- Alisadr Cave, Alisadr, Hamedan, Iran
- Bears' Cave, Chişcău village, Bihor County, Romania
- Bing Cave in Bavaria, Germany
- Blanchard Springs Caverns in Arkansas, United States
- Buchan Caves, Victoria, Australia
- Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
- Cascade Caverns, Boerne, Texas, United States
- Cave Without a Name, near Boerne, Texas, United States
- Caverns of Sonora, Sonora, Texas, United States
- Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, United States
- Craighead Caverns in Tennessee, United States
- Cross Cave, Slovenia
- Cuevas del Drach (Dragon Caves) on Majorca island, Spain
- Dan yr Ogof in Powys, Wales
- Doolin Cave (Pol an Ionain) in Doolin, Ireland
- Eisriesenwelt, Austria
- Fantastic Caverns near Springfield, Missouri
- Frasassi Caves, Ancona, Italy
- Gardner Cave, Washington State, United States
- Grotta Gigante, Trieste, Italy
- Grottes de Han, Belgium
- Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, Guerrero, Mexico
- Harrison's Cave, Barbados
- Horne Lake Caves near Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
- Howe Caverns in New York, United States
- Ingleborough Cave, England
- Inner Space Cavern, Georgetown, Texas, United States
- Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
- Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia
- Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson, Arizona, United States
- La Verna cave in France (with the largest chamber in a show cave)
- Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana, United States
- Linville Caverns in Marion, North Carolina, United States
- Luray Caverns in Virginia, United States
- Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, United States
- Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
- Mark Twain Cave, near Hannibal, Missouri, United States
- Meramec Caverns, near Stanton, Missouri, United States
- Natural Bridge Caverns in Comal County, Texas, United States
- Ohio Caverns in Ohio, United States
- Phong Nha Cave, Quang Binh, Vietnam
- Poole's Cavern, England
- Postojna Cave, Postojna, Slovenia (the longest show cave in Europe and the birthplace of speleobiology)
- Reed Flute Cave (Lúdí Yán), Guilin, Guangxi, China
- Scărișoara Cave, Gârda de Sus, Alba County, Romania
- Seven-Star Cave (Qīxīng Yán), Guilin, Guangxi, China
- Škocjan Caves, Slovenia (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Smoo Cave, Scotland
- Vilenica Cave, Slovenia (the oldest show cave in Europe)
- Vjetrenica Cave, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
- Wonder Cave, San Marcos, Texas, United States
- Wookey Hole Caves, Somerset, England
- Jennings Joe N, Cave and Karst Terminology, in Matthews P. G. (ed), Australian Karst Index 1985, ASF Broadway, pp 14.1-13
- Definition of show cave n.d. The International Show Caves Association (I.S.C.A.), accessed 24 July 2017
- "Limestone cave can now be seen in a new light". MeteorElectrical.co.uk. Retrieved 30 December 2017.