The journey to the Diktaion Andron – Zeus cave on the Lasssithi Plateau is magnificent from the beginning. Coming from Heraklion, drive on the panoramic highway up to the town of Hersonissos and then follow the signs “Lassithi”. Also on the road towards the birth cave of Zeus there is much to see: the village Krasi with its 2,500 year old plane tree, the monastery Kardiotissa and the “gateway” to Lassithi Plateau, Seli Ampelou, with its many Windmill ruins standing on the ridge.
In the village Psychro and the climb to the Diktaion Andron – Zeus cave
In the village Psychro, the picture is as usual: tavernas, souvenir shops, and a big parking space for the “climbers”.
There are three choices (with at least 105m height difference to overcome) for the way up:
- the left path which is newly built, designed uniformly with large stone slabs and winds more gently up the slope, but runs in the blazing sun;
- the path to the right, which has from ancient times lead to the cave and winds its way over hill and dale. Heavier and closed shoes are appropriate. This path is 90% in the shade.
- And last but not least a 3rd opportunity, which is donkey-taxis.
I decided to walk in the footsteps of the Minoans. After several breaks, including areas with stunning views down the valley of Lassithi, I reached the summit after 35 minutes (about 15-20 min. are normally needed for each of the two ways).
After my cave exploring I took the easier way down.
The Diktaion Andron – Zeus cave
In 1883, the cave was discovered accidentally by villagers (because surely someone had been searching for his goats). In subsequent years, the cave was the center of attraction for well-known archaeologists like Frederico Half Men, Joseph Chatzidakis, Sir Arthur Evans and Joseph Demargne. The excavations of the D.G. Hoghart 1899 brought the most important finds to date, and since then the cave is recognized as one of the main places of worship in ancient Crete.A large number of votive offerings were found in the form of bronze objects, such as human figures, animals, arrowheads and tools which were indicative of those times, and some are exhibited in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Since the beginning of the excavations the cave was linked with the myth of Zeus and his mother Rhea, who fled from her husband Kronos to give birth to her son on Crete. Even Epimenides, a soothsayer of ancient times (about 600 BC), is said to have spent here months of his life here and some of his prophecies have come to light here.
What the local donkey-leaders say about this
Of course, I took the opportunity to have a little chat with one of the donkey-leaders, Manolis. Before electric lighting came into the cave of Diktaion Andron, he took literally the visitors (at that time mainly American and German) by the hand and led them armed with candles down into the cave. He had so many stories to tell, he says, but today he is no longer allowed (even by torch), as he is not a licensed guide.
A woman comes swiftly with her mule as the news of a tour bus arrival gets around quickly, and the opportunity for an extra income should not be missed. She has 4 children, Manolis told me, so she must also help out earning a livelihood.
Before the cave entrance almost at the top, you again meet the donkey leaders as they wait patiently for customers for the way down. Here I also get to know the nephew of Manolis. Crisis? No, here in the village there is no crisis, he says, whether it is “raining or snowing,” life here is always the same, they have been little affected by the changes. Well if this is right …… but one thing is certain, a farmer is never unemployed, and he always has an animal to slaughter,his own eggs and even his own olive oil.
- You can easily combine your visit in the Diktaion Andron – Zeus cave with the tour Road Trip – A varied tour through the Lassithi Plateau