Fingal’s Cave, Nature’s Masterpiece on the Isle of Staffa, Scotland

The inspiration behind Felix Mendelssohn's 'Hebrides Overture.'

  • Fingal’s Cave is located on the uninhabited Isle of Staffa in the inner Hebrides, Argyll.
  • This well-known sea cave in Scotland became a source of inspiration to some famous people and artists.
  • Fingal’s astounding geometric form and the sound of the waves smashing against the hexagonal columns create hypnotic melodies that attract locals and tourists alike.

Standing at the height of 72 feet and with a depth of 270 feet, Fingal’s Cave formed approximately 60 million years ago due to a massive lava flow. Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, which is situated directly across the sea, consists of the same basalt columns.

According to an Irish legend, a giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill built a bridge to Scotland to fight his rival Benandonner. Giant’s Causeway and Fingal’s Cave were said to be end pieces of the road he once created.

Mostly described as otherworldly, Fingal’s cave indeed boasts of exceptional characteristics.
Photo: Peter Aschoff
The hexagonal columns of basalt that line up its interior walls seem man-made because of its symmetry, but humans don’t have a hand on this.
Photo: James West
In 1772, Sir Joseph Banks rediscovered the cave. He also changed its name from ‘Uahm-Binn’ or ‘The Cave of Melody’ after the Irish legend to its current name.
Photo:Julie D via Flickr

However, it was Felix Mendelssohn, a German composer, who catapulted the sea cave into fame. Deeply inspired by the sounds he heard from Fingal, he wrote ‘The Hebrides Overture,’ which premiered in London on May 14, 1832.

The arched roof of the cave helps to create a hypnotic melody as the waves smash against the rock.

According to an article by Visit Scotland, the ‘spine-shivering harmonies’ are usually compared to ‘the sounds resonating throughout a cathedral.’

Its fame started to spread and eventually, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Queen Victoria, and Jules Verne had to visit the site. Even Pink Floyd named one of their early, unreleased song after Fingal’s Cave.

Tourists may take boat trips from Oban, Dervaig, Tobermory, Fionnphort, and Iona. Visitors can check out the caves and also walk on the island by the trails.

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