The Rosemont Grotto and the Petchaburg Caverns

by Unknown

BOUT three hundred miles from the coast of Madagascar, and over one hundred from the Mauritius, lies the beautiful island to which its French owners have given the name of Réunion. It was formerly known as 'Ile de Bourbon,' out of compliment to the family name of the French monarchs, but at the time of the Revolution the island was renamed, and became Réunion. It is of small size, only thirty-five miles long by twenty-eight broad; but it contains a range of fine mountains, some as much as ten thousand feet high. These mountains are of volcanic origin, and one peak, 'Polon de Fournaise' by name, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Below another, known as the Pic Bory, is a remarkable cavern, though it only measures sixty yards long by twenty high. Its chief feature is the curious method of its construction.

In its active days, the Pic Bory had a way of tossing high into the air huge spouts of boiling lava, which rushed with great force down the mountain-side, overwhelming everything which came in the way. Now, just as gunpowder rammed into a cannon drives heavy balls immense distances, so this lava is driven out of the craters by gases which are imprisoned below the crust of the earth. When these succeed in getting free, flames, cinders, and red-hot lava rush out, great explosions are heard for many miles, and clouds of fiery gas escape into the air. Sometimes, however, the lava is too densely packed for all the gas to escape, and some of it remains imprisoned, and is carried down the mountain beneath the boiling mass; but although it cannot get free, its energy finds vent by driving its roof of lava upwards, and so a high mound occurs in the channel of the lava, and when in course of years the gas does find a way out, a hollow cavern remains inside. The Grotto of Rosemont is one of the finest-known instances of these gas-formed caverns, and, hence its fame. Other volcanic grottoes are also found in Réunion, two of them very fine, and many similar great hollows are found near volcanoes in other lands, notably beneath the peak of Mount Etna in Sicily.

In the kingdom of Siam, about two days' journey by boat from the capital city of Bangkok, rises a fine group of mountains, and on the highest of these has been built a royal palace. The mountains are of volcanic origin, and the palace actually stands on an extinct crater, which would be very inconvenient if the slumbering fires below suddenly awakened.

In the neighbourhood of the range are the fine caverns of Petchaburg, some of the largest existing instances of volcanic grottoes. Two are especially grand, as the lava in cooling has twisted and twirled about in marvellous fashion, making most wonderful effects.

The moisture coming from the roof has decorated the caverns with splendid stalactites and stalagmites, whilst, like many other volcanic rocks, the walls are of brilliant and harmonious colours.

The king and his people are justly proud of their caverns, and have taken great pains that they shall be made accessible to visitors, the ground having been levelled and staircases placed in many directions. The largest and most beautiful cave has been turned into a temple, and all along the sides are rows of figures. One of these is of colossal size, and richly gilded, representing a sleeping Buddha.