Thursday, 12 September 2013

Cave of Psychro & Agia Paraskevi Cave

Today we drove into the mountainous area of Crete to reach the Cave of Psychro (Diktaion Antron or Diktaian Cave). This is one of the most important cult places of Minoan Crete. The use of caves as cult places was one of the basic characteristics of the religious beliefs of the ancient Cretans.

Cult practice probably begins in the Early Minoan period (2800-2300 B.C.) - although in the antechamber are preserved traces of an even earlier occupation - but the most important finds date from the Middle Minoan period (1800 B.C.) and later, as it was used for many centuries, until the Geometric (8th century B.C.) and the Orientalising-Archaic period (7th-6th century B.C.).

The finds prove that it was visited as late as the Roman period. Pilgrims dedicated many offerings, such as figurines of humans, gods, animals, double axes etc. The excavators and several scholars identify the cave as the famous "Diktaian Cave", where Zeus was born and brought up with the aid of Amaltheia and the Kouretes, and which is connected with myths as this of the seer Epimenides who "slept" here, or the coupling of Zeus with Europa. In the last decades of the previous century, inhabitants of the area found ancient items inside the cave; this fact led in 1886, the archaeologists Joseph Chatzidakis and F. Halbherr to the site, where they conducted an excavation, but not on a large scale. The cave was also investigated by A. Evans in 1897, by J. Demargne, and by G. Hogarth in 1899, but systematic excavation has not taken place yet. The finds uncovered during legal and illegal excavations were almost all published in 1961 by J. Boardman. The numerous offerings to the cave are now exhibited in the Herakleion Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

At 1,025 m. above sea level, a steep path leads up to a plateau in front of the narrow entrance to the cave. On the right side is an antechamber (42 x 19 m.) with a rectangular altar, 1m. high, built of field stones; this area yielded Neolithic potsherds, Early Minoan burials (2800-2200 B.C.), and offerings of the Middle Minoan period (2200-1550 B.C.). Unfortunately this area was roped off and we were not able to see the altar. In the northern part of the antechamber, at a lower level, a chamber is formed, which included an irregular enclosure with patches of roughly paved floor, forming a sort of a temenos. The large hall (84 x 38 m.) has an inclined floor and a small chamber opening to the left end; one of its niches is called the "liknon" of Zeus. A larger chamber (25 x 12 m.) formed on the right side is divided into two parts: one has a small pool, and the other a very impressive stalactite, known as "the mantle of Zeus". Inside the main chamber had been deposited many offerings, mostly bronze figurines and sheets (1, 2), daggers, arrowheads, and double axes.

We drove past kilometre after kilometre of Olive Trees

Every now and then there are these miniature little churches beside the road you can open the door and light a tea light and leave it burning inside

The dam did not seem to have much water in it

These wonderful windmills look so lovely against the harsh landscape

Entrance to the cave

Looking back as we descend deep into the earth

Looking back to the opening

Unfortunately the caves are not lit so it is very difficult to photograph the formations

Small lake at the bottom of the cave

Liknon of Zeus

View while were having lunch.

We then drove to Agia Paraskevi Cave Skotino in Gouves. It is also known as Agia Paraskevi cave from the church dedicated to Saint Paraskevi built on top of it. This is one of the three largest caves in the prefecture of Heraklion. It lies at half an hour distance to the north-west from the village of Skotino and is at a height of 225 m. above sea-level.

The entrance to the cave is impressive: a large arch, 27 m wide and 10 m high. To the right one can see the ruins of an ancient chapel on which the modern chapel dedicated to Aghia Paraskevi was built. There is a feast held in front of the chapel on July 26th .

A path goes down from the entrance and leads to a large and imposing chamber called "Mega Nao", 130 m long, 33 m wide and 30 m high. It includes a vast number of stalagmites. Deeper into the cave and to the right there is an impressive collection of stalactites, some reaching the floor. Finally, further downhill, there is a smaller chamber, known as the altar where sacrifices were carried out, 24 m long, 8.5 m wide and 25 m high. Drains on the surface of the floor were used most certainly for libations and offerings to the god of the underworld (blood, oil, wine and so on).

To the left of the first chamber, the "Adyton" measures 15 x 8 x 2.3 m, and leads to another entrance to the cave. The most spectacular chamber, known as the "Adoration Hall", between the Altar and the "Adyton", lies 50 m underneath the level of the entrance, is vaulted and measures 12 x 12.5 x 10-15 m. A large corridor, 12 m long and 2 m wide, leads to this chamber which, in winter, is flooded up to one third of its height.

Higher up, the "Praying Room" is smaller (7.5 x 5 m) and has a large number of stalactites and stalagmites forming columns that give this chamber a particular charm. You can read a great many names that have been inscribed on the walls of the cave through the years. Finally, a small space, known locally as "the little chapel", is 12.5 m long and 1.5 to 5 m wide. The length of the visit is 450 metres and the overall surface of the cave is over 2500 square metres. It goes without saying that this impressive cave.

Excavations have been carried out in the Aghia Paraskevi cave. In 1933, Evans and Pendlebury proceeded to the first excavations. P. Faure followed suit in 1953 and, more recently, in 1962, the archaeologist Davaras. The archaeological finds indicate that the cave was, and is, a sanctuary over a very long period, i.e. since the middle Minoan years (1900 BC) to Roman times. It was then turned into a Christian sanctuary and continues to function as such.

From several offerings that have been found in the cave and certain indications on the columns of the stalactites and stalagmites, it seems the cave was at one period dedicated to the goddess Britomartis.

Paul Faure, after a prolonged study, came to the conclusion that this cave is actually the famous labyrinth of Knossos.

Small Chapel building on top of the mountain where the cave is

Entrance to cave

Looking back

These large unusual formations were in the middle of the cave floor

It seems to have a tiered seating arrangement

I found grandmother spider on the way out of the cave

Looking back into the cave we have just emerged from

Now for the walk back up the mountain

The church over the cave system

Driving back to Hersonissos with views of the ocean

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