|Location:||Mount Psiloritis, District of Rethymno, Crete. 3km from Melidoni, 26km east of Rethymno.|
All year daily.
Adults EUR 3.
|Last update:||$Date: 2013/04/25 23:00:40 $|
|JAN-1834||370 men, women, and children sought refuge in the cave. The Turks lit a fire at the cave's entrance and all the people suffocated.|
Returning from a holiday I found myself in Crete. I only had a day to spare so I called in at the tourist office and the man recommended a visit the cave of Melidoni, near Perama. He even gave me a letter of introduction addressed to his brother who owned a garage in Perama, and who he assured me would help me find the cave. I duly caught a bus and after a 1:45 hour drive through some wonderful limestone country with lots of caves, and high, barren mountains, I arrived at Perama, and got off.
As I could not even read the name of the man I wanted, I gave the letter to the first person I came across, and he took me to a nearby garage. Here I was made most welcome and introduced to my guide, Ivanulos Nicholau Manilitzia. He had just had an accident in the garage and lost 2 fingers, but despite this we both climbed into his modern car, and soon arrived at the village of Melidoni. This is well off the beaten tourist track and after Ivanulos had shown me off to his friends, we continued on through the village, and turned down a track marked ”Spileon„. This lead to a small church or chapel, painted white, which I had seen from below.
Behind the chapel was the cave in a depression like a quarry. I got some candles from the church as Ivanulos said my torch was not good enough. There are several ways into the cave, the main entrance and a shaft being the most obvious. We went in by the main entrance, a hole about 5 ft high and 6 ft wide, that seemed to have been excavated from a much smaller entrance.
This led down a cone of loose debris for about 100 feet vertically into a huge chamber. The first thing that struck me was a large tomb in the centre, with a fading wreath on it. Ivanulos told me what it was all about. The tomb was in memory of 300 people who were killed or suffocated by the Turks in 1823 during the war between Greece and Turkey. At first I could not believe his story, however, the whole area seemed to have been a hotbed of partisan activity for some time. During the second world war the cave was used as a hiding place and a second, smaller memorial had also been erected in the cave in memory of those killed by the Germans as reprisals.
We then went on a tour of the cave. The main chamber contained, besides the tomb, many large formations, including in one corner a column about 15 feet round and 30 feet high. A small climb in one corner brought us into a chamber about 5 feet high and 10 feet in diameter, where several men had their throats cut by the Turks. We then went on down further into the cave. A short climb down about 10 feet brought us into another chamber, even larger than the first, filled with magnificent formations covered with a fine black soot. This was where the women and children had been hiding when the Turks threw down burning brushwood into the cave from the entrance shaft and suffocated them. Some of the formations had small tips of white calcite, where new formation was growing on top of the sooty stal.
Throughout the cave we could hear the chattering of many bats, and eventually managed to capture one, which Ivanulos insisted in wrapping in his handkerchief so that we could examine it in daylight. Our exploration had been slow, and almost 2 hours had elapsed since we had entered the cave, so with our candles burning low, I declined a visit to the lower series and we wended our way out.
Needless to say I was pretty filthy, and dressed in the only clothes I had taken to the island, I once again took advantage of the hospitality of the church and washed in its well.
I walked back to Perama down a dry waterworn stream bed, and caught the 8.00 pm bus back to Iraklion. The spontaneous generosity and kindness of the people of Crete, not least Ivanulos made this a trip to remember and it is easy to see why people return time and time again to this little bit of karstic paradise in the Aegean.
Text by Anne Oldham (1972). Reprinted from The British Caver, Vol 59 July 1972, pp 71-74. With kind permission.
The Melidoni Cave was used for cult worship during the Neolithic, Minoan and Archaic periods.
The archaeological finds from the early Neolithic to the Roman Period which have been found in this cave are in the Museum of Rethymon. The cave is the mythical home of Talos - the giant bronze protector of Crete. There is the legend that says Medea - the sorceress - took away his protective thorn and he bled to death.
Melidoni Cave was the site of a sanctuary dedicated to Hermes Talaios during the Classical Greek Period. There is a plaque with an inscription which gives evidence to this fact.
Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.
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