The Cave of Agia Sofia in Topolia in Western Crete
When driving in western Crete's Kisamos County,
on the road heading to Elafonissi (Deer Island) just after the village
Topolia, you will go through a small tunnel. Exactly at the tunnel's
exit, high up on your right, you will see the opening of a cave and
an unusual metallic star reflecting the sun's rays.
This is the entrance to an interesting cave named for Agia Sofia.
From the street level you have to climb quite a few steps, then
continue walking through a small path. As you get closer to the cave,
you realize the opening is actually quite big, and little by little
the roof of a quaint church begins to appear on the left. Actually,
the church is situated inside the cave itself, which is why they
both bear the same name.
Upon entering the cave of Agia Sofia, you suddenly realize that it is in fact
quite large (almost the size of a cathedral). According to official
findings the cave of Agia Sofia is at an elevation of 285 meters,
and includes a cupola 20 meters high and 70 meters in diameter with
variform stalactites (deposits which hang down from the ceiling of
the cave) and stalagmites (deposits that project upward from the
ground of the cave). Many ancient objects were discovered at this
location, including shells from the Neolithic period.
After taking a few hesitant steps until the eyes adjust to the dim
light, continue towards the little church, which is in the front
on the left side of the cave, and actually forms one of the church's
walls. The church is small and quite ordinary, without any architectural
or hagiographical features. What makes it unique is the sense of
space once you are inside.
Returning to the outside cave again, with
eyes that are now hopefully accustomed to the darkness of the area,
we begin our exploration.
The size of the stalagmites is truly
unbelievable, with some of them measuring a staggering five to
six meters. The stalactites are approximately the same dimensions.
But they are still a long way from joining in the middle - in fact they are still about
four to five meters apart - which will give you some idea of the
size of this cave (think of a five story building and you'll get
In several locations of the cave wild fig trees
have grown, and there are many pigeons throughout the area. Walking
deeper into the cavern the humidity becomes very pronounced - the ground
soaked with water, but not particularly slippery.
In several spots
alga has completely covered the rocks, providing them with
a dark-green velvet-like coating. The stalagmites offer a never-ending
variety of shapes, ranging from extremely tall conical formations
to very short forms which somewhat resemble to top of a bald head.
Particularly impressive is a combo rock and stalagmite
formation which is a close replica of the mythical unicorn (PHOTO above). It is
quite impossible to observe the stalactites in detail without a torchlight
because of their forbidding height and the darkness insde the cave.
you can imagine, the Cave of Agia Sofia is used for worshipping
purposes, and is connected with various legends. One of the most
popular is the one regarding St. George (the dragon slayer). It is
believed that the hoof of St. George's horse left an imprint on one
of the rocks inside the cave. Indeed, there does exist a large stone
with an indentation in the shape of a horseshoe (PHOTO right).
It is said that the cave is still not entirely explored, and it
is believed it still extends to other halls and small cavern-like
apertures. The usual stories are heard about putting an animal through
some narrow opening and having it reappear several kilometers away.
Actually, we spent quite a long time exploring this
impressive cave and trying to satisfy our appetites of its magical
splendor. We were never sated. It wasn't just the awesome sizes of
the many features that stole the show. Mainly, it was the spectrum
of colours and all those odd and interesting stalactites and stalagmites
that created pictures of another world, offering food to imagination,
and taking us on to encounters of the third kind. And, once again,
we bow to the grandeur of nature.
- The cave of Zoniana, an impressive cave in central Crete
- The cave of Kamares,
a cave on Mountain Ida in central Crete