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, Xotikospilios 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 Sfendonis 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.
Neraidospilios of Astraki is situated about 23 km from Heraklion, near the village Astraki. The cave is located near the majestic river of Astraki, where the gorge, ending in Karteros, starts. Neraidospilios is a small two-storey cave. According to the archaeologist Paul Faure, it has been the temple of Athena Tritogenia, whose surname is derived from the ancient name of river Karteros, that is Triton (Tritogenia means “coming from Triton”). The cave is one of the springs of the aqueduct of Astraki, which still supplies Heraklion city with water, since the early 20th century.
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.
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.
One of the very beautiful caves that characterize this region is the cave near the exit of the wild gorge of Sfakias. The marine cave of Sfakias is not simply a sea cave but a system of holes and rooms. It has 6-7 different entrances and a few meters inside the cave, all the corridors are merged to a common cave.
Close to village St. George at province Sitia (also known as Tourtouli ) there are the two caves Small and Large Katofygi (with the maximum length of internal routes being 100m).
The cave of Arkalochori, also known as Holy Cave, is situated at the South West side of Arkalochori village, specifically at the south west aisle of Profitis Ilias Church, 400m above sea level. A narrow entrance (0.70cm wide, 1.60cm tall) leads to the interior, where one cannot walk upright due to lack of space.
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.