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.
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.
It consists of two rooms with different levels and relatively rich cave decoration. Both surveys revealed pottery of Neolithic and Minoan era. Specifically, the main use of the cave as a residence focuses on Neolithic period (3650/3500 - 2900 BC) and is was reused as shelter during the Late Minoan (1300-1250 BC) period.
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.
The Cave Fovolies is located north of Atherinolakos at position Fovolies. It is located next a a Minoan settlement. It is a small cave and easily accessible.
Cave Lavyrinthaki is located 50km south of Heraklion, on a small hill between Plouti and Moroni. It is a small ancient quarry, with an approximately large room of 300 sq. meters, while the height at some point reaches 4m. There are several columns for supporting the roof.
Ellinospilios cave is a beautiful cave of Afrata area where significant archaeological findings have been revealed, such as tombs. In some places there are ponds with water, where bubbles float from calcareous material, considered a rare cavernous material. With the slightest water turbulence bubbles break and produce a noise like tearing of fabric.
Goumenospilios is a very small cave located in Agiofarago Gorge, about 80km south of Heraklion. Its entrance is very small, but the inner is very spacious, with a lighting hole on the roof. The cave has no decor, but is nonetheless legendary.