Psichro Cave (Diktaean Cave)

The impressive cave of Zeus, the Diktaean Cave, is located just 10 minutes walking-distance from Psychro, in Lassithi Plateau, at an altitude of 1025m. In Psychro there is plenty of parking areas, with plenty of restaurants nearby. Two paths leading to the cave start from the parking area. The easiest path is the left one, because in the right path (the oldest) the stones are worn by thousands of tourists and are slippery. The route to the cave is magnificent as the view to the Lassithi Plateau is breathtaking. If you do not want to walk, there are donkeys to transfer visitors to the cave. Near the entrance of the cave there is a kiosk where you can buy tickets for a small price. The cave, which has an area of 2200 sq.m, is well lit and the paths in it come along a well-designed path of 250m length.

The interior

Near the entrance, on the right there is a hall (length 42m, width 19m, 6.5 m), while the great hall starts at a lower level. On the floor of the hall, there are rocks that have fallen from the top, while others have come to the surface by excavations. Southeast of the chamber there is a large stalagmite complex. Also, there are some buildings. A smaller hall is located on the northwest side, from which important findings have been extracted.

While moving inside the cave, the visitor enters the great hall. Its entrance has a width of 18m and a height of 14m, while the largest part of it is covered by solid rock and large stalagmites. From there, a downhill staircase starts which leads to the end of the hall. The great hall has a maximum length of 84m, width 38m, height 5-14m. The floor is full of scattered rocks.

On the left hand, the visitor can easily discern a small chamber with dimensions 10m x 5.5m It is called 'cradle of Zeus' and, according to the myth, is the room where Zeus was born. On the right another larger hall is shaped (length 25m, width 12m, height 10m), which is divided into two sections by large columns. The first part is located 35m lower than the cave entrance. It hosts a marvelous water lake (16m x 8.5m) which has water all year round. The pond is filled with coins from visitors.

In the second part, there is a large and very spectacular stalactite, called as the “mantle of Zeus”. Unfortunately, this stalagmite has been damaged by visitors.

The whole great hall has impressive decor with large columns, stalactites and stalagmites. The Diktaean cave is one of the most spectacular caves in Crete.

Findings

In the late 19th century, local residents, mostly shepherds and hunters, discovered many ancient objects in the cave. From then, a series of limited excavations started in the cave. Most findings come from illegal excavations and are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and in Oxford. Unfortunately, the cave was open during the ages, thus many important objects are believed to have been removed.

Objects from Neolithic, Minoan, Subminoan, Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman times have been extracted, indicating the long-term use of the cave. The cave seems to have been used for residence and burials since 2800 BC. It seems that in around 2000BC, the Diktaean Cave became a place of worship, taking the lead as the most important worship cave in the area. In 700BC the worship was moved to Ideon Cave in Psiloritis Mount.

The cave is full of various shapes that resemble humans or animals. It seems that they have been used as worship objects. In the first hall, Neolithic pottery and Early Minoan burial objects have been found. Here, one meter above the floor, a rectangular altar stands. It seems that locals placed offerings above the altar, such as oil, honey, wine, cereals, sacrificed animals and then they put fire. Residues were collected at the side of the altar.

 

A small shrine (3m x 2m), a paved floor and a wall surrounding them have been found inside the small hall, near the entrance.

Over the paved floor, archaeologists found traces of ashes, post-Minoan jars and reliefs, bronze weapons, knives and pins, a metal cult statue, pottery parts, and Geometric and Archaic offerings.

In the great hall, excavations revealed numerous offerings, spearheads, knives, razors, needles, figurines, statues, brass and bronze double axes, pottery parts, gems with depictions of bulls and goats, necklace beads, small spheres of glass, bronze rings, gold and silver garlands, human statues, precious jewelry, lances, spears etc. The devoid of iron is characteristic here (it is abundant in the first hall).

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Worship of Venus and Ariadne

The abundance of weapons and swords found in the cave could lead to the conclusion that a war goddess was worshiped there. Moreover, most of the findings in Psychro Cave (women's offerings, hair clamps, needles, castling, shuttles, hair pins, necklaces, etc.) suit more to a goddess. Some of the statues of women with bare and bulging breast remind of Aphrodite (Venus). Other findings are related to the rural occupations of their donors. It is therefore likely that a Minoan goddess was worshiped in the cave. Carvings in a small brass stone remind worship to Celestial Venus.

In Cretan mythology three heroines are closely linked to Minos: Pasiphae, Ariadne and Phaedra. Many archaeologists believe that Ariadne is closest to the deity of the cave and her lover, Dionysus.

Fauna

Wild pigeons and other birds nest in the first hall of the cave. The lower Cave hosts different kinds of bats and cave arthropods.

Myths of the Cave

Most researchers identify the cave of Psychro as the mythical Dictaean Cave, as reported by Hesiod. Zeus was born and raised here, with the help of the Nymphs and the Kouretes. For this reason, this also called the “Bethlehem of the Ancient World”. The cave itself has been associated with stories like that of the seer Epimenides who "slept" here for 57 years, the rape of Europa by Zeus, the birth of Minos, the Harpies, etc.

The birth of Zeus

According to legend, there was a prophecy saying that the king of the world, Cronus (Saturn), will be dethroned by his son. Thus Cronus devoured his children for his protection. His wife, Rhea gave birth to Zeus in the Diktaean cave and kept that place secret from Cronus. She tricked Cronus and, instead of the baby, she gave him to eat a rock wrapped in the swaddling clothes of the baby. Then she left Zeus in the cave, to be raised by the Diktaean Kouretes under the protection and nursing of the mythical goat Amalthea and the nymph Melissa.

Birth of Zeus

 

The birth of Minos, the laws and the rape of Europa

A secondary legendary tells that King Minos was born in the same cave with his father Zeus, i.e. in the Diktaean Cave.

Another legend says that King Minos came to Diktaean Cave every nine years, when the orbits of the moon and the sun converged. There he met his father, Zeus, and adopted new laws to govern Crete. Thus, Minos has been related to the absolute justice, which made him a judge in Hades when he died. This myth is a variation of the dominant one, which tells the same story for Idean Cave.

Also, another version of the famous legend of Europa, tells that when Zeus transformed to a bull and seduced Europa, he took her in the DIctaean Cave, and not in Gortys. He revealed himself there and made love to her. Europe born Minos, Sarpedon and Radamanthy.

Minos, illustration by Gustave Doré for Dante's Inferno

Epimenides

Dictaean Cave is the magical cave in which the ancient Cretan sage Epimenides fell asleep for 57 years. Once awakened, he had the same age but had acquired divine wisdom and knowledge.

The Harpies

According to mythology, the Diktaean Cave is the cave where the Harpies lived. They were female monsters with bird heads and women bodies, who were the messengers of Hades. They are famous about the story of Phineus punishment.

The Harpies

 

Photos of the cave (from Cave's flickr group)

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