Caves in Crete



Arkalohori Cave
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The sealed Cave of Arkalochori, also known as the Holy Cave of Profitis Elias (Prophet Elijah), is located southwest of Arkalochori and specifically in the southwestern side of the hill of Profitis Ilias, at an altitude of about 400 meters. A narrow entrance (width 0.70m and height 1.60m) leads inside the cave, in which due to the narrowness of the space, one has to crouch. The roof is supported by three concrete pillars. In ancient times, the cave was much larger, possibly extending even over the entire hill, and was made up of small and large chambers that communicated. The roof of the great cave collapsed in around 1500BC, perhaps due to an earthquake, the eruption of the Santorini volcano or due to the erosion of the rocks by the water. The cave has shrunk further into the 20th century, mainly due to landslides caused by illegal archaeological excavations.

It was a center of worship with a large number of visitors and tributes, which with the excavations came to light. The first official excavation was made by Iosif Chatzidakis in 1912, when clay potsherds, 53 blades of brass swords without handles, up to one meter long, and 19 double votive axes- one of which is silver- came to light. In the following decades the cave was severely looted and new systematic excavations were carried out in 1934-35 by the archaeologists Spyros Marinatos and Nikolaos Platonas, when many objects were found, mainly swords and bronze, gold and silver double axes with their length reaching 70 cm. Of the swords, the largest is 1.05m long and is the longest bronze sword in Prehistoric Greece. Many of the axes and swords are engraved, one bronze ax carries a hieroglyphic script with 15 symbols. Another bears a Minoan inscription in linear script Α΄.

The huge number of double axes, the sacred symbol of the Minoan Civilization, makes the Arkalochori Cave one of the most important sacred caves in Minoan Crete and the most important in the prefecture of Heraklion. From the top of the hill the visitor will find that the hill has visual contact with the most important Minoan peak sanctuaries of the prefecture of Heraklion (Kofinas, Giouchtas, etc.) and the sacred mountains of Ida and Dikti. This strategic position in the middle of the most important Minoan sites may have made it the most important worship cave of the Minoans. Around you can see the great plains of Arkalochori up to the peaks of the Lassithi mountains, Kasteli and Thrapsano, Choumeri and Agia Semni, while in the south the hills of Mousouta and Tzigounas rise. At the top and on the eastern slope of the same hill, traces of buildings dating back from archaic times with indications of handicraft workshops and maybe a Minoan peak sanctuary.

Spyros Marinatos claimed that the cave was a center of worship from 2500 BC, probably of a war deity since the tributes were mainly weapons. Also, Marinatos claimed that the cave of Arkalochori may be the mythical place where the goddess Rhea gave birth to Zeus. It is possible that some space was also used as a copper workshop because pieces of copper were found for processing. The above archeological findings are today exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. Gareth Owens places the mythical Labyrinth here, as its name (labrys + inthos) means a place with labrys (axes), and indeed there is no other cave in Crete with so many axes found.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: With archaeological importance

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