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In search of the lost river


A 50-kilometre-long mystery in the heart of Europe

Broadcast on Sunday 27 March 2011 at 10:30 pm


A river disappears in Slovenia before re-emerging in Trieste. For centuries man has tried in vain to explore it. Today, two groups of speleologists aim to make history by attempting to reveal its course.

IN SEARCH OF THE LOST RIVER, broadcast Sunday 27 March at 10.30 pm on National Geographic Channel (channel 403 on Sky Italia), tells of a modern-day adventure.

At the bottom of a deep gorge in Skocjan, Slovenia, flows the river Reka, which at this point disappears below the surface and begins a long underground journey: 50 kilometres through Slovenia and Italy, beneath the woods of the Karst region and the city of Trieste, and on to the Adriatic sea, where the river is known as Timavo. An unexplored course that still today represents a veritable gap in our geographic knowledge.

This Karstic river is a unique example of a mysterious phenomenon that has captured man's imagination for centuries. A story of impossible - and at times tragic - challenges, in which the key players of yesterday were the grottenarbeiter (“cave workers”), and those of today, expert cavers. In the past the challenge was to find water for the thirsty city of Trieste; now it is to locate an access route to the legendary river, by digging into the rock to depths of up to 300 metres.

In Search of the Lost River is a journey through time, both reconstructing the numerous attempts to explore the river in the past two centuries, and following two groups of cavers on their descent into the bowels of the earth in search of this legendary watercourse. There are many dangers, from falling rocks to the wind, with gusts reaching up to 170 km/h when the river is in full flow, but nothing could stop the expedition. A case in point is 26-year-old Marco Restaino, one of the key characters, who lost a kidney during a previous descent, but still continues his search for the river undeterred.

For the crew, the expedition meant spending 650 hours underground, producing over 60 hours of footage. Some 2 tons of materials, including 2.5 km of electric cables and 350 kg of lights, were carried by hand up and down the 58 km of shafts.

In Search of the Lost River is written and directed by Tullio Bernabei, who produced it together with Fantastificio for National Geographic Channel.

The documentary features numerous experts, including Marco Restaino and Piero Slama, of the Società Adriatica di Speleologia (Adriatic Speleology Society); Roberto Prelli, Pino Guidi, Natale “Bosco” Bone, Glauco Savi of the Commissione Grotte Eugenio Boegan (Eugenio Boegan Caving Commission); Luciano Russo, representing the caving and diving group exploring the mouth of the river Timavo; and Tomas Roth, head of the expedition from the Czech Republic that is searching for new branches of the Timavo in the Kacna Jama ("chasm of snakes") in Slovenia.