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You are in:  Top  →  Europe  →  GREECE  →  Crete  →  LASITHI  →  Lasithi Plateau

Lasithi Plateau

Lasithi Plateau is well known for the thousands of white sailed windmills, 10 000 in all.
Lasithi windmill

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This is how the plain of Lasithi used to be irrigated, a scenic way of supplying water designed by Venetian engineers in 1464. Although very few windmills are in use today, it still makes a splendid sight against the mountains.

Winter months can be very cold, and there is often snow in the plain and the mountains until well into the month of April.

Minoan remains have been found here, indicating that the area has been inhabited since ancient times. The village was built in the 15th century and its history is intimately linked with that of the plateau.

In the surrounding countryside there are several caves of archaeological interest, one of which is the Trapeza cave, east of the village at a height of 90 meters above the plain.

Dictaion Andron is the birthplace of Zeus according to Greek Mythology. The cave only rediscovered in 1880, contained relics from middle Minoan up to archaic times.

In the course of various archaeological excavations, Cyclopean walls, an altar and diverse cult objects have been found.

According to Hommer, his mother Rea to prevent father Kronos from eating the young succesor to the Olympian Throne hid Zeus in this caves. A niche in the cave walls is known, as Zeus cradle while a curtain of large stalactites is Zeus' mantle.

The Cave of Psychro is not only a famous archaeological site, and among the most important in prehistoric Greece, but also one of the most beautiful and impressive of the 3.400 caves on Crete. It is situated on the side of a mountain above the picturesque plateau of Lassithi at a height of 1025 m. west of the village of Psychro.

A steep path leads to a small level area in front of the narrow entrance to the cave. On the right there is a small "upper chamber'. At the end an irregular enclosure formed a kind of temenos with a roughly paved floor in places. Beside it was a square altar built of fieldstones. The visitor then descends a steep, slippery passage, 60 m. long, to reach an underground pool and various chambers with stalactites and stalagmites. One imposing stalactite has been given the name of the "Mantle of Zeus'.

The Cave of Psycho early on attracted the interest of the archaeologists. Excavations, which have not yet been completed, were carried out sporadically around the end of the last century by different Greek and foreign archaeologists, especially the Englishman Hogarth.

From these excavations it was clear that the cave was one of the most important cult places in Minoan Crete. Its duration as a cult place was a very long one. The cult had already begun by the Middle Minoan I period (around 1800 BC), if not before, and it continued unbroken until the Geometric, Orientalizing and Archaic periods. It was also visited later on in Roman times.

We know that the use of caves as cult centers was particularly characteristic of the religious beliefs of the ancient Cretans. Early man was evidently profoundly impressed and awed when he entered these huge dark caves, full of mystery and silence. There are signs that some of the rocks, stalactites and stalagmites, seen in the flickering light of torches or candles, gave the appearance of being cult idols and received the appropriate manifestations.

The many votive offerings of devotees that have been found in the Cave of Psychro by locals or in regular excavations are today shared between the Iraklion Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. They include many bronze male and female figurines depicting the devotees themselves in postures of worship. In this way they aspired to remain forever present in the sacred place.

The finds include figurines of animals, various objects of ornamentation and dress, swords, daggers, knives and arrowheads. There are also many double axes of bronze or gold sheet, votive miniatures of the basic tool - not weapon - of the Minoans, which has established itself as the most characteristic symbol of Minoan divinity.

Of especial interest are different fragments of stone vases and small altars with inscriptions in Linear A writing. Numerous vases, lamps and seal stones have also been found. And there is a remarkable model of a two wheeled cart drawn by an ox and a ram. Some of the objects are unique, such as a small votive bronze plaque incised with a religious scene showing the sacred tree, a bird symbolizing the divine "epiphany", the manifestation of the deity in the form of a bird, many "horns of consecration" with the sacred bough in their midst, a fish, perhaps symbolizing the important marine aspect of the goddess, a devotee and the sun disk and half - moon. The whole scene has been interpreted as depicting the basic elements of a cosmogony.

This Minoan cult cave has been identified by many archaeologists as the famed Diktaian Cave of Greek tradition, the place where Zeus was born - rather like the Cave of Bethlehem of Classical antiquity. There were, indeed, similar traditions about the Idaian Cave, the sacred cave on Mt Ida (Psiloritis), during the Early Greek period and earlier. In the Diktaian Cave the divine infant was suckled by the goat-nymph Amaltheia, who was a daughter of Oceanus; although according to another version her father was King Melissaios. Out of gratitude Zeus later set an image of her among the stars, the image that became known as Capricorn. He also took one of her horns the famous Horn of Plenty.

Such myths about infants who had been exposed and were suckled by various beasts are very ancient and were well known in Crete as well as in other parts of the world, e.g. the "lupa romana", they are thought to be survivals of a totemic cult centered on the totem, the beast that was the mythical ancestor of the tribe.

According to other myths Zeus was reared in the Diktaian Cave by bees or doves, and even by a sow. According to Athenaios it was owing to this belief of the Cretans that they never ate pork. Here, too, there must have been some totemic connection between the tribe and pigs. The god's upbringing was closely connected with the nine Kouretes, the sons of Gaia, the Earth-goddess. The Kouretes were the first to tame animals, invent the bow and teach men to live in peace together. They were worshipped all over Greece, but especially in Crete, and chiefly by the populace. Their worship was so widespread that Crete was called Kouretis in poetry.

The Kouretes also invented the war dance and danced around the young Zeus clashing their swords and spears against their shields, and shouting and beating drums to drown the infant's cries. In this way his father, Kronos, could not hear them in the distance and come and devour him as he had his other children as soon as they were born so that they would not take later his throne away.

This noisy clashing of weapons is supposed to have had an orgiastic character and to echo an old custom aimed at driving away evil spirits during rituals involving frenzied war dances.

Other stories are linked to the Diktaian Cave. Minos, himself a famous lawgiver, went down the dark cave to receive the laws of Zeus.

One tradition also holds that it was here, and not at Gortyn , that Zeus coupled with the lovely princess, Europa.

Finally, the Cretan Epimenides, the most renowned seer, wonder - worker and poet of ancient Greece, who was also connected with the cult of Orphism, "slept" in this cave for many years and had various divine visions. Epimenides is considered to have been a historical person.

In recent years different scholars have raised objections or denied outright that the Cave of Psychro, in spite of its obvious importance as a cult cave in the Minoan and later periods, can in fact be identified with the Diktaian Cave. The main objection is that according to Hellenistic tradition the mountain of Dikte was situated east of the Ierapetra Isthmus, but perhaps the Eteocretan refugees carried their cult of the Diktaian Zeus with them to Eastern Crete.

Go up from the village of Psychro either walking along a steep path or hire a donkey, always available, on site. It will take approximately 20 minutes to the cave.

Put your rubber shoes on as descend is slippery and difficult. A torch is a must as there is no light in the cave. Remember that it can be chilly outside the months of July and August.

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