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 impressive cave of Zeus, the Diktaean Cave, is located just 10 minutes walking-distance from Psychro, in Lassithi Plateau, at an altitude of 1025m. In Psychro there is plenty of parking areas, with plenty of restaurants nearby. Two paths leading to the cave start from the parking area. The easiest path is the left one, because in the right path (the oldest) the stones are worn by thousands of tourists and are slippery.
The submarine Cave of Elephants is located in Drepano area of Akrotiri, in Chania prefecture and out of Souda Bay. The cave was discovered in 1999 by the snorkeler Manolis Efthymakis and was then showed in January 2000 in Star TV by the professional diver and filmmaker G. Tzanakis.
The Cave of Melidoni is located approximately 1,800 meters northwest of the homonym village of Mylopotamos. Gerontospilios, as also called, is very important due to the archaeological findings, some of which are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon. Moreover, the cave has played a tragic role in the history of Cretan revolution against the Turks, in 1824.
Τhe cave of Gerani is one of the most important and most beautiful caves in the prefecture of Rethymno and in whole Crete. It is located 7 km west of Rethymnon, at the location "Kamari" and close to the beach of Gerani. The cave was accidentally discovered on March 15, 1969 during construction works for the modern highway.
Cave Labyrinth is located 50km south of Iraklion, on a small hill, 3.5 km north of Kastelli village in Messara Plain. It was a huge artificial cave with labyrinthine corridors longer than 2.5km long and several rooms that did not lead anywhere, which served as a quarry for the extraction of stones used for construction of the Minoan palace at Phaestus.
Milatos Cave, also known as Rapas cave, is located 3km northeast of Milatos at an altitude of 155m. In order to reach the cave, the visitor should drive 2.5km east of Milatos (following the road sings) and then walk in the uphill footpath that leads to the cave entrance (10-15 minutes walking). Cave is easily accessible, is open to visitors, but torches are necessary for those who want to see the darker points of the cave.
West of Koudoumas Monastery lies Avvakospilio, a cavernous church where, according to tradition, Ossios Kosmas lived as an ascetic during the 7th century and where his remains were buried.
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.
Ideon Cave (or Ideon Antron) is located on the eastern slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis), in the plateau of Nida. The distance of the cave from Anogia is 24km and from Rethymno it’s 78km. The cave has not any special geological value, but has enormous mythological and cultural value, as this is the cave in which, according to the legend, the greatest Greek god, Zeus, was grown up. Today, thousands of tourists visit the cave every year, especially during the summer months.
Arkoudospilios (Bear Cave) or the Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa is located in Avlaki gorge of Akrotiri (Chania), 2km north of the Gouvernetou monastery, in the gorge connecting Gouvernetou with Katholiko Monastery. The cave is known for the bear-shaped rock that made the cave a place of worship of the ancient goddess Artemis.
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.
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 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 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.
The cave of Agia Fotini is on located on Mount Louloudaki, 7km south of Avdou village, at an altitude of 760m. 35km east of Heraklion is the Avdou village, where a sign "Agia Fotini Cave - 7 km”, shows the direction. From there you enter a dirt road, which leads to a small square below the mouth of the cave. Following the steep path on foot, the visitor arrives at the entrance of the cave.
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.
Today the cave hosts the beautiful church of St. Anthony, the patron of children, which is below the roofs of the Gorge. The cave and the gorge can be visited, since the Directorate of Forestry has organized the area.
Asfendou cave is located near the village of Sfakia, on a steep slope at position Skordalakia. The road connecting Asfendou with Kallikratis passes nearby and there is a plateau with an area of 2000 square meters in front. Skordoulakia cave is a very small rock shelter without woo much depth that barely fits two people and is located on a hillside at the beginning of the canyon Asfendou.
The cave of Kamares, also called Kamaraiko, is located at the southern foot of Psiloritis. In particular, it is situated on the slopes of Mount Soros, at an altitude of 1700m and northeast of the homonym village of Kamares. It is not important in terms of speleology, but the minoan findings made the cave a very important archaeological site.
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.