- Psychro Cave on the Lasithi plateau, also known as the Diktaean Cave (Greek: Δικταῖον Ἄντρον Diktaion Antron), presumably the birthplace of Zeus
- The Idaean Cave on Mount Psiloritis (formerly known as Mount Ida), where the titan Rhea hid baby Zeus to protect him from being swallowed by his father Cronus
- Arkalochori Cave, a Minoan sacred cave, nicknamed “the treasure hole” as it contained numerous archeological finds and weapons from the Bronze Age, including votive weapons and the famous Arkalochori Axe, which, according to Professor Glanville Price and archeologist Louis Godart may contain Linear A markings.
- Kamares Cave or Kamaraiko, on the south of Mount Psiloritis, where the British School of Archeology discovered Minoan pottery from 2000 BC probably used for worshiping a Minoan goddess.
- Skotino Cave, an impressive sacred destination currently in use and dedicated to Agia Paraskevi like the chapel built on top of it. The Skotino Cave is south of Gouves, and it’s best explored by experienced spelunkers.
Like most sacred caves of Crete, Melidoni has a history imbued in legend and tragedy. Archeological finds like vessels and fireplaces suggest that the cave was used during the Minoan period for lodging. The cave played an important rule during the Roman era as a place of worship for Taleos Hermes, a local cult that connected Talos with Hermes. In Greek literature, Talos is described as either a gift from Hephaestus to Minos, a gift from Zeus to Europa, or most likely, the son of Kres, the personification of Crete. Either way, his role was to protect the island against enemies circling it three times every day and throwing boulders at approaching rival vessels.
In the more recent history of the cave, it was used by rebels and villagers as a refuge during the Turkish occupation. Unfortunately, in October 1823, the Ottomans took over the village and the locals retreated inside the cave. Some 370 men, women, and children, as well as 30 rebels, managed to survive in the cave for more than three months until the Ottoman fury finally led to their demise. Historian George Kremos writes in his book Chronology of Greek History 1453-1830 that Hussein Veis “besieged using cannons and bombs and raided” the cave over three months. And Greek e-Inon magazine describes the tragedy vivi, ly:
“He pierces the roof of the cave and throws in oiled rags and other materials that burn easily, branches, logs, hay and firewood in the place that the innocent children were sleeping. When the wind turned favorable, blowing towards the direction of the hole, they lit the material to complete their evil plan. Suffocated atmosphere was then created that not even one of those helpless creatures survived due to the heavy smoke.
On January 24th, 1824 the genocide was achieved.”
The remains of the dead are held at the heart of the Room of the Heroes in a sarcophagus adorned with laurels and Greek flags.
Besides its fascinating history, the cave impresses through its massive first hall and spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is well-preserved and accessible, although only the main hall can be visited by the public, while the rest are reserved for professional spelunkers, researchers, and archeologists.
Outside the cave, at the base of the stairs leading to its entrance, there is a small chapel where service to commemorate the heroes of Melidoni are held every year. The chapel is open to the public and free to enter, however, the cave is only accessible for a small entrance fee (€ 3 for adults, free for children aged 12 and younger). The entrance fee is collected at the tavern on the plateau before the cave. The tavern also serves ice cream, refreshments, drinks, and local fare, although the prices are higher than what you will pay in the village, which is just two kilometers downhill. On the plus side, the views from the tavern are breathtaking and parking is free.
If you visit Melidoni Cave with children, stop by the Reptisland on your way back, a small herpetarium where children can pet snakes and lizards, and then go for a cup of coffee at a local tavern.