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 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.
Cave Sarhos, Honos or Nychteridospilios is located west of the village Sarhos, at an altitude of 276m. It is one of the largest and most important caves of Crete, which is particularly loved by cavers because of its complexity and large length. The total paths in the cave exceed the length of 1500m, while the depth of the cavern reaches 230m.
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.
The cave is located 25 km west of Heraklion, by Marathos village, at an altitude of 545m, after the abandoned quarry of Arkalokefalo. The entrance (2.10m x 1m) is not easily visible because of dense vegetation, while the total length of the runways is 153m.
The cavern of Hosto Nero is found in the region Selia of Youchtas mountain near the road that leads to the top of Afentis Christos. It is located at an altitude of about 720 meters in the southern top of the holy mountain and in order for anyone to see it he/she has to enter through a narrow hole. This cavern has 3 rooms and many corridors that connect them all with the first room of 7 meters length that has enough light because of its big opening.
Just outside the village Kali Sykia of St. Basil district, Rethymno Prefecture, on the road that leads to the eerie plateau with the chapel of St. Andrew we meet the cave Chonos, at the homonym area. The entrance is completely hidden by bushes and barely fits a crawling person.
The Cave Chainospilios is located 200 meters away from the village Kamaraki. The cave is also called Marmarospilios, while many locals call it "Labyrinth". It is a long narrow cave with galleries that are part of an old underground river bed. The cave is still active in most parts. Its length is 200 meters and there is a parallel gallery with a length of 120 meters, which is richly decorated.
The spring and the cave of Kormokopos is located northwest of Agios Ioannis, on the east side of the canyon Eligia. The path from Agios Ioannis needs about 1.5 hour. It starts as a beautiful walk through the forest of old pine and cypress trees, and ends, almost suddenly in a wild and imposing landscape.