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The French lawyer Edouard Alfred Martel is often called "the father of modern speleology". Between 1888 and 1914, Martel organized annual campaigns to explore the subterranean world of Europe. Many of the nowadays world famous tourist caves were first explored by Martel and his crew: In France Bramabiau, Dargilan, Padirac and Aven Armand. On Mallorca the Cuevas del Drach, in England the abyss of Gaping Gill.

In an impressive number of publications - his bibliography quotes some 1000 titles - Martel made the new science "speleology" known to a wider public. At the end of the last century, Martel's books became best-sellers and essential for any well-stocked library. Today they are treasured collector's items, rarely to be found in the antique market. These WWW pages give you the chance to study Martel's writings (probably the first published English translation of most of his reports) and to have a look at fascinating pictures from these early days of cave science.


Martel's exploration of the underground river of Bramabiau on the 27th June, 1888, is considered to mark the birth date of modern speleology in France. Supported by a team of assistants and friends, Martel succeeded in making the first through-crossing of the plateau de Camprieu at the foot of the Mount Aigoual in Southern France, tracing the path of the subterranean stream Bonheur through lakes and waterfalls.

For Martel, the crossing of Bramabiau marked the beginning of one of the most astonishong scientific careers at the turn of the century. During the next 25 years, Martel explored in annual campaigns most of the cave regions in France. Using sophisticated equipment he challenged the deepest potholes of his time, descending into shafts up to 160 metres deep.

The lively reports of Martel's expeditions became bestsellers and essential for every well-stocked library. Extracts from his most famous books LES CEVENNES (1888) and LES ABIMES (1894) in the English translations are just a mouse-click away from you!


Padirac, an impressive shaft in the Causse de Gramat near the Dordogne river, is "bottomed" for the first time by Martel and his crew. At a depth of 100 metres, they discovered an underground streamway. Martel and his cousin Gaupillat continued the exploration in a collapsible dinghy for about 2 kilometres. // Extracts from LES ABIMES (1894)


Martel's field of research is enlarged, and new expeditions abroad are launched. The highlights of his travel to Ireland and England are the exploration of Marble Arch Cave in Northern Ireland and the first descent down the 110 metres main shaft of Gaping Gill. His description of the descent in the // Annual Report of the Club Alpin is worth reading!


Invited by the Archduke Ludwig Salvator - a cousin of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph - Martel and his factotum Louis Armand explore the island's underground structure. In the Cueva del Drach near Porto Christo they discover the greatest underground lake known at that time. Their enthusiasm and astonishment is well-reflected in their report in Annales du CAF 1896


Louis Armand reaches the bottom of a shaft (which is later named after him) and discovers a huge chamber with real a dripstone jungle. In 1927 the Aven Armand is opened to the public and becomes one of the most important tourist attractions in the region.


Exploration of Europe's largest gorge, the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Nowadays a busy tourist site, this place was nearly unknown at the beginning of the century. In his book LA FRANCE IGNOREE (1928) Martel gives a detailled report of the first "through-trip" in this white water dungeon.

What makes Martel's reports special is the extraordinary iconography. His archives held thousands of photographs and drawings. The paintings of his friend Lucien Rudaux are real pieces of art, which you may download (and reprint in your caving journal, if you want - but please send a copy to Bernd Kliebhan, Burgweg 15, D-35516 Muenzenberg. For commercial use please contact me).
Bibliographie // Martels Forschungskampagnen/annual campaigns // Schauhöhlen/tourist caves // Picture gallery

The story of E.A.MARTEL on DVD

You want to know more about the "Father of Modern Speleology"?

The ultimate documentary film about E.A.MARTEL's underground adventures:

Journey into Darkness

a film by Bernd Kliebhan (1995 hr/ARTE). Available on DVD for 19 EUR + shipping in English, French and German versions. Send your order to Bernd Kliebhan, Burgweg 15, D-35516 Muenzenberg - email: bernd (at) kliebhan.de.