Macocha Abyss – Vilémovice, Czechia - Atlas Obscura

Macocha Abyss

Vilémovice, Czechia

The deepest sinkhole in Central Europe comes with a grisly tale and an unusual nickname: “The Stepmother Abyss.” 


Nowhere in Central Europe is the geological disfiguring of a Karst landscape better demonstrated than at the Macocha Gorge, sometimes referred to—with a satisfying sense of foreboding—as the Macocha Abyss.

Sinkholes, subterranean rivers, huge underground domes filled with crystal clear lakes: these are all of the features of a karst landscape.

Karst topography, some of the most dramatic terrain in the world,  forms when acidic water flows through soft rock such as limestone or gypsum. As the water eats away at the stone small fissures are formed. Deepening over time, these cracks become tunnels, tunnels become caves, and eventually the entire underlying bedrock turns into Swiss cheese. Such is the case with the Macocha Abyss.

First explored by a monk in 1723, it is technically neither an abyss nor a gorge but a sinkhole created by the collapse of subterranean chamber. At 138 meters deep with a river flowing through it, it is just one piece of a vast underground system formed by the Punkva River slicing its way through the Moravian karst in eastern Czechia. The Macocha gorge is one of the few places where this underground river sees daylight.

Walled in by greenery, the sinkhole is home to rare flowers and a three-kilometer-long (1.86-mile) walkway for viewing. While the gorge’s beauty is obvious, its nickname the Propast Macocha—literally “Stepmother Abyss”—comes with a grim tale.  

According to local legend (isn’t it always?) a widowed stepmother was living with her stepson. As time went on she remarried and had a son of her own. Not wanting competition between the boys, she asked her stepson to join her in collecting berries in the forest. The stepmother lured him to the edge of the gorge by telling him the best berries were there. Then, she pushed him into the abyss.

The boy managed to survive, and his cries were heard by local woodcutters. Once the news got back to the village the townspeople gathered their pitchforks and torches, and promptly threw the wicked old stepmother into the crevice. In an alternate version, she threw herself in.

Either way, the Stepmother Abyss was born.


Know Before You Go

Twenty five kilometers outside of Brno, the Gorge is only 30 minutes by car or train and an hour by bike. There is paid parking nearby. It is best visited in summer when everything is open. You can tour the abyss, by looking at it from viewing stations above or by taking a tour of the nearby by Punkva Caves which emerges at the base of the abyss. This is the best way to see it. The tour is an hour and a half.

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