Sof-omar Caves

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Sof Omar is a small muslim village in Bale Ethiopia. Sof Omar cave being one of the most spectacular and extensive underground cave systems in the world. Formed by the Wabi River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved out a new channel through limestone foothills, the Sof Omar systems is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.

The cave which is now an important Islamic Shrine was named after the saintly Sheikh Sof Omar who took refuge here many centuries ago. The cave has a religious history that predates the arrival of the Muslims in Bale – a history calculated in thousands of years.

At 15.1 kilometres (9.4 mi) long, Sof Omar Cave is the longest cave in Ethiopia; sources claim it is the longest system of caves in Africa and ranks as the 306th longest in the World. It is situated in the Bale province in southeastern Ethiopia (6°55′N 40°45′E / 6.917°N 40.75°E / 6.917; 40.75) through which the Weyib River (Gestro River) flows. It sinks at the Ayiew Maco entrance and reappears at the Holuca resurgence 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) away. Long a religious centre, it is sacred both to local Traditional religions and to Islam. The caves are known for their many pillars, particularly in the "Chamber of Columns".

The cave is formed along a network of joints: one set runs approximately north to south and the other east to west. This Zig Zag of passages runs in an approximate southeasterly direction. Sof Omar has 42 entrances, but generally only four are useful for gaining entrance:

Two upstream Village Entrances (one to the east and one to the west of the village) The Tourist Entrance downstream from the Holuca Resurgence – at a point where the abandoned meander forming the dry valley rejoins the Web river A right bank entrance downstream of Holuca accessing the Deep South part of the Clapham's Climb Series The Web river disappearing into the Ayiew Maco entrance of Sof Omar Caves. The dry valley, Sof Omar Village and Village Entrances are off to the left.

Entering the cave via either of the Village Entrances the visitor passes a shrine used by the locals. The Ayiew Maco Series is a set of interconnecting passages of varying in width between 1m and 10m. Several can be passed through to the pebble beach on the left bank of the river. A less complex series of passages exists on the right bank. These probably connected to those on the left bank until severed by the vadose action of the Web cutting the river passage deeper.

The passage at the pebble beach is about 40 m wide – the widest passage in the cave. At the downstream end of the beach the river disappears between two columns. The way to continue is to cross the Web at Ford 1 and follow the Figure-of-Eight passage until reaching the river again at Ford 2. At this point it is possible to see down Safari Straight, the most spectacular view in the cave. The river meanders down this 15m wide, 20m high rectangular passage for 300m.


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   Addis Ababa, Ethiopia