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.
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.
Atziganospilios is located within short distance (10 min) from the village of Adrianos, in site Koukistres. It is about 25km southwest of Agios Nikolaos and belongs to the village of Zenia, which you meet as you ascend to the Plateau of Lassithi through the road starting in Neapolis.
The cave Kamilari is an easily accessible and impressive cave of Psiloritis Mount. It is located just 200m from the 13th km of the old road connecting Heraklion with Rethymnon, near Tylisos, at an altitude of 267m. It has 200m long paths, while its entrance has a width of 10m and a height of 4m.
The cave is located north- east of the village Nithavris at an altitude of 700m. at position Kalikas. Its dimensions are 100m x 40m and has a maximum height of 20 meters. Apart from its many names (Onymahos, Kallika Trypa, Notiki Tripa Nithavris, Paul Faure Cave), the impressive entrance with the inscription with the ancient name ONYMAXOC, it hosts beautiful stalactites and hides a rich history that testifies that it was inhabited since ancient times.
The Cave Ano Peristeras is one of the many underground rivers of the area of Karidi, Sitia province. It is located at an altitude of 650 meters, the length of routes exceed 5500m and its depth exceeds 220m.
To get in, you have to crawl, cross the first chamber and reach the main space of the cave. It is a very large room with a small lake. Inside the cave flows an underground river, as proved by the rumbling sounds within. The ceiling is adorned with stalactites while the floor is covered with clay.
The Cave of Fragantonis is located 700m south-southwest of Malia, at the foot of the mountain Volakias, at an altitude of 20m and below the new highway. The cave has two entrances. A low and another from its roof. The low faces north, with a width of about one meter but access from there is a bit difficult because of the rocks brought by the rainwater.
Cave Gaidourotripa is located west of Kritsa, on the road that leads to the plateau Katharo. The cave bears very rich decoration. Its name literally means Donkey Cave, because the locals used to bring the elderly donkeys in the cave.