The Rosemont Grotto and the
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.