By Stephanos Nikolaidis, speleologist, cave-diver
As you will certainly know from mythology, one of the most
wonderful structures in Minoan Crete was the famous Labyrinth
under the Palace of Knossos, an underground complex of passages
in a chaotic architectural pattern where no-one who entered
could find the way out. The person would wonder around hopelessly
in the dark confusing passages and in the end would be eaten
by the Minotaur, a monster with the body of a man and the head
and strength of a bull.
Well, if you think that all this is just fantasy, you’d
be wrong! Evans may not have found a Labyrinth at Knossos, but
Greek and foreign speleologists have found hundreds of Labyrinths
in the Cretan mountains. They are almost completely in proportion
to the mythical Labyrinth at Knossos, if we discount the fact
that most of the caves and sinkholes of Crete have an impressive
arrangement of stalactites and stalagmites. But before you abandon
the sunlight and enter the narrow mouth of a dark, cold cave,
you should fix well in your mind the basic rules of safety (or
rather, more correctly, of survival), the legal limitations
and the basic principles of caving savoir-vivre. Otherwise you
will be in danger of seeing the Minotaur himself or (in other
words) death with your own eyes.
* We are talking to you in the plural, because one person never
goes alone into a cave. It is a good idea for someone outside
the cave to know where you are, again just in case (but not your
* It is completely dark inside caves - you can’t even
see you nose in front of your face. If something happens to
your torch and it goes out, you will be in a very unpleasant
position. So you must have with you a spare torch with new batteries
that will get you to the exit. It is also a good idea to have
a candle and a cigarette - lighter with you, just in case. The
only suitable torch is the one you fix onto your forehead, because
this leaves both hands free. As for gas lamps, they are entirely
unsuitable and dangerous.
* A piece of safety rope (5-6 metres) is useful for help on slippery
descents and short climbs.
* Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty or torn,
and shoes with lugged soles.
* Only at the cave entrance or under stones is there sometimes
a likelihood of finding scorpions or snakes which my be poisonous,
so be careful where you put your hands.
* It is absolutely necessary to wear a protective helmet, because
caves are full of hard, sharp stalactites. Your motorcycle helmet
is absolutely unsuitable. If you haven’t got a mountaineering
or bicycling helmet, you can make a rough helmet with a tight-fitting
knitted cap or hat, inside which you stuff thick socks or your
* Under Greek Law, caves are considered protected natural and
* Officially, you need a permit to enter every cave (apart from
commercially developed ones); this you get from the Ministry
of Culture, Department of Speleology and Paleoanthropology,
* Naturally, removal of anything whatever from the cave (whether
stalactites or archaeological objects) can get you into big
trouble with the police, and not even Theseus will save you.
Savoir - Vivre
* When we enter someone’s house, we wipe our feet or take
off our shoes. This is an act of respect to the place. Most
caves existed thousands of millions of years before man appeared
on earth, and they have managed to bring into our modern times
the secrets of their creation and remains of the creatures which
lived and died inside them. It is not necessary to remove our
shoes inside a cave, but we should be very careful indeed to
leave nothing behind us apart from our shoe-prints, and to take
photographs and nothing else.
* There may be no wild animals or dragons inside caves but we
will certainly run into bats that we try not to wake up or to
frighten, and blind harmless insects that have adapted to the
environment of the cave and they do not at all like to be stepped
on or to go for a walk in the light.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.