From Scotland to Slovakia: Cave Dwellings & Community Heritage

Posted by

Abigail Guthrie (HES)

Archnetwork Slovakia Lišov 2019

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The way people live and the buildings they live in has changed drastically over time. In the countryside, many rural homes from hundreds of years ago have disappeared back into the earth. But in both Slovakia and Scotland, their stories, and some of the structures, still remain. Read on to explore abandoned tufa cave dwellings in the Slovakian countryside and discover more about Scotland’s cave dwelling history.

Rock dwellings in Slovakia

Cave dwellings in the Slovakian countryside

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a cave? For centuries, caves have provided shelter for people around the globe. They’ve acted as storage facilities, meeting places, burial sites and homes. Slovakia is home to a vast system of caves that have been lived in for hundreds of years, some still are!

These hidden gems, carved into the hillsides, provided protection against invading Ottomans during the 16th and 17th centuries and are important to the country’s heritage. During the 20th century, more inhabitants started to move away from the hills and into the towns, leaving these stone structures to be reclaimed by nature.

Cave life in Scotland

St Ninian’s cave in Dumfries and Galloway

There’s a similar story to be told of Scotland’s rural dwellings. In the 19th century, people moved from rural steadings into towns, and with it, the types of buildings people lived in changed.

In 1915, cave dwelling became prohibited in Scotland. But did you know Scots were living in caves up until the 20th century, especially across the north and west of the country? Cave activity in Scotland goes back to at least the 6th and 7th centuries, with Tinkers Cave at Wick being one of the most famous. St Ninian’s Cave in Dumfries and Galloway is also fabled to have been a place of retreat for St Ninian, an early Christian Saint. In the late AD 300s, he was said to take himself off to be nearer to God in this ‘place of terrible blackness’.

Just like in Slovakia, made from sustainable natural materials, many of these dwellings have disappeared back into the countryside, leaving little trace today.

The good old days

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A stonemason’s workshop with gravestones in Brhlovce

Villages like Brhlovce are turning abandoned cave dwellings into art galleries, museums and accommodation. This fascinating place won the international Europe Nostra Award in 1993 for the conservation and restoration of an important architectural sight.

In Slovakia, non-profit craft art organisations and cultural centres like Lišov Museum are looking to restore the fantastic examples of vernacular architecture which still remain.

Lišov Museum is an open-air, living history museum at the heart of a small community. It consists of three buildings: a domestic dwelling that retains its original black kitchen, a Celtic roundhouse recreated from sustainable materials and a 19th century building with original clay plastering.

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The surviving black kitchen in Lišov Museum’s domestic dwelling.

It receives visitors from across Europe and beyond. Scottish visitors may well see similarities with places like Highland Folk Museum and the Blackhouse at Arnol. They all hold time capsules of how people once lived, showcasing their countries traditional dwellings and materials, craft skills and tools used to create them.

Centres of sustainability

Fresh clay plaster on the walls of the Lišov Museum

Like the Engine Shed, everything the Lišov Museum does is with sustainability in mind. Locals and visitors can get involved in learning traditional crafts and skills to help keep local heritage and culture alive. Basket weaving is just one of the traditional activities visitors can take part in.

The museum buildings are also restored using traditional methods and sustainable materials. One of the buildings at the Lišov Museum dates from 1887 and is being restored to house a café. This will provide someone in the village with a job as well as being a great addition to the museum. The building already features a clay oven, but the outside walls need to be reinforced with new clay plastering. We got hands on when we visited, mixing our own clay plastering from clay, sand, gravel and straw, using tools and even our feet. Clay plastering has been used extensively in buildings all over the world for thousands of years and is still used today.

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Archnetwork work with a consortium of Scottish organisations to deliver the NET programme. This offers training courses to those working within the natural and cultural heritage sectors. Their courses explore community heritage, rural museums, archaeological and architectural heritage and traditional skills.

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