The existence of numerous caves is inextricably linked to the rugged topography of Crete. People lived in caves thousands of years ago, as evidenced by the prehistoric carvings in the cave Skordilakia by Asfendou. Moreover, today's religious tradition in the caves, which hosts cavernous chapels, is an evolution of the worship of ancient gods inside caves.
Originally, the Minoans worshipped their major deities, such as Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, in caves. Later, they placed the birth and upbringing of the king of the gods, Zeus, in the Diktaean and Idaean caves, turning them into important religious centers. During the Byzantine era, caves which according to tradition hosted Saints, such as Saint Paul, Gerasimos and John Xenos, were converted to important ascetic communities. Many pages of Cretan history were also written in the caves of Crete, such as the massacres in the caves of Melidoni, Milatos, Krionerida and Tigani at Gramvousa.
Many caves are of very high speleological and ecological significance. Caves with rich decoration which are open to visitors are the Diktaean Cave by Psychro, Gerontospilios by Melidoni and Sfendoni by Zoniana. Besides the caves of religious or historical value, Crete has more than 4.500 mapped caves and sinkholes, available to each experienced speleologist who wants to enjoy their rich decoration and fauna. Areas that host a large number of caves, ideal for cavers, is mount Stroumboulas by Heraklion, the Geopark of Sitia, the Geopark of Psiloritis and Melidoni area in the White Mountains. The three deepest explored sinkholes in Greece are all located in Crete.
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 submarine Cave of Elephants is located in Drepano area of Akrotiri, in Chania prefecture and out of Souda Bay. The cave was discovered in 1999 by the snorkeler Manolis Efthymakis and was then showed in January 2000 in Star TV by the professional diver and filmmaker G. Tzanakis.
Cave Labyrinth is located 50km south of Iraklion, on a small hill, 3.5 km north of Kastelli village in Messara Plain. It was a huge artificial cave with labyrinthine corridors longer than 2.5km long and several rooms that did not lead anywhere, which served as a quarry for the extraction of stones used for construction of the Minoan palace at Phaestus.
The Cave of Melidoni is located approximately 1,800 meters northwest of the homonym village of Mylopotamos. Gerontospilios, as also called, is very important due to the archaeological findings, some of which are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon. Moreover, the cave has played a tragic role in the history of Cretan revolution against the Turks, in 1824.
Τhe cave of Gerani is one of the most important and most beautiful caves in the prefecture of Rethymno and in whole Crete. It is located 7 km west of Rethymnon, at the location "Kamari" and close to the beach of Gerani. The cave was accidentally discovered on March 15, 1969 during construction works for the modern highway.
Milatos Cave, also known as Rapas cave, is located 3km northeast of Milatos at an altitude of 155m. In order to reach the cave, the visitor should drive 2.5km east of Milatos (following the road sings) and then walk in the uphill footpath that leads to the cave entrance (10-15 minutes walking). Cave is easily accessible, is open to visitors, but torches are necessary for those who want to see the darker points of the cave.
Arkoudospilios (Bear Cave) or the Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa is located in Avlaki gorge of Akrotiri (Chania), 2km north of the Gouvernetou monastery, in the gorge connecting Gouvernetou with Katholiko Monastery. The cave is known for the bear-shaped rock that made the cave a place of worship of the ancient goddess Artemis.
Ideon Cave (or Ideon Antron) is located on the eastern slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis), in the plateau of Nida. The distance of the cave from Anogia is 24km and from Rethymno it’s 78km. The cave has not any special geological value, but has enormous mythological and cultural value, as this is the cave in which, according to the legend, the greatest Greek god, Zeus, was grown up. Today, thousands of tourists visit the cave every year, especially during the summer months.