Stalactites, stalagmites, glitter and underground harmony
It is one of the three caves of Crete that are open to the public and the largest of them. Stalactites and Stalagmites in different color spectrums (white, dark red, grey, depending on the rock that forms them) sometimes unite and create naturally artistic pillars and sometimes they wait patiently for thousands, even millions of years to pass until they meet each other. Rocky sculptures shine magically under the light of the spotlights and according to science this is because they contain calcium carbonate crystals. According to science fiction though, this happens because fairies sprinkle them with glitter.
We love the names of the cave chambers given by Anna Petrocheilou, a famous Greek speleologist who mapped the cave in 1966. We walk into the “sanctuary of the fairy”, the “chamber of harmonies”, the “chapel” where stalactites form a pipe organ, the “Palace”, the “Metropolis”, the “Panorama” and finally the “chamber of the lost child”. In this last chamber the skeleton of a...900 year old child was found.
There is no white light in the cave, because with humidity reaching 100% the conditions for photosynthesis and vegetation growth would be ideal. And then, how would the water drops continue their centuries-old task, to unite stalagmites with stalactites?
Before the cave became a tourist attraction, the village children played in the cave and left rocks and dry leaves behind them to mark their route so that they find the exit again. These are the childhood memories of our tour guide. He also showed us the black spots on the cave ceiling where bats hang out. About four hundred bats live in the cave as well as other species that only live in caves and absolute darkness. Most of the cave species moved to other secret chambers of the cave escaping the tourist invasion. Among them the endemic Graeconiscus guanophilus, an isopod that only resides in the “hole of Sfentoni”.
Hole of Sfentoni?
That’s right. This is how the cave was known in the old times, because its opening was only one square meter wide. According to tradition, Sfentonis was a rebel and this cave was his refuge. Nobody can tell if he was actually a real person. What is certain, however, is that Sfentonis was not the only one who lived here. Clay pots and stone-made tools from the Neolithic period and other findings testifying human (and animal) presence in the cave throughout history indicate that it was never really a secret place. Later, the people of Zoniana with their inventive minds decided that the cave was the perfect place to store their famous cheese while it matured, known as the “cheese of the hole”.
These are just a few of the stories narrated during the organized tour, while the lighting constantly changes around you creating a psychedelic (and quite cool) atmosphere! The cave features natural air-conditioning and the temperature is always around 16-17 degrees – a blessing during the hot summer months. There is no white light in the cave, because with humidity reaching 100% the conditions for photosynthesis and vegetation growth would be ideal. And then, how would the water drops continue their centuries-old task, to unite stalagmites with stalactites? How would orthoptera, pseudoscorpions, millipedes, snails and other freaky creatures of the “underworld” survive? Surely they are watching you from the secret corners of this underground labyrinth, while you just take a glimpse of their dark kingdom…