PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHS ON THE SITE ARE CLICKABLE LINKS
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.
Up to 1960, 1,600 meters had been excavated and mapped. Since 1987, the Palaeoanthropology and Speleology Ephorate of the Ministry of Culture has started the detailed study of the Cave and in collaboration with an international team of cavemen continued its exploration and mapping.
To date, they have mapped 14,700 meters of routes. Most of the Cave is below the surface of the water.
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. The maximum depth of the Cave is located outside the tourist route and reaches 80 meters.
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 are not yet accessible to the public as the exploration of them has not been completed.
The Katafigi cave (shelter/ refuge) is at sea level and only accessible by sea. Alepotrypa literally means "fox hole".
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.
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.
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.
Many individuals in the tomb exhibited metopism, a rare condition in which adults retain an unclosed cranial suture, suggesting they were genetically related.
The adult lifespan was 29 years, and anemia was the most prevalent medical condition afflicting those buried.
Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis verified that their diets consisted mostly of cereals such as wheat and barley; low consumption of animal protein probably caused the high instance of anemia.
Some 31 percent of the skeletons showed evidence of blunt cranial trauma, probably inflicted by rocks, stones, or clubs. The wounds were nonlethal and had healed, but this is the highest frequency of head trauma at one site in all of Neolithic Greece.
When you enter the cave you will walk down a stairway to an underground lake where there are boats waiting. You are given a life-vest and then each boat gets a guide who uses poles to journey through the caverns and tunnels. Most of the guides who pole the boats expertly through the tunnels only speak greek so you may have a completely silent trip which is amazing!!
The tour of the first part of the caves (about 1200 metres) is by boat holding no more than 10 people. The journey lasts for about half-an-hour and takes you from cave to cave (each with their own name) e.g. Megali Limni' (the Great Lake); the Palm Trees Forest; the Cathedral Church; the Stone Kiosk and the Pink gallery; the Sea of Shipwrecks; etc.)
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.
The final part of the tour (300 metres) is on foot through a huge cavern where you can admire all the beautiful stalagmites and stalagtites and the wonderful colours.
At the exit to the caves a museum is now fully operational which contains artefacts dating back 6000 years to the Neolithic period.
You can take photographs inside the caves but no flash is allowed.