Cave of Eileithyia
The cave of Eileithyia is located 7km east of Heraklion and 1 km southeast of Amnissos. It is formed on the eastern sides of the valley of Karteros, next to the old road that lead to Episkopi from Amnisos. The entrance of the cave is near an old fig tree.
The cave was discovered during the last century. The locals also call it “Neraidospilios”, meaning the Fairy Cave.
The cave was known to Stabo and Homer (Section 188), who mentioned it for first time in 4 Linear B tablets of Knossos (14th century BC). The cave was dedicated to the goddess E-re-u-ti-ja (Elefthyia), i.e. the goddess of childbirth, for which women offered milk, honey, oil and wool. According to the legend, Eileithyia was born by Hera in this cave.
The cave is 64.5m long, 9-12m wide and 3-4.5m high. Near the entrance of the cave, a house of priests or guards has been found. Seven steps lead to a deeper level and then, an ascending lane leads to a higher hall with a width of 10-12 meters and a height of 4m, which is shaped in 3 successive rooms with uneven floors. Near the entrance, there is a huge stone of 0.78 meters height and 2.20 meters in diameter, reminding of "hub".
In the center of the cave is a “vetylos”, a worship stone that was considered to bear the godess. Many remains were found there, surrounded by a rectangular altar. The altar also includes two cylindrical stalagmites resembling to human figures (mother and child), which are believed to have been worshiped. The findings indicate that the cave was an important worship center from the Neolithic Age to the 5th century AD
During the excavations, traces of the early Christian periods were found. Entrance to the cave is allowed only under special authorization from local authorities.