Caves: Austria has currently more than 11,000 known caves. The majority of them are found in the karstic mountains of the Northern Limestone Alps, in the old limestones of the central Styrian Karsts and in the eastern Gailtal Alps (Dobratsch). The number of Ice Caves is relatively high. Dripstone caves are mainly found in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Austria; the Katerloch cave near Weiz (Styria) has the richest and most beautiful dripstone formations. The first large-scale expedition to explore caves was commissioned by Emperor Franz I and undertaken by J. A. Nagel around the middle of the 18th century. In 1879 the world´s first scientific association for speleology and the first speleological journal ("Literatur-Anzeiger des Vereins fuer Hoehlen-Kunde") were founded in Vienna. In 1928 the administration of caves was put under federal law (National Cave Commission). 1929 the Speleological Institute was founded as part of the Federal Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry. Private associations united in 1949 to form the "Verband oesterreichischer Hoehlen-Forscher" (Association of Austrian Speleologists). Because more and more Austrian and foreign speleologists began to explore the Austrian caves at the beginning of the 1970s, a special rescue service has been established. Official speleological research in Austria was put in the hands of the Museum of Natural History in 1979.
The deepest caves in Austria are the Lamprechtsofen (Leogang Mountains) 1,400 m, Berger-Platteneck cave system (Tennengebirge Mountains) 1,300 m, Schwer cave system (Tennengebirge) 1,219 m, Dachstein-Mammut-Hoehle (Dachstein Massif) 1,180 m, Jubilaeumsschacht (Hoher Goell Mountain) 1,173 m, Schneeloch (Tennengebirge) 1,101 m, Jaegerbrunntrog cave system (Hagengebirge Mountains) 1,078 m, Hirlatz cave (Dachstein) 1,041 m, Herbst cave (Tennengebirge) 1,029 m.
The longest caves in Austria are the Hirlatz cave (Dachstein) 78,000 m, Raucherkar cave (Totes Gebirge Mountains) 56,400 m, Eisriesenwelt (Tennengebirge) 50,000 m, Dachstein-Mammut-Hoehle (Dachstein) 47,978 m, Kolkblaeser-Monster cave system (Steinernes Meer Mountains) 39,100 m, Tantal cave (Hagengebirge) 33,000 m, Berger-Platteneck cave system (Tennengebirge) 30,000 m, Jaegerbrunntrog cave system (Hagengebirge) 28,026 m, Frauenmauer-Langstein cave system (Hochschwab Mountain) 20,215 m.
The following caves are open to the public: the Hochgebirgs-Hoehle - Eisriesenwelt, Dachstein cave (Mammut cave and Rieseneis cave) and Spannagelhoehle (near Hintertux, Tirol) - Other caves: Entrische Kirche near Klammstein in the Gastein valley (partly water-bearing, dripstone cave), Lamprechtsofen near Lofer (active water cave), Koppenbrueller cave near Obertraun (active water cave), Allander dripstone cave (Vienna Woods), Einhorn cave near Dreistetten (small dripstone cave with animal bones from the ice age), Hermanns cave near Kirchberg am Wechsel (dripstone cave), Kraus cave near Gams bei Hieflau (dripstone cave), Lurgrotte near Peggau and Lurgrotte near Semriach (active water cave and dripstone cave), Griffener dripstone cave (Carinthia), Obir dripstone cave in the Hochobir and Hundalm ice cave and dripstone cave (Tirol). The following caves are equipped with pathways and occasionally offer guided tours: Eisenstein cave near Bad Fischau (Lower Austria), Hochkarschacht near Goestling/Ybbs (Lower Austria), Nix cave near Frankenfels (Lower Austria), Oetscher dripstone cave near Gaming (Lower Austria), Gassl dripstone cave near Ebensee (Upper Austria), Eiskogel cave near Werfenweng (Salzburg), Grassl cave near Weiz (Styria), Katerloch in the Sattelberg mountain (Styria) and Rettenwand cave near Kapfenberg (Styria).
Caves with important prehistoric finds: Drachenhoehle near Mixnitz, Repolust Cave near Peggau, Salzofen cave in the Totes Gebirge (highest location of finds from the Palaeolithic Age in Austria).
Literature#T. Pfarr and G. Stummer, Die laengsten und tiefsten Hoehlen Oesterreichs, 1988; idem, Schau-Hoehlen in Oesterreich, 1993; R. Saar and R. Pirker, Geschichte der Hoehlen-Forschung in Oesterreich, 1979; H. Trimmel, Hoehlen-Kunde, 1968.