Caves in Greece
The mention of Greece and the Greek islands usually brings to mind the country’s ancient ruins, remnant of its glorious past; and its beautiful beaches, a perfect haven for those who wish to escape the demands of city life. Unknown to many, there’s also something magnificent underneath Greece’s surface. According to the Hellenic Speleological Society, an association established by those interested in caving in Greece, there are over 7,000 caves in Greece, placing the country on the top of the list of nations with the most number of caves.
About half of the caves in Greece are housed in the island of Crete. The Society recorded more than 3,000 caves on this island. The caves are both natural wonders, with stalagmites, stalactites and underground lakes proving that nature is a perfectly skilled interior decorator; and important archaeological sites, where excavated artifacts aid scientists in reconstructing life and habitation in Greece thousands of years ago. However, despite the large number of caves in Crete (and in Greece, in general), a large percentage of these remain unexplored. Of the more than 3,000 caves in Crete, only about 850 have been fully explored.
The deepest and longest caves in Greece can be found on Crete. Gourgouthakas Cave leads the list of deepest caves with a depth of 1,208 m. Diros, on the other hand, is the longest cave, with a length of 15,400 m. When the depth and length are combined, the Tafkura Cave stands out at a depth of 860 m and a depth of 6,570 m.
Some of the caves are closely linked to Greek mythology. The Diktaian Cave on Lassithi Plateau is believed to be the birthplace of Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was reared on this cave by bees and doves. His son with Europa, Minos, the mythical king of Crete, is also said to receive the laws of Zeus inside the dark cave. Zeus is indeed the greatest among the gods and perhaps the most popular. This is because another cave, the Dictaen Cave, also claims to be the place where Zeus grew up. According to a different version of the story, Rhea hid baby Zeus in this cave from Cronos, who wanted to murder him.
Caves in Greece are also important sites for archaeological findings. The Psychro Cave for example, upon excavation, has been determined to be the one of the most significant ritual sites of Minoan Crete. Excavation finds include votive offerings such as figurines of animals, ornaments, daggers, knives and swords.
The caves in Greece, while enjoyed by tourists for their amazing rock formations, have been of a big help for archaeologists in determining how the forefathers of the modern Greeks lived. The Petralonika Cave in eastern Greece and the Peramava Cave have sheltered the bones of bears, hyenas, lions, tigers and wolves, proving that these caves were the dwellings of these animals during the Lower Paleolithic Age. Traces of habitation were also found on the caves of Petralonika, Diros, Kefallonia and Sfakia. Neolithic men made these caves their first dwellings.
When having a vacation in Greece, it is worthwhile to include a tour of the caves in your itinerary. It is both a trip to marvel at wonders of nature and to grasp a clearer picture of Greek history.
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