Σπηλια Αγ Παρασκεβι

Spilia Agia Paraskevi - Saint Paraskevi Cave - Skotinó Cave - Ag. Paraskevi Skotimou


Useful Information

Location: Near Skoto/Skoteino/Skotinó, Gouves, Pediada, 20km east of Iraklion.
From Skotino 30min walk to the north west.
(35.305026, 25.297299)
Open: no restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=170m, VR=160m, Ar=2,500m, A=225m asl.
Guided tours: L=450m.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Paul Faure (1964): Fonctions des Cavernes Crétoises, Paris. E de Boccard.
Andy Peggie (2002): A Visit to the Cave of Agios Paraskevi, Crete, Grampian Speleological Group Bulletin fourth series, October 2002 Vol 1 (3) 29, photo.
Address: Gouves Municipal Office, Tel: +30-2813-404-600.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1933 first excavations by Evans and Pendlebury.
1953 more excavations by P. Faure.
1962 systematic excavation by K. Davaras.

Description

Located about 20km east of Iraklion, and close to the village of Skoto or Skoteino, this is one of the largest and most spectacular on the island, about an hours walk from the coast.

Skotino Cave is a very important sacred cave, first used as a place of worship by the Greeks and then later by the Christians. It has a depth of 160 meters and it is on four levels. It was first investigated by Evans, and in 1962 the archaeologist K. Davaras carried out a systematic excavation. He found parts of vases, bone needles, and Late Minoan bronze figurines dating from the Neolithic to Roman periods. Like many other caves, it appears to have had some religious importance. Some people even believe this was the labyrinth of the legendary Minotaur.

The first chamber the Great Temple is 96 m long, 36 m wide and 46 m high with numerous speleothems, most of which have been given names. Beyond this is the Hall of the Altar 25 m long, 8 m wide and 10 m high. Some other smaller chambers follow.


Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.

The Σπήλαιο Σκοτεινού (Skotinó Cave) is also known as Σπηλια Αγ Παρασκεβι (Saint Paraskevi Cave) which is derived from the chapel Εκκλησία Αγία Παρασκευή (Church of Saint Paraskevi) near the entrance. There are actually two churches at this place, located northwest of Skotino. The other is the much bigger Άγιος Μιχαήλ (Saint Michael Church). One day per year the site is crowded with people, when the festival of the Saint is held at the church, Saint Paraskevi on 26-JUL. The rest of the year this place is deserted.

The cave entrance is a huge doline which is the collapsed ceiling of the huge main chamber. A rough trail leads in serpentines down into the cave. It is accessible without restrictions, and the floor is mostly level, so there is no need to climb. But there are many rough and slippery spots and the cave is not developed, so the trails are actually just paths created by the visitors. The enormous size requires very good light and sturdy boots are helpful too. As always we recommend to go in a small group, take two lamps each, wear old clothes and a helmet. And tell somebody where you went, there are not many visitors so it is unlikely that you are found soon.

Once there was a church inside the cave, right behind the 27m wide and 10m high portal, today only a pile of stones remains. There is a place with a sort of plateau where the locals are dancing Cretan dances to the music of flute and lyre. This custom is still popular, and seems to originate in Minoan times. The cave actually contained a temple during Minoan times, remains of sculpted rocks and shards of pottery can still be seen of the cave floor. Please do not disturb such archaeological remains.

The first chamber named Great Temple, 130m long, 33m wide, and 30m high, also contains two huge stalagmites, one is 8m high, the other 11m. The impressive formations were sacred in antiquity and the faithful left their tributes next to the stalagmites or on them in various recesses they form. The second stalagmite has a really unique shape and two forms stand out, the left figure reminds of a crouching animal similar to a bear, the right is the face of a god in front of whom the animal bows reverently. The bear was worshiped as the personification of the goddess Artemis who in Crete was called Vrytomartis. Several stalagmites were chiseled to form troughs which collect tripping water. The guess is that worshippers put their hands in the trough and washed them, constituting a kind of purification. Of course this may be romantic wishful thinking.

The next chamber is smaller and named Altar, because it is thought that worshippers made offerings here. Most likely this were oil or wine, others speculate about blood offerings, but there is no archaeological evidence for any of it. The chamber is 24m long, 8.5m wide, and 25m high. The floor shows numerous pits which are the signs of illegal excavations.

Both chambers have side branches, but they are steeper and if you want to continue you definitely need speleological equipment. More climbing is required and the floor becomes slippery. so probably a rope as a railing is safer. At one point there is a drop of 6m which requires vertical gear, if you do not intend to wait for the cave rescue.

If you are well equipped with a group of cavers you can visit the Worship Hall or House of Worship, some translate it Adoration Hall. It is more or less circular with a diameter of 12m and a height of 10m, and the speleothems are in much better shape, because tourists with sticky fingers do not come here. It is located 50m below the entrance. The cavern has a smaller side branch with nice speleothems, which is flooded during winter.

The French researcher and speleologist Paul Faure excavated the cave in 1953. He later published the theory that the Cave of Agia Paraskevi was the famous Labyrinth of Knossos and Vrytomartis was the dominant deity of the cave. While such speculations are futile, the excavations actually revealed that the cave was a temple over a very long period, since the middle Minoan years (1900 BC) to Roman times. It was then turned into a Christian sanctuary.