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Caves
Diros, Kastria and Kapsia

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Diros

The caves of Diros are set along a beautiful bay to the south of Areopoli, on the west side of the Mani. Investigated in 1949 by Ioannis and Ioanna Perochilou, the founders of the Greek Speleological Society, these caves are remarkable both for their natural features and archaeological significance.

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The existence of the Vlyhada cave was known to the locals since approximately 1900, but no-one could imagine the miracle hidden in its interior.

By 1960, they had explored and mapped 1600 metres; today, the known length of the cave exceeds 14 kilometres! The first underwater exploration was launched in 1970 and explorations are ongoing to this day, above water, as well as below.

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The cave was formed hundreds of thousands years ago. The stalactites and stalagmites that are today found underwater were formed when the surface of the sea was much lower than it is now. Explorers have discovered stalactites at a depth of 71m.

There is evidence the people lived here during the Neolithic period, from 4,000BC to 3,000BC.

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Inside the cave, explorers have found the fossilized bones of panthers, hyenas, lions, deer and ferrets, as well as the largest deposits of hippopotami in Europe. Tools, marble figurines, pottery and a stone axe were found showing evidence of human existence.

The other two caves at Diros are Alepotrypa and Katafygi which are not not accessible to the public as the exploration of them has not been completed.

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In Alepotrypa human skeletons were found on the surface, meaning that burial had not taken place, this led archaeologist Giorgos Papathanassopoulos to the conclusion that these Neolithic people died suddenly during a strong earthquake, which in turn generated huge rockslides from the ceiling, thus blocking the cave's entrance.

The cave was a site of burial, ritual, and intermittent habitation for the 3,000 years between 6000 and 3000 B.C. Deep piles of burned sheep dung near the entrance of one cavern as spacious as a cathedral might have provided flickering illumination for funerary rites.

The temperature of the water is 14 degrees Celsius and that of the air 19 degrees Celsius whatever the season.

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In 2015 the most striking discovery was a burial from roughly 5,800 years ago containing two well-preserved adult human skeletons, one male and one female, with arms and legs interlocked in an embrace.

A man appears to hold a woman in a double burial that took place about 5,800 years ago at Alepotrypa Cave, the site of ancient funerary rites.

Archaeologists also found bones from two other Neolithic double burials, as well as a roughly 3,300-year-old Mycenaean ossuary holding bone fragments from dozens of individuals and numerous expensive grave goods, including a bronze dagger, agate beads, and ivory likely sourced from Lebanon.

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These recent finds lie at the top of a terraced slope just outside the cave. Radiocarbon dates for the three double burials range from 4200 to 3800 B.C. One burial holds the remains of a child and a newborn. A second burial contains the bones of a young man and a young woman facing each other in curled poses, their knees tucked beneath their chins, and the final burial contains the embracing couple.

The Alepotrypa or "foxhole" Cave represents one of the largest Neolithic burial sites known in all of Europe. Its enormous interior chambers reach more than half a kilometer into a mountain above Diros Bay, and burials in the cave span the entire Neolithic period in Greece, from 6000 to 3200 B.C. There are bones from at least 170 individuals inside the cave.

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The underground passages of Vlychada are being revamped with improved lighting and other additions, while the area surrounding the site will be given a complete makeover, which will include a museum on Mani's prehistoric caves.

The tour of the first part of the caves (about 1200 metres) is by a small punted boat holding no more than 10 people. The journey takes you from cave to cave (each with their own name). The final part of the tour (300 metres) is on foot.

Opening times are: June to September 8.30 to 18.30. October to May 8.30 to 15.30 Tickets: 12euros. Reduced 8 euros

Kastria - Cave of Lakes

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The famous "Cave of the Lakes" lies in the Kastria settlement of Achaia, 17 km from Kalavryta in the Chelmos Mountains.

As well as wonderful galleries and amazing stalactite formations it has something unique that does not exist in other well known caves for inside there is a string of cascading lakes forming three different levels.

The cave is an old underground river whose explored length is 1980 meters. In winter when the snow melts, the cave is transformed into a subterranean river with natural waterfalls.

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In summer part of the cave dries up revealing a network of stone basins and dams of up to 4 metres in height. The rest of the cave retains water permanently throughout the year in 13 beautiful lakes.

There are three cave levels but only level 2 is accessible to the public through an artificial tunnel that leads directly into the cave. The path from lake to lake is by walkway and man made bridges, accompanied by a guide. The developed part is currently 500m long.

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At the lower lever, human and animal fossils were found, among them one of a hippopotamus. From the findings it has been proved that the cave was occupied 450 thousand years ago. This part of the cave is intended to become a biological cave laboratory of international standing.

The exploration of the cave began in 1964 by the Greek Mountaineering Association headed by Professor J. Melentis and the assistance of the residents of Kastria. The mapping of the system was done by the Greek Speleological Society and the Speleologist Anna Petrohilou.

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Photograph courtesy of Franco Pecchio on Flickr
The findings in the cave show that man has used it since the Neolithic period and throughout the First and Middle Helladic to Late Helladic period, inhabited by people who were young, children, pre-teens and young adults with a biological affinity.

There is an ancient myth about the caves, that the daughters of King Proitos bragged that their beauty surpassed the Goddess Hera. Because of their vanity Hera cursed their sanity, and they thought themselves heifers chasing across the Peloponnese, infecting the women of Argolis with infanticide mania. Eventually Melambodas found them in these caves and cured them.

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Exploration is ongoing in the cave system and it is hoped that with a improvement in the economic climate that funds will become available to open up more of Kastria Caves to the public. Today the municipality of Kalavryta is responsible for the operation of the cave.

Opening times: Winter daily from 9:30 to 16:30. Summer daily from 9:30 to 18.00 and there is a very nice cafe at the site.

Kapsia

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The cave of Kapsia is located at the foot of Mainalon Mountain, at an altitude of 637 meters, on the western part of the plain of ancient Mantinea. The cave is 16 km from the town of Tripoli and about 1.5 km north of the village of Kapsia. It is a sinkhole belonging to the complex system beneath the Mantinea plateau. From a geographical point of view, the cave is horizontal and consists of a series of complex corridors of 600 m. in length with total area of 6,500 m2, leading to two rooms, the second of which is the larger.

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It should be noted that the ground at the entrance of the cave and almost up to the last big room is extremely muddy. This happens because during the period of heavy rainfall, a part of the waters of the Mantinea plateau are drained mainly through its first corridors, sweeping along sludge and other sediment. It seems that in the past, the cave used to be flooded by rainwater and its first sections were underwater. This is shown by the traces of water level left by the floods on the walls of the cave.

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The natural entrances to the cave is situated outside with drainage having been built in order to take excess rainwater.

The first person to discover this beautiful cave was the French archaeologist Gustave Fougere in 1887 while he was carrying out excavations at ancient Mantinea. The first survey of the cave was conducted on 20th August, 1892 by a French - Greek team headed by Nikolaos Sideridis, a state - employed engineer from Arcadia. Their published findings in 1911 brought the cave to the attention of the world.

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Regarded as the most important Greek speliological discovery of its time, the study was the springboard for interest in the study of Greek caves. . In 1974 another French - Greek team led by I. loannou carried out further explorations at the site and discovered a new section of cave whose existence the first group of investigators had been unaware of.

Some of the rarest and most spectacular formations of colourful stalagmites in Greece's entire speleological kingdom so far explored are to be found in the named "Chamber of Wonders". Fiery red, yellow ochre and aquamarine mingle with the snowy white configurations of stalactites, providing a remarkable exhibition of natural art.

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I was taken on the tour, one my own as I was the only visitor, by a young lady who pointed out all the wonderful spectacles of the stalagmites and stalactites. Many of them are millions of years old - the cave is breathtaking.

The cave of Kapsia has great scientific interest apart from the touristic one. Numerous human bones of males, females and children were found inside the cave. Along with the bones, many pieces of ancient pottery and clay oil lamps dating from the 4th and 5th centuries AD were also found.

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The first explorers mention that they found 45-50 human skulls and bones most of which were gathered in an area almost in the middle of the cave which was named "The room of skulls and bones".

This photograph shows the bones of a young child with stalgmites having formed on the bones, there are also other human bones that have been left where they were found. Many of the bones are at a University in Athens where they are being studied.

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The human skeletons, men, women and children, were concealed under a layer of mud half a metre thick which covered the floor of the cave. It is believed that the cave flooded and the people inside could not escape.

The origin of all this anthropological material remains a puzzle for science which has not found a satisfactory solution yet.

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According to the opinion of Antonis Bartsioka, Kostas Merdenisianos and K Zafeiratos, (1981-82), the existence of the human remains is supposed to originate from the sudden drowning of people who occasionally used the cave (maybe for worshipping reasons) and who were trapped after a big flood.

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Later research by Theodorus Pitsios, (1987-88), showed that the presence of paleoanthropological findings may not be due to some extraordinary event, as the one mentioned above, but to the long-term use of the cave as a burial spot and a place for worshipping the dead.

The tour does not last more than half an hour and costs 4 euros but is well worth the visit.

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The cave is open to visitors from 9:30 to 17:30 in winter and from 9:30 to 20:30 in the summer.

When I visited it was in February and I was the only one there so I had an individual tour. The tour guide (who spoke extremely good English) allowed me to take photographs without the use of flash and as you can see they are amazing!!

Kastania

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Kastania Cave(or St Andrew's Cave named after the nearby small church) is one of the most impressive caves of Greece and it can be found near the village of Kastania on the southern tip of the Peloponnese, about 17km from Neapoli. The route follows the winding mountain road leading to the forest-covered eastern slopes of Mount Parnon.

The cave can be accessed by following the circular route that connects Neapoli with the mountain villages Kastania, Ano Kastania, Faraklo and Mesochori.

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The story of the discovery of the cave is that a local shepherd watched bees enter and come out of a crack in the rocks of his field and how, his need for water, prompted him to break open the fissure only to discover this beautifully unique and rare cave.

The true size of the Kastania Cave is not known since it has not been extensively explored or studied. It may be as large as that of Diros or other caves of the Southern Peloponnese. The part that has been explored covers an area of 1,500 m2, shaped in two levels with the visitable part 500 m in length.

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However, it is not size that makes this cave so unique. What makes this cave different - and a true speleological wonder - is the abundance, richness and diversity of the truly unique stalactite and stalagmite forms that nature has created. The cave was formed from limestone of Jurassic age (195-145 million years old) as a result of geological turmoil and chemical reaction.

The cave formations are made of calcium carbonate in the shape of crystals enriched with metal oxides from the subsoil, creating a seven colour palette. Notice the remarkable and rare discs, flat stalagmites, eccentric stalactites, and helictites.

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Rich in density and variety of shapes, colors and figures, Kastania Cave is classified as second of its kind in Europe. Nature needed three million years to create this fantasy with its unparalleled decor and numerous impressive formations such as enormous red and white waterfalls, the gigantic columns, the curtains and the sheets that cascade like waxworks from the roof.

You will also see formations which look like coloured octopuses, corals, medusas, little elephants, mushrooms, birds, other funny shapes, exotic plants and other large rock structures.

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Seeing these formations makes it easy to understand why they were so named. You do not have to be a speleologist or geologist to appreciate the magic forces of nature that have shaped these forms.

With a little luck you will meet a cave resident, the blind and deaf dolichopoda which is a type of transparent spider with long antennae.

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A very knowledgeable Greek guide - explains in both Greek and perfect English the facts and the history of the Cave.

Parking space can be found at the entrance of the cave.

A cafe operates outside the cave and nearby is the old church of St. Andrew.

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Tickets prices: Adults: 7.00 Euros. Adults as part of a group: 5.00 Euros

Children, Students and Concessions: 3.00 Euros

Days and hours of operation: 10am-4pm Sat & Sun plus additional seasonal dates

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Contact:

For group visits (clubs, schools etc) and information call at the following telephone numbers:

+30 2734360100-115, +30 6986555444 (Ms Karvouni)

Visit the Kastania Cave website here. visitvatika.gr

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I have recently been made an honorary member of ecotourism-greece.

You can visit their page on Diros Caves here. ECOTOURISM-greece.com

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