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Ballıca Cave Nature Park is located in the Pazar District borders 23 km southwest of Tokat City Center. The Park is on Akdağ. Akdağ is a mountain in the city of Tokat at the Central Black Sea Region with an elevation of 1916 meters. Its main rock is comprised mostly of Paleozoic rocks. Akdağ located in the northern section of the Alpine fold system was widely etched during the Miocene period. Thus, the base emerged comprised of Paleozoic metamorphic series. Marble, crystallized limestone, aged limestone, sandstone, pebble stone, meta-basic rocks are observed to be scattered in these metamorphics (Tokat Massive). Karstic structures have developed at the distribution areas of limestones at Akdağ the main area that makes up the Ballıca Nature Park is comprised of these structures. Ballıca Cave located at the Pazar District of Tokat, Ballıca Rocks and the surrounding travertine formations attract attention among these structures.
Ballıca Cave is the most unique structure of the park. The cave is made up of karstic crystal lime stones that cover the metamorphic schists. The cave is developed not on a karstic belt but among single-local karstic blocks. These blocks are surrounded by schists. Hence, the areas where limestone surfaces are limited. However, its cave volume is quite large despite the limited surface. It has a length of 680m and covers an area of about 6.500m2 which is an indication of high karstification.
Crystalline limestones are white, beige and faded grey in color. They are subject to extensive karstification and the fractures that result in karstification are generally perpendicular which enable the rainwater to penetrate deeper. The cave is comprised of two main galleries, shaped by seismic movements and the karstification period, as well as many galleries and vault system. The Ballıca cave that has been under formation since the Pliocene has shapes with polycyclic development characteristics. There are various speleothems from the entrance until the end of the cave. Of these, stalactites (curtains, dripstones, pasta shaped, parachute-shaped, onion-shaped and leek-shaped), stalagmites, columns, pools and cave pearls are among the most important. The chambers are mostly cut along the tectonic lines and hence they either suddenly change direction or their levels decrease over time.
The cave entrance is located at an elevation of 1085meters. The first gallery lies along the NE-SW direction, while the Second Gallery lies along NEW-SE. Both galleries have different characteristics. The first Gallery displays irregular morphology related to tectonic activity while the Second Gallery displays a slowly decreasing structural level. The cave was formed in three different periods and has five floors. The first gallery has two floors. Floors III and IV were formed during the second development stage of the cave. Whereas the third development stage is currently ongoing and the 5th floor (New Hall) is being formed.
The first gallery consists of 3 main halls connected in order. Great Stalactites Hall, Fossil Hall, and Bats Hall. Muddy Hall which can be accessed from the Great Stalactites Hall via a vertical pass is also located in the First Gallery. The Fossil hall in the middle is the first floor of the Cave. It is +19 m higher than the entrance and is the first section of the cave that was formed. It has completed its hydrological activity and fossilized. The base of the Fossil Hall is comprised of blocks and fossilized soil which makes up the characteristic features of the First Gallery. Great Stalactites Hall and Bat Halls make up the second floor of the Cave. They are located at elevations of -21 and -24 in reference to the entrance. All varieties of dripstone (stalactite, stalagmite, column, wall and cover dripstones, cave flowers and dripstone pools) are located in these second-floor halls. The floors of dripstone pools are covered with cave pearls. Stalactites and stalagmites have reached huge sizes at the Great Stalactites hall; they are 18 meter in height and 8 meter in diameter. The dripstones in the Bat hall are still in formation stage. The cracks and fractured columns in these halls are indications that the cave has been subject to seismic activity after acquiring its current form. There are blocks, stalactites, and small pools in the Muddy Hall which can be accessed by way of a vertical pass from the Stalactites Hall.
There is an 11 meter steep well that connects the Great Stalactites Hall to the Second Gallery of the cave from the southwestern side. This well provides access to the Deposit Hall located at the transition from the First to the Second Gallery while it also opens up to the Blocked Vault. The walls of the Deposit Hall which is also a transition between the galleries are covered completely with speleothems. There are large blocks on the base, with large “mushroom dripstones” on the ceiling and the left wall. These dripstones are actually “onion stalactites” that have fossilized and reached giant sizes. The calcite accumulation trace that continues along as a horizontal line on the cave walls and the stalactites in this hall indicates the level that the groundwater has reached in this hall for some time. Well shaped 8 and 17 meter steep descents have formed among large blocks. This hall is also the 3rd floor of the Cave. Its surface level is at an elevation of -35 m from the cave entrance. The Karstic formations at the Second Gallery under this level are younger.
As we pass from the Columns Hall from the Sunken Hall, we can see that the columns here are much taller than others and exceed 15 meters. The Mushroom Hall and New Hall are located after the Columns Hall. The Mushroom Hall at an elevation of -44 meters from the cave entrance is covered richly with dripstones. There is a long drip stone pool along the western side of the hall with water accumulation. There are sporadic mushroom rocks and stalactites above the pool. The Mushroom Hall opens up to the Uçurumlu Vault covered with blocks. The randomly distributed irregular blocks make it difficult to examine the vault sections of the cave. Various vaults are still being studied and it seems that these studies will continue for many years. The stalactites and stalagmites in the Uçurumlu Vault are darker in color due to the presence of manganese. Uçurumlu Vault is also connected to the Bloklu Vault and various halls of the First Gallery.
With regard to its karstic features, Yeni Hall is the most interesting section of the Ballıca Cave. Yeni Hall located distinctively below the Sütunlar Hall makes up the youngest section of the Ballıca Cave. This hall is located at an elevation of -54 meters from the cave entrance and in addition to karstic structures that are not observed in other halls of the cave, there are also large dripstones (stalactites with no stalagmites) with heights reaching 6,5 meters and leek shaped stalactites are observed in this hall. The most interesting speleothems of the hall are the onion stalactites. These have various dimensions ranging from a few centimeters to 50 cm in diameter. There is a steep well at the western edge of the Yeni Hall. (-75m) This karstic well makes up the youngest and deepest section of the cave with a 2 meters deep pond at its base.
As indicated by these explanations, karstic topography and the presence of CO3 rich water are important factors with regard to the cave formation. Ballıca cave is completely dry save for the water accumulations at the small drip stone ponds at the lowest levels. The depths of these drip stone ponds vary between 20-60 cm. The deep well located at the western edge of the Yeni Hall is the wateriest section of the cave. This well is topographically located just below İndere Creek. İndere, located 50 m southwest of the cave is the source of the ground waters that feed the cave. Moreover, the dissolution funnels and karsts at İndere provide surface water drainage as well. In addition to the karsts, the limestone blocks that make up Akdağ have also made the development of an intensive karstic deposit possible.
The impacts of water in the cave provide significant data on the development stages of the cave. The line drawn by the calcite accumulations due to groundwater can be tracked to 3 meters from the base of the Çöküntü Hall. This level is proof of the presence of an old groundwater level. The absolute height of this level was 1053 meters which has decreased down to 1.010 meters today. The formation levels of the travertines that have formed on the cave surface are also indications of the level of water flowing outside the cave. The highest elevation of the surface travertines is 1120 meters. The current groundwater level of 1010 meters indicates that the groundwater level has decreased at least by 110 meters between the oldest preserved travertine and the current accumulation. Moreover, shallow ponds with slow flow have enabled the development of large stalactites with no stalagmites due to the draining of surface water.
The main development of this cave that has been forming since the Pliocene dates back to about 3,4 million years. The formation that started during the humid and cold period now continues at the Yeni Hall and the well that is at an elevation of -75m from the entrance. There is no river in the cave except this well. The other parts of the cave extend completely out in the vadose zone. On the other hand, stalactite and stalagmite formations are ongoing in other halls of the cave.
There are also travertine deposits formed by old karstic sources in addition to the cave, swallow holes, dissolution funnel, karst pit and dolines in the park. They are frequently encountered in the village of Ballıca which is very close to the park. Moreover, there is also a thick travertine cover in front of the Kömüşgölü Spring located east of the Ballıca Cave. The stream formed by the spring forms a waterfall over these travertines. Another karstic structure of the park is the karstic hill to the south of Ballıca Cave known due to its colors as “Ballıkaya”. The hill attracts attention with its natural landscape beauty.
The park has a continental ecosystem. The forest and scrub ecosystems (green cover) of the park supports the CO2 enrichment of the rainwater seeping further down from the karstic structure. The park is located in the Auxin Zone of the Euro-Siberian Phytogeographic Region. A total of 98 species from 33 families have been detected in flora studies carried out in the region. A total of 77 algae species have been determined inside the cave.
The fauna in the park has 3 different amphibian species. Bufo bufo (Common Toad) included in Annex III of the Bern Treaty and Bufo Viridis (Green Toad)included in Annex II of the Bern Treaty and Hyle Arborea (Common Tree Frog) are the determined species. Six different reptiles were also determined in the park. Elaphe quatuorlineta (Four-Lined Snake), Lacerta viridis (Green Lizard), Testudo graeca (Greek tortoise) included in Annex II of the Bern Treaty and Anguis fragilis (Slow Worm), Lacerta saxicolat (Armenian Lizard) and Typlops vermicularis (Blind Snake) included in Annex III of the Bern Treaty were determined. Significant numbers of common dwarf bat population are present inside the cave.
İndere Creek which is the main water source for the Ballıca Cave and drains Akdağ in which the park is located reaches all the way to the Kaz Lake which is a Wetland of significant importance according to Ramsar Convention criteria. This lake ecosystem fed by Indere Creek along with the forest habitats of the Ballıca Cave Nature Park make up a complete set of ecosystems that complement each other with regard to the feeding and reproduction of mammal species. The region is also rich in terms of bird species due to its proximity to the Kaz Lake wetland ecosystem. It was observed that 74 different bird species reside or pass through the park.
The Nature Park Cave has unique doline, karst, rock etc. formations as well as various karstic forms. Especially the Ballıca cave provides geological and geomorphologic richness with its unique onion stalactites, well-developed curtain travertines, settling ponds and column structures. The park’s own ecosystem has a sustainable, strong cycle and well-established relationships with its surrounding ecosystems.
Criterion (vii): The Cave as the most unique value of the park has been named as Ballıca due to the wonderful color of its speleothems. On the other hand, Ballıkaya Hill which is among the other karstic structures of the park is a sparkling rock amidst the green forest texture of the nature park with the honey-colored crystallized limestones that have surfaced. In addition to its shiny and attractive color, the cave also creates a rare geological landscape with the richness, variety, and beauty of its calcite speleothem formations. The rare and magnificent stalactites in the Ballıca Cave (parachute, pasta, curtain, onion-shaped stalactites, dripstones etc.) put forth a unique combination in terms of size, shape and color variety together with adjacent columns. In addition to stalactites of different forms, cave pearls also form a visual system together with dazzling onion shaped stalactites, well-developed curtain travertines and settling ponds. This system makes up the rare natural beauty of the Ballıca Cave which is not frequently encountered in the world thus making Ballıca unique among all cave formations in the world.
Criterion (viii): The karstic crystallized limestone areas in the park are surrounded by volcanic schists. The karstic structure here is in the form of a rock of local blocks rather than a geological belt. Hence, it is not shown on Karstic Region Maps. With this feature, the karstic formations in the park provide information on the formation of the Tokat Massive and the main rock formation of Akdağ. The erosion that took place during the Miocene in addition to the Paleozoic period is observed in the Ballıca Nature Park and the whole of Akdağ located inside the northern wing of the Alpine fold system.
On the other hand, the formation of the Ballıca Cave dates back to the Pliocene period. Its development was made possible due to the impact of cold weather increasing CO2 richness which enables the easier dissolution of carbonate pieces in the ‘’villafranchian’’ stage that corresponds to the Upper Pliocene. The data provided by the presence of surface travertines thought to be due to the seeping waters in the cave; secondary mineral formations indicating that the groundwater remained along a horizontal line on the wall for long periods of time, stalactites with no stalagmite formations in the Second Gallery with heights reaching up to 6.5m- in places are important with regard to hydrology. These data together with the quality and levels of surface and ground waters make it possible to keep track of the climate changes in Anatolia for millions of years annually after the Upper Pliocene thereby shedding light on the meteorological history of Anatolia. The travertines located inside or outside the cave are also important with regard to providing information on the water flow directions and levels of surface and ground waters for millions of years.
While the First Gallery has a wavy surface, the layers of the Second Gallery include gradually decreasing levels in relation to a series of normal fault lines. These structures of the gallery contain proofs indicating that the karstic, volcanic and tectonic effects have all played a role in the development of the cave. The fact that the cave entrance opens along the fault line as well as the presence of falling blocks in the cave and the horizontal fractures on the thick columns can be considered as proofs of seismic movements. The formation pattern of stalactites, advancement or discontinuity in the halls and galleries, block formation on the hall surfaces also provide information for understanding the impacts of seismic movements spreading out over a period of millions of years as well as the advancement of the fault lines that are part of the North Anatolia Fault Line.
Onion shaped stalactites and giant stalactites with no stalagmites have developed subject to the morphological base level that controls cave development. The levels of these stalactites also make it possible to distinguish the layers that have developed in different periods over a time frame of 3,4million years.
With dozens of different speleothem structures such as rare onion shaped stalactites, mushroom rocks, well-developed curtain travertines etc., many different forms of stalactites, settlement ponds, pearls, roses, the Ballıca Cave reflects a richness comprised of geological and geomorphologic dynamics of millions of years. The Park has witnessed the development of the Northern-Central Anatolia and the Tokat Massive over a period of millions of years with regard to karst geomorphology, cave development, and hydrology.
Ballıca is different and unique among thousands of caves in Anatolia and the world with its rich geomorphologic characteristics. Ballıca karst structures set a unique example with its location in Northern Anatolia away from the geographical areas where karst belts in Anatolia are generally located. As the most unique structure of the Nature Park, the Cave reflects each formation stage spreading out over a period of 3,4 million years as well as the climatic and hydrologic characteristics of each period with its speleothems and travertines.
The unique landscape aesthetic value resulting from the combination of its honey-colored speleothems, diversity, and richness makes it possible to follow the traces of each stage in the halls and galleries of the Ballıca Cave encompassing a period of millions of years.
Studies on the cave first started during the 1980s followed by systematic and scientific examinations and analyses dating back to 1992. First examinations were carried out by Ankara University in 1992. Afterward, the maps of the cave were prepared in 1992 and 1994 by Mağara Araştırma Derneği as well as the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration of Turkey. Many wells, vaults, and pits are still being studied in the Ballıca Cave and it is expected that such studies will continue further. Conditions that have enabled the continuation of the Nature Park and the Ballıca Cave as well as the climate, hydrologic and flora characteristics are still present. On the other hand, the development of other karstic formations in Nature Park such as karst, lapia, doline, travertine etc. is still ongoing. The natural conditions – biological meteorological, hydrologic – that guarantee the sustainability of this cave ecosystem as well as the Ballıca Cave as the most unique asset of the Park have not been disturbed.
Based on the report issued by the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration of Turkey in 1994, the halls of the cave were opened to visitors in 1995 excluding the Vaults, Çamurlu Hall and Yarasalar Hall. General uses inside the park were planned as guided cave tours provided that one does not stray away from the route. The cave has a lighting system and a pedestrian walkway system. In addition, there is also a mini carpark and meeting spot in the Nature Park. There are a closed resting and entrance spot at the entrance level of the cave.
The conditions for the preservation and use of the park are carried out under the framework of 2017 Ballıca Cave Nature Park Development Revision Plan. The cave and the limestone block, as well as the surrounding young forests, are under protection as ''Strict Nature Reserve Area''. Moreover, the water sources including İndere Creek as the main water source for the formation of the cave and the 432,66-hectare area inside the nature park have been determined as Sensitive Protection Area. Hunting is prohibited in the Park.
The valleys that played a role in the formation of the Cave including the surrounding natural cover were declared as a Nature Park in 2007. The park covers an area of 485 hectares. The area covers the Ballıca Cave, Ballı Kaya Hill, doline and karsts, other karstic structures, travertine formations and all the rivers that make up the hydrologic source of the area. Karstic areas were also registered as 2nd Degree Natural Protection Area in January 2009 by Sivas Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board. Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks and the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization including the General Directorate of Cultural and Natural Heritage are responsible from all interventions in the park and the preservation of the park in accordance with the National Parks Law numbered 2873.
People do not reside in the Nature Park. The closest village is the Ballıca Village that is 2 km away which is anthropogenically related. The population of the village is only 72 according to the 2015 census.
Beauty for caves is related to karstic formations; intensity and aesthetic of calcite speleothem forms rather than hall or gallery formations, ground waters or surface fractures etc. Ballıca karsts are separated from the caves in Anatolia as well as the world with the color of karsts as well as the rich aesthetic beauty of the speleothems inside the cave.
The onion-shaped stalactites with dimensions ranging from a few centimeters up to 50 cm are seen only in the Ballıca Cave in Anatolia. The size of those in other parts of the world is not comparable with the formations in Balllıca Cave.
When the Turkey Cave Inventory is examined, it is observed that almost all the 1386 caves examined are located mostly around the Toros, Bartın-Kastamonu-Zonguldak, Southern Marmara and Western Marmara karst belts. Rather than its geographical location and its karstic belt with regard to its geology, Ballıca karsts and Cave set a unique example due to the fact that they are comprised of local blocks. It is a unique formation in the region since it has witnessed out over a period of millions of years the development of the volcanic, tectonic and karstic formations making up the Tokat Massive.
On the other hand, no cave from Turkey has yet been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List or the Tentative List. The ‘’Karain’’ Cave in the Tentative List has been included as a cultural asset due to its archaeological value.
When the assets all over the world are examined which have been included in both the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Tentative List are taken into consideration, we come across caves that are similar to the Ballıca Cave with regard to their speleothem formations. Caves of Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst included in the World Heritage List as ‘’transboundary property’’ from Hungary and Slovakia have wonderful cave formations. Formations in these caves have developed due to tropical and glacial climatic effects. Whereas the Skocjan Caves in Slovenia are important for the History of Geology since they have witnessed the formation of the world in addition to being the source for terms such as ‘’karst’’ and ‘’doline’’. In addition, Skocjan Caves also put forth well-preserved examples of karst topography. Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes from Korea have been included in the World Heritage Site with the same criteria. The caves here are covered with colorful and generally dark-colored lava walls. This heritage area with a dominant volcanic characteristic includes polymorphic rock formations as well as Mount Halla, the highest mountain in Korea with lava tubes and lake craters. This karst area is well known for its wide belts comprised of lakes, rivers, karsts as well as the surfacing rocks. As can be seen from these examples, all caves and karst areas included in the World Heritage List have almost similar candidacy criteria. All have witnessed the different stages that the World has gone through during their geological and geomorphologic formations. In this regard, the formation stages along with the climate and geomorphologic characteristics are different from those of Ballıca. On the other hand, all cave and karst formations provide the most attractive geological and topographic beauties. However, Ballıca Cave with its onion-shaped stalactites and the mushroom-shaped stalactites that are larger versions of the onion-shaped stalactites as well as the honey-colored rich speleothem sources display a more beautiful appearance than all of the aforementioned caves and karsts.
There are many caves in the World Heritage Tentative List. Caves of the Buda Thermal Karst System contain corn, broccoli, and grape shaped speleothems. With its karst topography and wonderful display of images in addition to its witnessing of the geological periods of the Anatolian geography, the Ballıca Cave differs from the Alisadr Cave from Iran best known for its wide water source, the largest cave of Macedonia and Cave Slatinski Izvor which is a relative young cave much like Ballıca as well as the Caves in Kujang Area in Northern Korea with different speleothem formations along with the Ryongmun Cavern from the same country which has not been included in the Tentative List and the Classical Karst from Slovenia where cave tourism dates back to the 17th century and the Gcwihaba Caves nominated for the World Heritage List based on the same criteria with those of the Ballıca Cave.
On the other hand, Koytendağ Caves from Turkmenistan comprised of karstic lakes, wells, caves known for its biological species under threat, Evaporite karst and caves of Emilia Romagna Region in Italy comprised of hundreds of caves spread out over a wide karstic area, Natural-Historical Complex / Cave of Karaftoo from Iran nominated to the World Heritage List with its mixed heritage status and the Vjetrenica Cave from Bosnia Herzegovina that attracts attention with its biodiversity and the lakes with water levels that change according to the rain season are all included in the Tentative List. Ballıca Cave Nature Park differs from these caves with its rich speleothem species and its aesthetic superiority. On the other hand, these caves also attract attention due to their ecosystem, biodiversity and the fauna and flora under threat.Cave formations and the aesthetic beauty of these formations can be viewed in areas such as the Mammoth Cave National Park and Durmitor National Park included in the Global Geopark Network. However, these areas are included in the UNESCO Geopark Network due to their values resulting from efforts for sustainable development, education, preservation of geological heritage etc. and there is also a high possibility for Nature Park of Ballıca Cave to be inscribed to Geopark Network in near future.