14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland)
(see Map Rethymnon - Map Heraklion)
Psiloritis: Caves and mountain routes
No matter how many stones the proud Hanians pile up on top
of their own mountain, Psiloritis is still the tallest
mountain in Crete (2456m), even if only with a three
or four metre difference from the White Mountains! This is one
of the reasons why it is visited by so many climbers every year,
although it cannot compare in beauty with the White Mountains.
Map of Crete, Psiloritis mountain
But if you are not a determined climber that will settle with
no less than the highest mountain peak, you have still two very
good reasons to wear your mountain shoes and climb it: the cave
of Kamares and Ideon Andron. The former is at a height of 1524
metres and has given us some wonderful vases of 2000 BC, and
the latter is at a height of 1495 metres and is allegedly the
birthplace of the mighty Zeus.
There are many paths leading to the top. One of them starts
from the village of Fourfouras, another from Kouroutes, and
a third one from Lochria. Yet the most popular paths, which
will also take you to the caves mentioned, start from the villages
of Kamares and Vorizia.
The Kamares cave was discovered in 1890 by
some local shepherd, but of course he was not the first one
to go there. Ages earlier, around 3000 BC, it was discovered
and inhabited by a group of people of the Neolithic age. Around
2000 BC, it was apparently used by the Minoans (most probably
of Faistos) as a site of worship, possibly of the goddess of
labour Eileithyia. The lovely colourful vases
that were offered to the goddess were found during the excavations
of the Italians (1894 and 1904) and the British (1913) and are
exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio. The only
thing left to admire up here is the wonderful view of the Messara
valley below. The path that starts from the village of Kamares
has a steep inclination that may tire you, and to get to the
cave you’ll need at least three or four hours. Fortunately,
though, the path is well marked with red paint, so you will
not lose your way.
The Ideon Andron (The Idi Hide-out) is another
three or four hours to the north (if you walk), but you can
also get there by bike from the north side of the mountain;
in fact, you’ll be mostly travelling on asphalt (see Route
18. The cave was Zeus’ home for the first years of his
life, and according to one tradition it was also his birthplace.
In any case, his mother, Rea, hid him here to protect him from
his father, Kronos, who had the bad habit of eating his children!
This was not because Kronos believed in cannibalism, but because
he wanted to protect his power; according to the oracle he was
to lose it to one of them. “And what is more natural than
being succeeded by your son?” you might ask. Nothing,
of course, but when you are the absolute ruler of the universe
you don’t want to give your place to anyone. The baby-sitters
of little Zeus were two cave nymphs, Adrasteia and Idi, who
fed him with honey and goat milk supplied by the goat Amalthia.
But the child cried desperately for his mummy and he was in
danger of being heard by his daddy and eaten for dessert. To
avoid this terrible prospect, the demons Kourìtes covered
his screams by clashing their huge bronze shields. Yet when
Zeus became King of the Gods he forgot their precious service,
and he killed his faithful bodyguards for a trivial offence.
Of course, Zeus was not born in this cave, nor in any other
cave, but in the imagination of the ancient Greeks. Yet he was
enthusiastically worshipped throughout the Greek antiquity,
from the Early Minoan period till the time of the Roman Empire.
Among the countless worshippers that went past the mouth of
the Andron, as you are doing today, were the philosophers Pythagoras
and Epimenides. (Incidentally, the back of the cave was full
of humble offerings). When Zeus “died” and Christ
was born, the cave was forgotten for centuries, and it was only
in 1885 that it was rediscovered, this time by the Italian School
of Archaeology. The various excavations which have been carried
out since then (and which are still being carried out today
under the direction of Ioannis Sakelarakis) have brought to
light numerous findings that are very important and span the
entire period of Zeus’ worship. These are exhibited at
the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio, and among other things
they include: the famous ritual bronze shields
that conjure up the image of the mythical, shield-bearing Kourites
(ca 750 - 650 BC); ivory artefacts from about the same time;
seal stones; parts of bronze statues; clay statuettes; golden
jewellery; and many painted vases.
If you want to get to the top of the mountain (to the chapel
of the Holy Cross at a height of 2456 metres) and to return
to the same place, you will need another seven or eight hours
of walking. This means that you must pitch camp at some convenient
spot in the Nida plateau and start climbing early in the morning.
The footpath that leads to the top starts from the second hairpin
of the road between the half-finished Nida refuge and the cave.
It is well marked and generally easy to follow, and after the
first twenty-five or thirty minutes of going south it turns
to the west and climbs the south side of a ravine.
South of Heraklion. The vineyards of Archanes
After about two hours of walking you should arrive at a mountain
pass 1900 metres above sea level. Here you will find a stone
hut and a trail that leads to a peak in the north. Do
not follow this trail - it will only take you to peak Koussakas
at a height of 2209 metres - but head south instead and go downhill
for about ten minutes. When you are down to 1800 metres you
will see a place with a spring, two or three huts, and several
paths. Take the most worn path (in the northwest), which obviously
leads to the top. After two hours or so you will be at the peak
of the mountain, and if you are lucky and there is no fog or
haze you can enjoy a truly wonderful panoramic view.
At the top you will find the small chapel we mentioned - an
excellent refuge too - and a cistern with potable water.
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.