The salamandra is the emblem
animal of the national park. Photo: Sándor Vadász
Aggtelek Biosphere Reserve and National Park is situated
on the Hungarian part of a vast karst area which belongs to
the southern limestone foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.
This area, which is divided by the border between Hungary
and Slovakia, is a geographically homogenous region extending
over 60,000 ha and containing more than 800 caves.
The Aggtelek Karst area first became protected in 1978 when
the Aggtelek Protected Landscape Area (PLA) was declared.
The following year the board of the UNESCO MAB Programme declared
the whole territory (19 247 ha) of the PLA a Biosphere Reserve
and most of the strictly protected area was designated as
core zone. The national park Aggtelek was established in 1985
with two villages inside its boundaries. The underground natural
treasures, namely the caves of the Aggtelek Karst and the
Slovak Karst were inscribed on the World Heritage List by
the UNESCO in 1995. Their morphological diversity, characteristic
fauna as well as archaeological and historical value make
this cave system one of the most complex examples of karstic
phenomena occurring at medium altitude in the temperate zone.
The underground water system of the Baradla Cave and its
catchment area was declared a Ramsar site (also in Slovakia)
The karst landscape is dominated by extensive karst plateaus
with dolines and valleys with permanent or temporary watercourses,
which disappear in sinkholes. The climatic conditions favours
oak-hornbeam and Sessile oak- Turkey oak forests, but the
microclimatic and base rock variations influence vegetation
to a great extent. On northern slopes, and in cold dolines
beech forests are predominant, also fragmented gorge forests
can be found in the short, but cold gorges. On southern slopes
thermophilous shrub-oak forests and rock steppes and calcareous
open rock grasslands are typical.
Lynx. Photo: Zoltán Réti
The transitional climatic influences are also reflected in
the fauna. Some species characteristic to the higher Carpathians,
such as the Ural owl (Strix uralensis), the Hazel grouse (Bonasa
bonasia), the Lynx (Lynx lynx) and several butterfly species
migrate to lower areas in colder periods. The caves are a
unique habitat where many rare and endemic species live. More
than 500 species have been identified, most of them of microscopic
size. The Aggtelek cave shrimp (Niphargus aggtelekiensis),
the Cave bug (Duvalius hungaricus) and the Allolobophora mozsaryum
worm species are all endemic species in the karst region.
The caves are also important roosting and hybernation places
for various bat species.
The two villages within the biosphere reserve have a population
of about 1,000 people who are engaged in forestry, agriculture
and livestock raising and recently more engaged in tourism
business. But the main employer in the region is the national
park itself. One reason for that are the tourism activities
of the national park, who is acting in fact like a tour operator
managing the caves, hotel, camp ground and restaurant and
providing also tours for visitors.
The main entrance to the Baradla
cave is a landmark. Photo: Sándor Rózsa
The tradition of visiting the main attraction – the
Baradla cave – is over 100 years old. In the mid 1980
150,000 visitors were counted annually. After the political
break the character of the tourism, its organisation, activities
and structure has changed. Today there are mainly daily visitors
or visitors who stay no longer than two days. The main attractions
are the caves.
The primary task of the National Park is to explore, protect
and preserve the natural and cultural assets. The best known
and the most popular of them is the Baradla Cave, which is
the biggest and the most magnificent cave in Hungary. Besides
the cave tours to the Baradla from Aggtelek and Jósvafo,
the park have made accessible other unique caves of the area,
such as the Vass Imre and Béke Caves near Jósvafo
or the Rákóczi Cave near Bódvarákó.
The rich flora and fauna of the Aggtelek Karst and the enchanting
landscape are worth visiting in all seasons. The National
Park organises general and special guided walks to acquaint
visitors with the superficial natural assets.
The Concert Hall of the Baradla
Photo: Péter Borzsák
The marketplace of the Gömör-Torna Festival
displays local products. Photo: Zsuzsa Tolnay