The Coral Reef in a Landlocked Polish City

Some four hundred kilometers from the nearest seashore, a former quarry in Kadzielnia is home to remains of a coral reef, not dissimilar to that near the Bahamas.

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people standing on to of a limestone rock in Kadzielnia nature reserve in Kielce Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship Poland
A limestone rock in Kadzielnia nature reserve in Kielce, Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland. Photo: Henryk Kotowski / Alamy Stock / Be&W

If you like history like your barrel-aged vodka – aka, the older, the better – there are a few places you should visit in Central Europe. Alas, Romania’s Movile Cave, sealed 5.5 million years ago and with its own unique ecosystem, is off the table. However, you might want to check out the oldest wheel ever, found in marshes near Slovenia’s Ljubljana. Or perhaps debating the authenticity of the (allegedly) 17,000-year-old Venus of Piatra Neamt is more your style.

But you also have to head to Poland, and not only to visit stone forest petrified some 6 to 12 million years ago. The go-to place is the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, where dozens of sites hint at times past – millions of years before humans entered the stage. As unbelievable as it may sound, one such blast from the past is the remains of a coral reef in the middle of Kielce – a relatively large city in central Poland, some 400 kilometers from the seashore.

Poland Kadzielnia Amphitheater and coral reef in Kielce
The remnants of a prehistoric coral reef located in Kielce, Poland. Photo: DK-ART / Adobe Stock

Kadzielnia: a cornucopia of prehistoric finds

For decades, this area has been a hotbed for archeologists making marvelous, one-of-a-kind prehistoric discoveries. Just a few kilometers away from Kielce, in the village of Zachełmie, the oldest land vertebrae footprints were found, giving concrete proof of a time when dinosaurs first became land creatures. These footprints, along with fossils of a 360-million-year-old fish and many “regular” dinosaurs, have their archeological homes in the near vicinity of Kielce. But you don’t need to leave town to see some of the oldest signs of life on Earth.

As scientists explain, some 360 million years ago, where the Świętokrzyskie Mountains now sit, there was a tropical sea with organic formations, not unlike the one just off of the coast of the Bahamas today. Kadzielnia, a limestone quarry in what is now the city of Kielce, was possibly in use as early as the 17th century. In the mid-20th-century, the city limits enveloped the quarry, turning it into a nature sanctuary instead. The high point of the sanctuary is the 300-meter-high Geologists’ Spur. You can also visit an underground tourist trail of interconnected caves.

The former quarry, now a prime location for festivals, features a viewing terrace and an amphitheater. And right next to it, you can find the remains of the coral reef.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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