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.
The cave of Peristeras is located at the northwestern edge of Limnakaro plateau, south of the village Avrakontes. It was found that in the Middle Minoan period it was user for funerary purposes. Today, the great entrance of the cave is blocked by giant rocks, hindering the tour in the cave.
One of the many Neraidospilios caves (Fairy Caves) in Crete, and probably the most beautiful, is located by the village Astritsi. The name comes after the folk tradition of fairies that lived in the cave and charmed everyone that happened to pass by there and hear their songs. Whoever met the fairies, lost his speech.
The Trapeza Cave has been used as a place of worshiping, something that is certified by the innumerous conches on its ground but also by its flat which is in front of the entrance which both are dated from the middle-Minoan era until the after-Minoan. The most important findings of the cave are two idols of men in worshiping position.
At position Patelia, about 1 km NW of Sitanos we meet the large cave of Oxo Latsidi, formed in Jurassic limestone. It was originally accessible for 50m. It was later studied by Paul Faure and mapped by Eleftherios Platakis and Ioannis Tsifetakis, who found a long tunnel 360m long. After the entrance we meet a room (34m x 16m) and a chamber on the right (32m). On the left, for 330m extends the tunnel with a width of 2-8 m and a height from 0.5m-1.5m. Recent surveys give the cave a longer length of up to 1.000 m. The different flows of water give the impression that it was once an underground riverbed. Generally the decoration is poor.
The cave Ahnistres is located west of the seaside village of Milatos, at an altitude of 70 meters and it has two entrances, quite covered by dense vegetation. One entrance is precipitous with 4m depth, while the main entrance, 1.5m wide, leads to a descending aisle, 6m long, ending at a passage 0.5X0.5m. The first room with the precipitous entrance has also a small opening that leads to the main cave with impressive stalagmites and columns that divide the room into several parts.
Tafkos is located at Petradolakia area at an altitude of 1,440 meters, approximately 13 km south of Anogia. It belongs to potholes and its explored depth is 475 meters and the total length is 383 meters. It is considered the second deepest cave at Psiloritis and when it was firstly discovered (1989) it was the deepest cave in Greece.
The cave Chonos Sitanos is a sinkhole near Sitanos where there are many caves. The total length of the routes in the cave is 400m and the maximum depth is 94m.
It is a 70m deep well with a large opening (7m wide) that allows light to penetrate for several meters, permitting the growth of vegetation on its walls. The first descent is 58m high and at its end we meet a room of 16m x 7m. There is also a stack of stones, 7m high.