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 Agia Paraskevi is located in Gouves area, northwest of the village Skotino, with its entrance located at an altitude of 225m. In thıs cave the worshıp of Goddess Artemıs (Diana) Vritomartis took place. The pre-entry area is a sinkhole at the end of which there is the Byzantine church of Agia Paraskevi, dating back in the period of Venetian rule in Crete.
The cave of Agia Sofia is located 47km southwest of Chania, on the western walls of the gorge Topolia. The cave is located near the main road to Elafonisi. On the left of the cave entrance, there is the small church of Agia Sofia. The entrance of the cave has a width of 25m, while the height reaches 20m in many points. The cave has two rooms at different height, the surface of which is full of stalagmites.
The cave of Kournas is located at position Keratides, west of Kournas village, and is one of the most beautiful caves in Chania prefecture. Descending into the main room is a bit tedious, but the rich cave décor with beautiful colors and formations will excite anybody.
The cave Lera or Pan is formed at the west slopes of Vardies Mount, at an altitude of 70m, opposite Stavros lagoon. It consists of a hall and four rooms with carved niches, which are believed to have served as mounts for statues.
Tzanis Cave or Katavothra or Chonos, is located in Omalos Plateau in Chania. It reaches a length of 2500m and a depth of 280m. The cave has raised the interest of foreign tourists since 1865. Since 1961 caver groups of different nationalities explore the cave. Tzanis is accessible, but is not organized for tourists.
Cave Zoniana, Sfendoni or Sfendoni's Hole, is located 1km north of Zoniana village in Mylopotamos, about 43km west of Heraklion and 52 southeast of Rethymno. It is shaped on the southern slopes of the hill Halepa at an altitude of 630m. The cave is accessible and is the most beautiful cave in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece, with rich stalactite and stalagmite decoration. It belongs to the Natural Park of Psiloritis, which is protected by UNESCO.
The cave Trapeza, also known as Kronion Cave, is located between the village Marmaketo and Tzermiado, in Lassithi Plateau, at an altitude of 860m. It’s located near the secondary road that connects Marmaketo with Tzermiado School. There are signs leading to the cave both in Tzermiado and Marmaketo. A path with steps, hidden in trees, leads to the cave after ascending for 5'. The entrance to the cave is quite indiscernible and the view to Lassithi plateau from there is magnificent.
The Cave of St. John the Hermit or Xenos in Avlaki Gorge, in Akrotiri, is located just a few hundred meters away from Arkoudospilios. This is located near the abandoned Katholiko Monastery and Gouverneto monastery. Similarly to Arkoudospilios this was a riverbed with a total length of about 135 meters, forming a horizontal room. Its rich decoration is characterized by large stalactites and stalagmites.