Diros, Kastria and Kapsia
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 temperature of the water is 14 degrees Celsius and that of the air 19 degrees Celsius whatever the season.
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 according to the leaflet from the ticket office). The final part of the tour (300 metres) is on foot.
Opening times are: June to September 8.30 to 17.30. October to May 8.30 to 15.00 (closed Mondays)
Kastria - Cave of Lakes
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.
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.
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.
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 connected to 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.
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.
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.
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. The natural entrances to the cave are 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. The cave is open to visitors from 9:30 to 17:30 in winter and from 9:30 to 20:30 in the summer.
The tour guide allowed me to take photographs without the use of flash and as you can see they are amazing!!
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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