Thursday, May 2, 2013

Psychro Cave or Diktaion Antron or Zeus's Birthplace

The Lasithiou Plateau is ringed by the Dikti Mountains. Just above the village of Psychro on one peak is a cave rediscovered in the late 1800s. A succession of archeologists found a wealth of objects dating back as far as the Minoan period, i.e. 1800 B.C. Most of the items appear to be votive offerings to the gods. The cave had been assumed to be Diktaion Antron, the cave where the Titaness Rhea fled from Kronos, who had devoured their first five children. A prophecy said his son would overthrow him. He decided that shouldn't happen, hence the eating. She gave birth to Zeus in Diktaion Antron, where he was sheltered until he was moved to another cave (Idaean Cave) as a small boy. Rhea gave Kronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, a lie which he swallowed metaphorically by swallowing it literally. The rest, they say, is history mythology. Lucian tells of Zeus bringing his own prize, Europa from Phoenicia, to the cave, hiding his abduction. Why Zeus would need to hide her, only the gods know. The cave's colorful history is clearly inspired by its spooky interior.

We drove up to the parking area, which is at the base of a one-kilometer path up to the cave. The parking area naturally is surrounded by restaurants and knick-knack shops. We went to one restaurant for some fresh-squeezed orange juice and a snack to fortify ourselves for the climb.

Shops of the gods

We did not try this ice cream

Patriotic parking

Funny faces by the restaurant's view

The children were a little disappointed that the donkey rides weren't available. No animals other than bees and birds were at the base of the path. We started our ascent, which was relatively trouble- and complaint-free. The weather was sunny and a little windy, providing a pleasant walk to the cave. We did see a snake slithering down the path, which seemed significant.

"From Mount Olympus who reigned, at Andro Ditkeo was born Zeus, Father of gods and humans"

Starting up the trail

View from mid-way up the trail

Nearing the top

At the cave, we paid the entrance fee and walked the last few steps to the mouth of the cave. Luckily, our guide book recommends taking a flashlight and we were ready. The upper area of the cave is well lit by the sun, but down at the bottom we'd have had to rely on the little lights that had been installed. Our flashlight made a difference. J especially loved flashing the beam of light around the cave, pointing out interesting things to us.

Going in!

Mossy rocks at the top

Bats or stalactites?

Stone drapery

At the bottom of the cave is a large chamber with a small lake. The archeologists had discovered many different objects in the water, such as figurines, tools, knives, axes, seals, and fibula. The theory goes that they were offerings by pilgrims back in the day. Everything is now in museums and private collections.

Lake at the bottom

Looking back up to the entrance from the lake

Lots of formations at the bottom

Odd bits

Climbing down and up was a little precarious with the wet stone steps. We moved slowly and held hands to make sure no one slipped or was left behind. While the downside of being there early was no donkey rides, the upside was no crowds. We had the cave mostly to ourselves, which meant no worries about how loud the kids were, no distractions from others, and no need to rush through. The cave is quite beautiful and evocative. It's easy to see how the locals (and even people from far away) would come to see the wonders and have an encounter with something far greater than themselves.

Some sort of club or tower?

Creepy skull?!?

Looking back down from the top

Sadly, back at the parking lot, three boys were waiting with their donkeys to take people up the path. By this point, J and L were uninterested in riding or even having their picture taken (which is probably just as well, since we'd have tipped the boys for letting us take the pictures).

This cave is definitely worth visiting, as is driving around the Lasithiou Plateau, which has plenty of charming buildings, little towns, and windmills. Again, we came too early in the year for anyone to put up the sails on their windmills and we saw only empty ones.

Lasithiou Plateau

Road up to the cave

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