Caves in Crete

Eileithyia

Heraklion

Eileithyia Cave at Amnissos
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The cave of Eileithyia is located about 7km east of Heraklion and 1 km southeast of Amnissos. It is formed on the eastern sides of the valley of river Karteros, next to the old road that lead to Episkopi from Amnissos beach. You can locate the entrance of the cave from an old fig tree just next to it. The cave was known to Stabo and Homer (Section 188), while it is also mentioned for first time in 4 Linear B tablets from Knossos (14th century BC). The cave was dedicated to the goddess E-re-u-ti-ja (Elefthyia), i.e. the goddess of childbirth, to which women devoted milk, honey, oil and wool. According to the legend, Eileithyia was born by Hera in this cave.

The locals also call the cave Neraidospilios, meaning the Fairy Cave, just like many caves in Crete. It is 64.5m long, 9-12m wide and 3-4.5m high. Near the entrance of the cave, bases of a building that housed priests or guards have been found. Seven steps lead to a lower level and then, an ascending lane leads to an elevated room with a width of 10-12 meters and a height of 4m, which is formed in 3 successive rooms with uneven floors. Near the entrance, there is a big stone of 0.78 meters height and 2.20 meters in diameter, reminding of a navel.

In the center of the cave there is a vetylos, a worship stone that was considered to bear the goddess. 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.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: Horizontal Cave, With archaeological importance
  • Length (m): 65

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