Σπηλια Βάρη

Vari Cave


Useful Information

Location: Mount Hymettus, North of Vari, east of Athens. Take road to Voula Cemetery east of Voula. 800 m north of the cemetery at the Monument of Firefighters turn right on gravel road, after 300 m turn right, after 300 m in the first curve to the left on the right side of the road.
(37.858146558158346, 23.80184857762393)
Open: no restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: A=300 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Richard D. D. Chandler (1776): Travels in Greece: or an Account of a Tour Made at the Expense of the Society of Dilettanti, Oxford: Printed at the Clarendon Press. pp. 150–155. online
Charles Heald Weller et al (1903): The Cave at Vari American Journal of Archaeology. 7 (3) online
Address: Vari Cave, Tel: +30-, Fax: +30-,
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History

6th cty BC used as a temple.
2nd cty BC abandoned.
4th cty used as a temple.
6th cty abandoned.
1765 first visit and report on the cave by Richard Chandler.
1901 cave excavated by Charles Heald Weller of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Description

Σπηλια Βάρη (Vari Cave) is the name under which this cave is known in scientific publications. During the classical antiquity the cave was used as a shrine dedicated to Apollo, Pan and the Nymphs. The cave has a stone staircase leading down into the cave and engravings carved into the cave walls from this era. One sculpture is thought to show the self-portrait of Archedemos the Nympholept. According to inscriptions he built the sanctuary. Nympholept means, that he built the sanctuary "at the Nymph's counsel". He was from Thera and is thus also known as Archedemos of Thera. Hence the cave is also known as Σπήλαιο Νυμφολήπτου (Nympholept Cave) or as Σπήλαιο του Παν (Cave of Pan).

The cave has a sort of sinkhole entrance with vertical walls on most sides. The broken staircase leads down to a sort plateau. The cave consists of a single chamber which is separated into two part by huge blocks of limestone. A second set of stairs goes up into the larger of the two chambers, which has an imitation of the facade of a temple carved into a wall. A headless seated figure is carved into the wall, but it is too damaged to to be identified, the head was destroyed. There is also an object which could be the depiction of an omphalos, a religious stone artifact, which was considered very powerful. At the far end is a shrine to Apollo Hersus.

The cave was first explored and described by Richard Chandler in 1765. During the 19th century it was visited by numerous travelers, but the first excavation took place in 1901. The excavation was led by Charles Heald Weller of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The probably most unusual discovery was the complete lack of prehistoric remains. For some reason it was not visited before the 6th century BC, probably the cave was closed and the entrance collapse at thst time and allowed access.

The first period the cave was used is from 600 BC to 150 BC, then it was abandoned for more than 400 years. During the reign of Constantine the Great (307–337) it was reactivated and used again for about 200 years. A huge number of coins was discovered, but no offerings with significant value were discovered. It seems the sanctuary was quite popular, but only among poor people. This is probably the reason why the sanctuary was not mentioned by any ancient writer. There is only one legend, which might probably describe the cave.

The infant Plato was taken to a cave on Mount Hymettus by his parents Ariston and Perictione. His parents performed sacrifices on his behalf to Pan, Apollo, the Muses and the Nymphs.

This story is told by two authors, Claudius Aelianus and Olympiodorus the Younger. Both authors are not considered very reliable, the remarkable thing is actually that the list of deities is almost identical to those known to be worshipped in the cave.

The second period was during early Christian times, and it seems the Christs were not very open to other religions. They tried to destroy the pagan sculptures, the relief of Archedemos was updated with a cross. However, the lamps found from this time are mostly ofthe traditional type, only to the end the more sophisticated Christian oil lamps are found. So probably the remote cave made the site a suitable location for continuing religious practice in secret, after the Empire started persecuting pagans. Probably it were the pagan Platonists of late Roman Athens who frequented the temple.