Tales, legends and geology
The Sfentoni cave, located at the foot of Psiloritis, is one of the largest architectural natural wonderlands of Greece. The cave features a rich decoration with stalactites and stalagmites, icicle-shaped deposits formed over the years by slowly dripping water. By visiting the cave, you will be able to discover Crete’s breathtaking natural beauty. It is easily accessible from the village of Zoniana.
The history of the cave
The cave has long been known to the residents of the area. During rough times, it served as a haven and a place of salvation for people on the run and guerillas (known as “hainides” in Cretan dialect).
A few decades ago, a little child’s skeleton, embalmed in chalky material, was found just outside the last hall of the cave, the “lost child’s chamber”, as it was later called.The skeleton is said to belong to a young man killed by Sfentonis (a guerilla from Sfakia who had sought refuge in the cave) or to a child whose curiosity and allure of the unknown led him into the cave, where he got trapped in its labyrinthine forks, never managed to find his way out and died there. So far, no one has been able to unravel the mystery of this death.
Archaeological excavations revealed that the cave had been inhabited since much earlier. E. Gavrilakis’ excavations in the cave in January 1987 on behalf of the local Ephorate of Antiquities revealed a human settlement from the Early Minoan Period (3500 – 2300/2150 BC), as well as materials from the Late Roman Period. A small collection of 95 bones from domestic animals (lambs, goats, pigs) and wild mammals (deer) was also discovered.
Finally, the cave is part of the Psiloritis Natural Park, included in the European Geoparks Network, a network of protected areas with special geological heritage under the auspices of UNESCO.
The legend of the cave
The Hole of Sfentonis – until a few decades ago a nether, eerie and unknown world. In the dark world of the cave has been lurking a beautiful and ethereal creature, a fairy -no one knows since when.Every day, at a specific time, she would emerge from the cave and go to the spring a little further down, in Skafidia site, to take her bath. A shepherd had seen her many times, but as soon as he tried to come close to her, she ran and hid inside the cave. Driven by lust and curiosity, the shepherd laid in wait for her outside the cave. When the fairy showed up, he hurled a stone at her using his fabric slingshot.
The fairy managed to run away and hide in the cave, leaving her bloody handkerchief by its mouth. According to another version, the shepherd approached the injured fairy, and bewitched by her beauty, attempted to kiss her.
The fairy pushed him away and promised togive him a special rod that would never run out of silk thread.The shepherd, however, couldn’t resist kissing her, despite her objections. The fairy then cursed him and his family to have trembling hands forever.
Since ancient times, the cave has been used as a hideout on a regular but infrequent basis. The only visible evidence of this is a somewhat soot-blackened roof near the entrance. Legend has it that Sfentonis, a guerilla (hainis) from Sfakia, sought refuge in the cave and lived there for quite some time. One day, a young man saw him cooking a piece of meat and approached to ask for some. In a fit of rage or for fear that the man would give him away, the guerilla kicked him so hard with his stivani (his traditional Cretan boot) that he killed him. The name of the cave has most likely derived from Sfentonis.
and Life inside the cave
The area outside the cave is stunning. On the northwestern side of the parking lots and recreation areas, vertical slopes up to 50 meters high rise like a natural wall. The massive forlorn rocks dominate the scene, suspended as if placed there by someone. Thyme, oregano, thorny burnets, and other plants strive to grow in their small crevices with admirable patience and perseverance.
Crete is the region that has the most caves in Greece and, as a result, the most cave fauna. The tiny troglobiont isopod Graeconiscus guanophilus has been discovered only in the Sfentoni cave in Zoniana and nowhere else in the world. It is only one centimetre long, colorless, and blind.
Sculpture in the dark
Stalactites & Stalagmites
Deep within the cave, only the sounds of water drops falling from the roof break the everlasting monotony of the dark, silent, and humid environment. Nature creates sculptures of exceptional aesthetic quality through dripping and slow crystallization of water salts. What a strange thing to happen in such perpetually dark places!
When water flows down through the ground and into a cave, it dissolves a mineral called calcite (calcium carbonate) and carries it through cracks in the ceiling. Traces of calcite crystallize around a water drop, thus slowly building up a small, fragile “pipe”. When the pipe clogs, water begins to flow on the outside When the pipe clogs, water begins to flow on the outside and a greater amount of calcite accumulates on the pipe until a stalactite takes shape, hanging down like an icicle. Water from the end of the stalactite leaves more calcite in a pile on the cave floor, and pretty soon a cone-like stalagmite forms. Stalactites and stalagmites can be found in an infinite number of sizes and shapes. When water drops contain dissolved metal oxides, the stalactite and stalagmite formations take on various shades of color.
Stalactites are formed from calcium carbonate (calcite) deposited from dripping water inside caves. They can form within a few years or after centuries, depending on the amount of calcium carbonate carried by the water, as well as its flow and speed. Stalactites are colored by various oxides, while each one has a small drop of water on it.
Stalagmites are upward-growing mounds of mineral deposits that have precipitated from water dripping onto the floor of a cave. Commonly fed by an overhanging stalactite, it takes about the same amount of time for a stalagmite to grow as a stalactite. Stalagmites, like stalactites, form from the residual calcium carbonate that a water droplet entrains as it falls onto the ground. The only difference is that stalagmites grow from the cave floor upward.
Calcium carbonate concentration causes the formation of tiny crystals that glow. This sparkle can be seen in many of the cave’s rocks, creating a spectacular effect as if gold dust-glitter has been sprinkled on them.
The black spots on the roof of a cave are bats’ resting places. The black color is caused primarily by their breath, sebum (a type of lubricant found in their wings that helps them fly), and their excrement.
Cave columns occur when stalactites and stalagmites fuse together. They can often reach several metres, creating impressive formations. The largest columns in the Sfentoni cave can be found in the “Palace” chamber, while the most symmetrical and undulating ones can be found in the “Parthenon” chamber.