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 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.
The orientation of the cave is south east and the temperature of the cave is high given the area. During the summer months the humidity of the cave is quite high. Its length is about 30m several narrow passages. From the first room in order to reach the main room, you have to pass through a very small opening. Life in the cave is not developed, probably due to many visitors.
The Cave of Marathokefala or Marathospilios is located next to the village of Kynigiana, 29km southeast of Rethymno. In Mylopotamos area, where it is located, several caves have been found.
The cave of Vreiko is located about 2km north-east of the village. It is a cave and gulch and the known depth is 25-30 metres. The Entrance is an open and flat place that looks like a threshing floor. In the entrance there are stairs that make the entry and exit to the cave easier. A fig tree has grown at that place and its bouches cover a big gallery which is about 60-70 metres long. At the entry and the end of the gallery there are signs from the Neolithic Era.
Doxa cave is situated at an altitude of 463m, in the position Kaka Pila of Marathos, 20km west of Heraklion. It is a small but well-known cave, which has very impressive décor of different colors and shapes. Doxa Cave is located 7.5 km after the junction to Tylisos, towards Damasta.
The cave Krionerida is located in the ravine Laggos, southwest of the village Vafes, at an altitude of 230m. The cave has no special speleological value, but it has enormous historical importance, as the residents of Vafes were killed here by the Turks in 1821. Indeed, the wider region of Krionerida was named so after this historic cave.
Theriospilios has a total length of 44m, 25m maximum width and height 0,5 - 7m. After the entrance of the cave, the visitor enters a low hall with dimensions 7m x 8m. The following room is spectacular, with 37m length, 25m width and 1.6-7m height, with sloping floor. It is richly decorated and gives the visitor an excellent impression.
Just a few meters away from the last houses of the village Samonas, road works revealed a small cave in 1994, with rich décor and a small pond. In order to access the main room a ladder is used.