1900: Discovery of the cave
Unable to pull out his dog from the bad situation it has put himself in, the young owner seeks help from the village.
Under the direction of Mr. Dubuisson, police officer, several workers help one of their own to descend to the bottom of the pit where the dog fell. Without a lamp, it is through the dim light of day that filters down there that the improvised rescuer saves the reckless canine.
The story circulated and attracted the attention of a group of scientists who roam Belgium in search of subterranean cavities.
May 23, 1902: First official exploration
Ernest Van den Broeck (groundwater expert), Edmond Rahir (geologist) and Edouard Martel (French explorer) are pioneers of modern speleology. Accompanied by Mr. Collard, a citizen of Comblain, they descend with a rope ladder to discover the place.
After clearing the scree (tree trunks, animal carcasses) which blocks a first then a second passage, they discover two chambers (Silvery and Mammoths).
This exploration is detailed in the book Les cavernes et les rivières souterraines de la Belgique, published in 1910.
1907 – 1925: Exploration by Les Chercheurs de la Wallonie
In 1907, several speleologists of Les Chercheurs de la Wallonie (The Searchers of Wallonia) explore the chambers previously discovered. The expedition of May 3, 1908 did not take the research any further.
It was not until 1925 that the explorations resumed. On May 14, two new chambers (Nutons and Crèche) are found. On July 19, four more chambers (Echoes, Cathedral, Wolves and Cascade) complete the list.
1929 – 1971: Tourist attraction
From 1925 to 1929, Mr. Auguste Bry (second from the right) makes the cave visitable by tourists.
Certain passages are enlarged, walkways and stairs are placed.
The biggest part of the work will be the drilling of the artificial entrance and clearing the passage to the last three chambers (Mondmilch, Small Lake and Marvelous).
On August 15, 1929, the Grotto of Comblain finally opens its doors to the public.
1971 – 1990: Dark period
At the end of 1971, on the death of Mr. Lucien Bry (son of Auguste Bry), the cave entered a dark period.
Indeed, the operator of the Cave of Remouchamps claims ownership of the site to the legal heirs’s detriment. In 1975, a court judgment give him full authority. Tourism slows and effectively ends in 1982. The site is left to abandon and falls prey to vandals.
The 1988 sale to Mr. Michel Guillaume did nothing to change the situation.
It was not until 1990 that the purchase by the commune of Comblain-au-Pont closes this dark page.
From 1990 up to the present day: The renewal and ecotourism
After some restaurations, the cave opens again to the public in April 1994. The non-profit organization Les découvertes de Comblain ensures the eco-responsible management of the site.
At the same time, the Groupe de Recherches Spéléologiques de Comblain-au-Pont is carrying out new surveys. Their work in the Mammoths Chamber provides access to three pools of water. This area called Trou des barbus (Pit of the bearded men) is dangerous and therefore inaccessible to the public.
Cave vs Grotto – What’s the difference?
The word grotto (Italian grotta, French grotte) comes from Latin grupta wich means cavern, crypt. The origin of the word cave can also be traced to Latin cava wich means concave, hollow. Now both terms are essentially interchangeable.
Grotto is more often used for smaller caves. Although, depending of their location and history, some of the largest caves in the world may still be called grottoes (ex.: Jeita Grotto).
Caves may be seen as darker and scarier or even related to cavemen, while Grottoes tend to be more decorative and magical with ornate features abound.