Σπηλαιο του Μελιδονιου

Spilaio tou Melidoniou - Spileo Melidoni - Melidoni Cave


Useful Information

Location: Mount Psiloritis, District of Rethymno, Crete. 3 km from Melidoni, 26 km east of Rethymno.
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Open: APR to OCT daily 9-19.
[2020]
Fee: Adults EUR 3, Children (6-18) EUR 3, Students EUR 3.
Groups (): Adults EUR 3, Students EUR 1.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided, D=30 min, St=100.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Cultural Association of Melidoni Ο Gerondospilios, Melidoni Municipality of Geropotamos, 74052 Rethymno, Τel: +30-6941-561261, Tel: +30-6945-157544. E-mail:
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

2100–1600 BC cave used as a sanctuary of a female deity.
JAN-1824 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.
1939 geology and climate of the cave studied by G. Marinos and V. Kiryazopoulos.
1940 Middle Minoan period bronze ax found in the cave.
1954 systematic excavations by P. Faure unearthed pottery dated to the Late Minoan, Geometric, and Roman periods.
1964 explored and surveyed by the president of the Greek Speleological Society Anna Petrocheilou.
1987 rescue excavations due to the development as a show cave.

Description

photography
Spilaio tou Melidoniou, Greece. Public Domain.

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.

The Σπηλαιο Μελιδονιου (Melidoni Cave) is also known as Γεροντόσπηλιος (Gerontospilios, Herontospilos, cave of the elders). During the Greek Revolution the cave was the site of a massacre which became known as Καταστροφή του Μελιδονίου (Destruction of Melidoni). It happened in January 1824. The following version is from the book of a German historian. We added the English translation. The main chamber, the Hall of Heroes is 55 m long and 44 m wide and up to 25 m high. It contains a small ossuary of those killed in 1824.

photography
Ossuary, Spilaio tou Melidoniou, Greece. Public Domain.

Eine noch dunklere Erinnerung schwebt über der der Grotte beim Dorfe Melidoni. Dorthin hatten sich, als die ersten egyptischen Verstärkungen in Suda landeten, 370 Männer, Frauen und Kinder geflüchtet, darunter 30 bewaffnete, die bei der Gunst des Terrains und dem engen Ausgang der Höhle jeden feindlichen Angriff mit Erfolg abschlugen. Die Grotte ward förmlich belagert und mit Kanonen beschossen; jedoch die Belagerer richteten nichts aus. Da verfiel ihr Anführer Hussein Pascha auf ein teuflisches Mittel. Er anticipirte die civilisatorischen Ideen, welche später Pelissier den Kabylen Africa's gegenüber zur Geltung gebracht hat. Er fand eine Öffnung von oben, gleichsam im Dach der Höhle, ließ nun den Eingang mit Holz und Steinen völlig verrammeln und zu gleicher Zeit Brennmaterialien in jenem Loche anzünden. Die unglücklichen lebendig Begrabenen flohen von einem Winkel der Höhle in den anderen, aber die verhängnisvolle Rauchwolke erreichte und erstickte sie doch. Als die Griechen später nach manchen Wechselfällen des Kampfes Melidoni und die Höhle zurücknahmen, fand eine ergreifende Geschichte statt, da sie in derselben die Gebeine ihrer theuersten Angehörigen wiedererkannten. Sie umarmten die von Rauch geschwärzten Knochen und schwuren den heidnischen Barbaren furchtbare Rache.

Karl Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1870-74): Geschichte Griechenlands : von der Eroberung Konstantinopels durch die Türken im Jahre 1453 bis auf unsere Tage, Leipzig : S. Hirzel, p 339.


An even darker memory hovers over the grotto near the village of Melidoni. There, when the first Egyptian reinforcements landed in Suda, 370 men, women and children took refuge, among them 30 armed men who, due to the favourable terrain and the narrow exit of the cave, successfully repelled every enemy attack. The cave was formally besieged and cannonaded, but the besiegers did not succeed. Then their leader Hussein Pasha resorted to a diabolical means. He anticipated the civilising ideas which Pelissier later brought to bear on the Kabyles of Africa. He found an opening from above, as it were in the roof of the cave, had the entrance completely barricaded with wood and stones and at the same time set firewood on fire in this hole. The unfortunate people buried alive fled from one corner of the cave to the other, but the fateful cloud of smoke reached them and suffocated them. When the Greeks later took back Melidoni and the cave after many vicissitudes of battle, a moving story took place, for they recognised in it the bones of their dearest relatives. They embraced the smoke-blackened bones and swore terrible revenge on the pagan barbarians.