The yawning caves near the town of Zugarramurdi in northern Spain may not be covered in impressive rock formations, but the cavernous space has long been rumored to have been home to witchcraft and other pagan practices that were once the focus of the largest single witch trial in history.
According to popular belief, during the 17th century (and before) these wide rock enclosures were witness to bonfires, wild parties, and other generally pagan festivities staged by the town locals.
The caves themselves were carved by the Olabidea stream which is said to originate in Hell itself, which may be where the stories of witchcraft began. However the haunting space could easily be taken for a hotbed of black magic via its atmosphere alone.
Whether true or not, the caves and the town of Zugarramurdi caught the attention of the Spanish Inquisition’s witch hunters who investigated the area and identified a number of citizens who were tried at the largest witch trial in history (over 7,000 cases were seen).
A number of the accused were put to death and the town and its large caves were forever associated with the dark arts.
Today the town embraces this legacy and in addition to establishing a Witch Museum, the town holds a raucous yearly feast in the Cave of Zugarramurdi.
Every year, around the time of the summer solstice (a pagan holiday) scores of lamb are roasted on spits in the traditional manner and bonfires are lit in and around the cave.
Hundreds of people flock to the event to celebrate the area’s supposed occult history, and thankfully not one of them is burned at the stake.
Fur seals on Kangaroo Island (Photo: Mitch Reardon)
The island also has a fascinating human history.
Evidence of stone tools and campsites indicate that Aboriginal people inhabited the Island as early as 16,000 years ago and as recently as 2,000 years ago.
Why the Aboriginal people abandoned Kangaroo Island, or when they last lived there, remains a mystery.
The first non-Aboriginal people to live on Kangaroo Island were sealers, escaped convicts and runaway sailors, seeking refuge in the early 1800s, and leading a self-sufficient life trading salt and skins for spirits and tobacco.
Surf fishermen on the beach at Hanson Bay, Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area, south coast of Kangaroo Island.
A month after Captain Flinders made the first recorded European sighting of the Island, the French ship, Le Geographe, under the command of Nicolas Baudin, also arrived.
Baudin mapped much of the rugged south and west coastlines and many of the features along the coastline still bear French names.
Reeves Point became the first formal settlement in South Australia in the mid-1800s.
Historic sites include the first European cemetery, post office, early houses, the original jetty remains, and an ancient mulberry tree that grew from a cutting brought out from England.
Grasstree (Xanthorrhoea semiplana tateana) and sugar gums (Eucalyptus cladocalyx) dot the landscape in this post-bushfire regrowth area near Western River, north central coast, Kangaroo Island.
In 2005, German economist Stefan Ziemendorff, who was working on a wastewater project in Peru, took a break from his work to go for a hike in Peru’s Utcabamba valley in search of one of the region’s abundant pre-Incan ruins.
When he crossed into a blind ravine, he spied something unexpected: a towering, two-tiered waterfall in the distance that hadn’t appeared on any map.
The following March, after he had returned to the site with measuring equipment, Ziemendorff held a press conference to declare to the public that he had discovered the third-tallest waterfall in the world.
The two tiers combined, the water plummets 2,531 feet, the height of well over two Eiffel Towers.
Of course, Ziemendorff’s “discovery” wasn’t actually a discovery at all.
The residents of Cocachimba had known about the waterfall since the 1950s. Their town was located practically right beneath it.
They knew it as “Gocta,” after the sound made by howler monkeys in the region.
But they had mostly avoided the towering waterfall due to superstitions surrounding it.
The natural wonder simply blended into the background of their daily life.
Cambodia is the closest you can get, today, to your own real life Indiana Jones movie. There, the temples of Angkor seem built into the fabric of the forest itself, bats flap their leathery wings in the vaults, and incense drifts down the empty colonnades.
The god-kings of Angkor were at the height of their powers from the 9th century until the 15th century.
In that time, they built the largest preindustrial city in the world in Cambodia: larger than Rome, larger than Alexandria, larger by far than London or Paris at the time.
Wealth was poured into ever more spectacular temples, replete with intricate carvings and statues.
In the fifteenth century, for reasons which still puzzle scholars today, the gigantic complex was left almost entirely abandoned – lost to the jungle.
Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia (via Wikimedia)
Early Western visitors, glimpsing the astonishing structures looming up amidst the trees, were left almost speechless.
For António da Madalena, Angkor was “of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world.”
Since the 19h century, a slow process of restoration has been taking place. While tourists flock to Angkor today, much of the site remains to be discovered, and the trees loom on all sides, ready to swallow the city up again.
Founded in the 10th century, the ornate religious complex known as Fountains Abbey remained in active use for over 400 years and miraculously continues to stand in much its original form despite being denounced in the 1500’s.
The 70-acre site known collectively as Fountains Abbey was originally nothing more than some wooden church buildings resting on a verdant field.
The abbey was slowly expanded and converted to stone materials across its centuries of use, experiencing fires and destruction from religious opponents, each time rebuilding the abbey a bit greater.
At its height, the church complex was the largest and richest abbey in all of England, yet it was so large that it was also known to be in varied states of disrepair as no one seemed to be able to keep up the maintenance of the aging complex.
It wasn’t until Henry the VIII ordered the dissolution of all monasteries in the 1500’s that the abbey finally shut down.
After the mandated abandonment, portions of the site were destroyed, but the majority remained and over the ensuing centuries, a water garden was built around the ruins which would become almost as famous.
Despite the abandonment, the ruins ended up being fairly well maintained thanks to the care of the garden in which is was now simply a massive feature.
Thanks to this, the Fountains Abbey is the largest remaining abbey from its time and also the most well preserved.
While it is a popular tourist spot, it is also often used in television and film projects.