On the northern slopes of the Dikti mountain
range, at an altitude of 1025 meters, lies the
famous Psichro Cave, also known as Dikteon Andron.
It is a very ancient site of worship, amongst the
most important and interesting sites in Crete.
One is lead there by a stone path uphill, which
runs through dense forest, consisting of
oaks (guercus perbescens), Cretan maple - trees
(acer creticum), holm - oaks (quercus coccifera)
and a large variety of bushes, creating a large,
green oasis in an otherwise wild, rocky environment.
The cave consists of two parts:
Ano Spileo (the Upper Cave) mostly resembling
a rocky cavern without stalagmite ornamentation,
and Kato Spileo (the Lower Cave) which is divided
into five small and larger chambers. Deep down in
Kato Spileo there is a little lake surrounded by
huge, impressive columns of stalagmites and
In 1883, the discovery of Psichro Cave was the
center of attraction to some of the most renowned
archaeologists of the time, who conducted some occasional research there. The most systematic research however was then conducted in 1899 by D.G.Hogarth, Head of the English School of Archaeology in Athens. This brought to light a series of objects dating from the middle - Minoan to the Archaic era, that is approx. from 1800 to the 7th century B.C. An exception are some finds which date from the medieval era. This research proved that, over an extensive period of time, the cave was one of the island's most important sites of worship. As the discoveries demonstrate, pilgrims not only from the local areas but also from more distant places came to the cave to pay homage to the deity and to bring votive offerings there. Stalagmites and stalactites resembling figurines of the idols became objects of worship and devotion.
From the initiation of the research, Psichro Cave
has been identified as being Dikteon Andron which,
according to ancient tradition, is the cave where
Rea escaped to give birth to Zeus, the Father of
Gods and Men, safe from the infanticidal
intentions of Saturn. The she - goat Amalthea,
who was a Nymph according to legend, nursed
Zeus, while the Kourites* hid the infant's crying
with the clanging sounds of their weapons and
wild dancing. According to other myths, the god
was nursed by bees, doves or a she - pig. Another
tradition goes that Dikteon Andron was the place
to where Zeus carried Europe, after he had
kidnapped her from Phoenicia. It is also said to
be where Epimenides, the famous augur of the
archaic era is supposed to have "slept" for many
years, and had his visions.
The finds, which were accidentally discovered in the caves, or came from the excavations are now to be found in various museums, although most of them are kept in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford.
One can arrive at the cave from the parking area by following the gravel path, on foot or by mule ride. A modern gangway leads down to the depths of the cave and the special lighting permits the visitor to ascend in safety and admire its stalagmite ornamentation.
Ano Spileo. The research started here. Traces of a sanctuary, in the shape of an irregular enclosure, and with an improvised stone floor in certain places, were found here. Next to it, a rectangular altar built of stone has been identified. The most important finds are earthen pots and parts of stone pots, as well as little altars with inscriptions in Linear A script.
Kato Spileo. Most of the pilgrims' offerings were found here: figurines of animals, copper tools, knives, arrow heads, votive double hatchets, razors, blades, engraved stones, jewels, copper idols depicting men and women in positions of worship, cooper plates depicting devout men carrying animals as votive offerings to the deity.
A place where bats nest
It has been noticed that in the chambers of Kato Spileo some species of bats have their nests, amongst them the Mediterranean Ear - Bat, as well as cave - dwelling arthropods, while the entrance of Kato Spileo and Ano Spileo shelter various species of birds.