The imposing Cave of Zeus, Diktaion Andron, is located above the village of Psychro of the Lasithi Plateau, at an altitude of 1025m. In Psychro there is a spacious parking lot with many restaurants, from which two paths lead to the cave and the climb time is about 15 minutes. The easiest path is the one on the left, as in the second (and older) the stones have been worn by thousands of tourists and they are slippery. The route to the cave is wonderful, as the view to the plain of Lasithi is panoramic. If you do not want to walk, there are donkeys that take visitors to the cave for a fee. Next to the entrance of the cave there is a kiosk where you can buy tickets. The cave, which has an area of 2200 sqm, is adequately lit, and inside there is a well-formed path with a total length of 250m.
Near the entrance, on the right there is a hall and the great hall is at a lower level. Southeast of the chamber, there is a large stalagmite complex. There are also some old and newer buildings and a smaller hall on the northwest side. Moving further into the cave, the visitor enters the great hall with the biggest part of it being covered by solid rock and large stalagmites.
In the second part of the cave, there is a large and very spectacular stalactite, called the “mantle of Zeus”, which, unfortunately, has been damaged by visitors. The entire great hall has an impressive decoration with large columns, stalactites and stalagmites, making it one of the most spectacular caves in Crete.
At the end of the 19th century, locals, mainly shepherds and hunters, discovered plenty of ancient objects in the cave. Since then, a series of excavations has begun inside the cave, but to a limited extent. Most of the findings come from illegal excavations and are kept in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and Oxford. Unfortunately, as the cave was open, over the centuries, many important objects are believed to have been removed.
The cave seems to have been used as a place of residence and burial since 2800 BC. It is speculated that around 2000 BC it became a place of worship, taking the lead from the cave of Trapeza near the village of Marmaketo as the most important worship cave in the area. Around 700 BC, the Ideon Cave of Psiloritis became the worship place. Various stone or animal-like forms appear to have played an important role in worship.
Neolithic shells and Early Minoan burials were found in the first hall, while a rectangular altar stands here. The pilgrims placed their offerings on the altar, such as oil, honey, wine, cereals, sacrificial animals and then set them on fire. The remains were not thrown away, but were collected on the side of the altar.
During the excavations, 4 layers of offerings and items of worship, ashes and bones or animal horns and objects from the Neolithic, Minoan, Sub-Minoan, Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman years were found, highlighting its long-standing use as a place of worship. In the deeper layer were found pieces of stone tables of offerings, in one of which there is a Linear Writing A ‘inscription. Among the objects found are small cups, fruit bowls, double bronze axes with their stone base, clay chamber vessels, bronze figurines, animal effigies, sword blades, knives, dirks and votive offerings.
In the lower hall, near the entrance, a shrine, a paved floor and a large wall surrounding them were found. Traces of ashes, Post Minoan jars and reliefs, bronze weapons, knives and pins, a metal cult statuette, as well as geometric and archaic votive offerings were found over the paved floor. Numerous votive offerings were found in the alluvium of the great hall and between stalagmites, while in various pits were found spearheads, knives, razors, needles, figurines, votive offerings, 18 brass and bronze double axes. Pottery parts, gemstones depicting bulls and goats, necklace beads, small crystal spheres, rings and bronze, gold and silver wreaths were also found in the alluvium of the floor. The absence of iron objects (which abound in the small hall) and zodiac signs here is noteworthy. In the mantle chamber were found human statues, double axes, precious jewelry, spears, lances, needles, etc.
THE WORSHIP OF Aphrodite and Ariadne
The abundance of weapons and swords found in the cave could lead to the conclusion that a war deity was worshiped in it. Most of the findings in the Cave of Psychro (women’s votive offerings, hair clamps, needles, shuttles, hairpins, necklaces, etc.) suit the worship of a goddess, not a god. Some of the statuettes of women with bare and bulging breasts resemble Aphrodite. Other findings and tributes are related to the agricultural activities of the donors. It is therefore possible that a Minoan goddess was worshiped in the cave. Reliefs on a small bronze plate are reminiscent of worship of Celestial Venus.
In Cretan mythology, three heroines were closely associated with the tradition of Minos: Pasiphae, Ariadne and Phaedra. Many archaeologists believe that Ariadne is closer to the deity of the cave, and with her, her lover Dionysus.
Wild pigeons and other species of birds nest in the first hall of the cave, and various species of bats have been observed nesting in the Lower Cave. The Mediterranean ear bat and cave arthropods also live in the cave.
THE MYTHS OF THE CAVE
Most scholars identify the Cave of Psychro as the mythical “Diktaion Andron”, as reported by Hesiod, where Zeus was born and raised with the help of Amalthea and the Kouretes. This is why it is also called the Bethlehem of the Ancient World. The same cave has been associated with stories like that of the seer Epimenides who “slept” here, the union of Zeus with Europe and the birth of Minos, the Harpies, etc.
According to legend, there was an oracle that said that Cronus would be killed by his son, so he ate his children to protect himself. Thus, Rhea resorted to Diktaion Andron to give birth to the father of all gods, Zeus, secretly from Cronus. Rhea tricked Cronus and, instead of the baby, let him devour a rock wrapped in the baby’s swaddling clothes. Then he left Zeus there in the cave to be raised by the Diktaean Kourites, under the protection of the goat Amaltheia and the nymph Melissa.
According to another legend, mortals were once forbidden to enter the cave. However, bees nested in the cave, which produced a lot of honey. Defying the prohibition, four friends, Laios, Kerveros, Koukoulos and Aiglios, entered the cave to get the honey. They wore copper armor to avoid stings and entered. Then, in the cave, they found the swaddling clothes from the birth of Zeus. Zeus then became angry and struck them with lightning. But because no one could die in the cave, Themis and Moirai transformed the four friends into birds.
Another legend tells that King Minos was born in the same cave as Zeus, that is, in the Diktaion Cave.
There is also a legend that says that Minos came to Diktaion Cave every nine years, when the orbits of the moon and the sun converged. There he met his father, Zeus, and adopted new laws to govern Crete. That is why Minos was associated with absolute justice, which made him a judge in Hades when he died. This myth is a variation of the prevailing one according to which this cave is Ideon Andron.
Also, according to a variation of the well-known myth of Europe, when Zeus, in the form of a bull, seduced Europe, he took her to Diktaion Cave, and not Gortyn. There he revealed himself and they mated, which resulted in the birth of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon.
Diktaion Andron, is the magical cave where according to tradition the seer Epimenides fell asleep for 57 years. After waking up, he was the same age but had acquired divine wisdom and knowledge.
According to mythology, Diktaion Andron was the cave where the Harpies lived. The Harpies were female monsters in the form of birds and with the head of a woman who were the messengers of Hades. They are known for the story of Phineas’ punishment.