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.
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.
The sinkhole Tafkos Palmeti is located on the Strouboulas Plateau and its depth is 44m. The name comes from the Christian rebel Giannis Palmetis (1790 – 1834 had his shelter in Strouboulas and watched the road to Rethimnon. When he was seeing an Aga passing by, he was shooting him, he was taking from him all he had and was throwing him in the gulf, which from then is called the Tafkos of Palmetis, in order to exterminate every trail.
The Cave Dadoulas or Maxime is an underground river at Dadoulas area by Vrysidi settlement. It has a total routes’ length of 760m, depth of 260m and ends at a siphon (well). It has very rich decor and is characterized as a "living museum of the geological history” of the region.
The cave is inaccessible. In order someone to get inside needs a rope because in the mouth there is an abrupt downshift of 2 metres. It is a gradual chasm with a total tunnel length of 430 metres. There is a lake inside, from what French speleologists say who have explored Spiliara, and it takes special equipment for its exploration.
The Tafkos Mavri (Black Sinkhole) is located above the village Vistagi at an altitude of 1450 m and has a total explored depth of 200m with vertical rappels of 50 meters and huge halls that reach 1500 sqm. The cavers here found bones (horns) of Cretan ibex that has disappeared from Psiloritis Range since the Ottoman Era (around 1800 AD).
The Cave Kato Platyvolo is located near the settlement Katsidoni, Sitia. Here are traces of ancient habitation.
Two km south of the village Modi by Platanias (Chania) we meet is the cavernous chapel of St. Gerasimos. The location of this beautiful cave is accessed via dirt road that starts from Modi (there are information signs). The cave is located on a hillside that is covered by an ancient olive grove.The temple is built inside the cave, is spacious and has a courtyard along a long rock shelter.
At the top of the village Kalorouma at Cape Akrotiri near Chania, stands the church of Christ dating back from the 16th century in the local cemetery. A few meters to the west, we meet the cave Hristou Plai. This cave is one of the 150 large caves located at Cape Meleha of Chania, a really large number. The cave has traces of Neolithic and later habitation. This cave was well known to the locals during the Second World War who found shelter here during the German bombings.