Cretan History

Labyrinth
Cave

Heraklion

Labyrinth Cave
(15 votes)

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 Minoan villa of Agia Triada, the Roman city of Gortys, and other smaller towns. The quarry and its two entrances were almost completely destroyed by the Germans in 1944 and thus today we cannot see its original form.

The Cave of the labyrinthine tunnels and the dead ends has raised the interest of many researchers, who place the mythical Labyrinth of the Minotaur in that cave, and not at Knossos. According to the famous legend, Theseus killed the monstrous Minotaur through the dark maze with the help of Ariadne, which gave him a string to avoid getting lost and find the exit again. Thus, Theseus managed to kill Minotaur and free himself and the other people that Athens was obliged to send in Knossos every nine years, in retaliation for the death of King Minos son by the Athenians. Many believe that the myth of the Minotaur symbolizes the suffering and the poor conditions under which slaves worked in the quarry, most of them dying in this dark and damp prison.

Access in the cave is forbidden

After the mine ceased to operate, its galleries were filled with bats. Thus, the local residents for centuries came there to load their animals with the nitrate residues of bats, which are an ideal fertilizer.

Much later, when the Germans occupied Crete, the cave was used as a huge warehouse for ammunition, food and water. Indeed, it became the largest ammunition depot for Germany, which could supply the entire Middle East, with more than 300,000 tons of weapons! Before the Germans left the island in 1944, they blew up all their ammunition, so the cave was completely destroyed and its entrances were buried under giant rocks. This explosion was so strong that several 15-ton boulders were found within a 10km distance.

In 1945 the Greek state started works for restoring the cave and clear whatever ammunition had not exploded due to lack of oxygen. The entrances were reopened for a while and, unfortunately, then many locals lost their lives while trying to find ammunition, which was used for making fertilizers or for fishing with dynamite. Today the cave is sealed and entering is strictly forbidden, however many cases of illegal excavations have been reported.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: With archaeological importance

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