Cave Zoniana, Sfendoni or Sfendoni's Hole, is located 1km north of Zoniana village in Mylopotamos, about 43km west of Heraklion and 52 southeast of Rethymno. It is shaped on the southern slopes of the hill Halepa at an altitude of 630m. The cave is accessible and is the most beautiful cave in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece, with rich stalactite and stalagmite decoration. It belongs to the Natural Park of Psiloritis, which is protected by UNESCO.
It has been exploited for tourism and you will need to pay a cheap ticket. Information on exact ticket prices and opening hours of the cave, you will find on the website of Zoniana. You will need an experienced guide from Zoniana to accompany you, for your safety and the cave, who will give you all the information about the cave. The route in the cave is signed by metal corridors, fitted with ropes, for greater security. These are accessible even by persons with disabilities.
The cave has an area of 3000 sq. m, and is one of the most beautiful in Greece. Visitors however are allowed only to visit two-thirds of it, walking along a corridor of about 270 meters. The maximum length of the cave is 145m. There are huge columns that create labyrinthine compartments inside the cave. Many stalactites and stalagmites of different colors and shapes decorate the 14 rooms of the cave. In several places, there are water basins. Also you can see the so-called "cave pearls”, a type of speleothem, a concretion of calcium salts which forms in limestone caves and resemble pearls. Finally, the glow coming from the tiny crystals of calcium carbonate is particularly impressive.
The cave is home to four species of bats and dozens of species of invertebrates (snails, spiders, false-scorpions, woodlices, millipedes, spring tails, cave crickets etc.). Some of those are colorless and blind, while at least two species are cave’s endemics. The cave also has high archaeological importance. Excavations have shown that it was used occasionally by shepherds for thousands of years. Pottery dating has indicated that there was continuous, but not intense use of the cave, from Neolithic times till today.
Many years ago, in the last chamber of the cave, a skeleton belonging to a small child was discovered. It was covered with limestone material, denoting that it had been left there for several centuries. It is likely that the child entered the cave and missed the exit in the cave mazes. Many locals believe that it is the boy who was killed by Sfendonis’ boot.
The cave of Zoniana is called by locals as the "Sfendonis’ Hole”. The name comes from a rebel from Sfakia, called Sfendonis, who was hiding in the cave.One day, while cooking meat near the entrance of the cave, a boy approached him to ask him some food. Sfendonis got furious because his hideout was revealed and kicked the boy with his boot so hard that he killed him.
According to legend, a beautiful fairy lived in the cave. Every day, at a certain time, the fairy came out of the cave and went to drink water in a nearby spring. A shepherd saw her several times and fell in love, but she always escaped in the cave. He decided to be watch her. When she passed nearby, he hurt her with his sling (Sfendona means “sling” in Greek). The wounded fairy managed to run and got lost in the cave, but her bloody handkerchief was dropped at the entrance of the cave, where the shepherd found it. Another legend says that the shepherd approached the wounded nymph and tried to kiss her. She prevented him and promised him a rod with silk which will never dry up, if he would not kiss her. However, shepherd kissed her and she cursed him. The cursed shepherd’s and his family hands’ were trembling forever.