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 Cave of St. John the Hermit or Xenos in Avlaki Gorge, in Akrotiri, is located just a few hundred meters away from Arkoudospilios. This is located near the abandoned Katholiko Monastery and Gouverneto monastery. Similarly to Arkoudospilios this was a riverbed with a total length of about 135 meters, forming a horizontal room. Its rich decoration is characterized by large stalactites and stalagmites.
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.
Today the cave hosts the beautiful church of St. Anthony, the patron of children, which is below the roofs of the Gorge. The cave and the gorge can be visited, since the Directorate of Forestry has organized the area.
Asfendou cave is located near the village of Sfakia, on a steep slope at position Skordalakia. The road connecting Asfendou with Kallikratis passes nearby and there is a plateau with an area of 2000 square meters in front. Skordoulakia cave is a very small rock shelter without woo much depth that barely fits two people and is located on a hillside at the beginning of the canyon Asfendou.
The cave of Kamares, also called Kamaraiko, is located at the southern foot of Psiloritis. In particular, it is situated on the slopes of Mount Soros, at an altitude of 1700m and northeast of the homonym village of Kamares. It is not important in terms of speleology, but the minoan findings made the cave a very important archaeological site.
The cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus is located between Sougia and Koustogerako settlements. The cave has no interesting decor, but one marble formation that reminds of a throne. The entrance is divided in two by a large rock, like the rock that was put by Odysseus in the cave of Polyphemus, the one-eyed cannibal Cyclops, before blinding him with a large wooden stick.
The cave of Pelekita is located at an altitude of 100m, at the foot of Traostalos Mount, well hidden within the bare rocks of the wild landscape of Zakros. The entrance of the cave is located 5 km northeast of Kato Zakros, in the position Pelekita or Sikia. To reach the cave, the visitor has either to walk one hour from Kato Zakros or one quarter by coming from the sea.
The cave of Eileithyia is located 7km east of Heraklion and 1 km southeast of Amnissos. It is formed on the eastern sides of the valley of Karteros, next to the old road that lead to Episkopi from Amnisos. The entrance of the cave is near an old fig tree. The cave was discovered during the last century. The locals also call it “Neraidospilios”, meaning the Fairy Cave.