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Archaeological sites (4)
Ancient sacred caves
Ideon Andron Cave
According to legends, the Ideon Cave was the birthplace of Zeus. In
the myth, Rhea brought the infant Zeus to the Ideon cave to protect him from his
father, Kronos, who would have swallowed him alive, as he had previously done
with his brothers and sisters. Here he was nursed by the goat nymph, Amalthia.
He was protected by the Kuretes (5 Cretans) who danced and clashed their weapons
to cover the cries of the baby Zeus. This myth will be disputed by those that
believe that Zeus was raised in the Dikteon Andron in the plateau of Lassithi.
In another variation of the myth, the baby Zeus was born in the Dikteon Andron
Cave, while the infant Zeus grew up in the Ideon Andron among the shepherds of
the Nida Plateau. Zeus is often called “Cretagenis”, e.g. born in Crete. According
to Cretans, Zeus was not immortal, in contrast to the Classical Greek belief;
he died and was reborn every year. The head of the dead Zeus can be seen in the
outline of Mount Youktas, outside Iraklion. This belief of Cretans, continues
traditions of the old Minoan religion (in which the Young God died and was reborn
every year) to the Greek religion.
Historically, it is clear that both the caves in the Lassithi Plateau and the
cave in Nida were sanctuaries during Minoan and early Greek times. The cave of
Trapeza in Lassithi was used very early in Minoan times, but later it lost its
significance to the cave of Dikteon Andron, also in the Lassithi Plateau, and
the latter seems also to have been replaced in importance by the cave of Ideon
Andron in Nida during Greek and Roman times.
Excavations in the cave uncovered finds dating as far back as late Neolithic times.
During Minoan times, the cave was a place of worship of the fertility goddess.
Later it became the place of worship for the cult of Zeus.
The cave is 1,540 metres above sea level. It contains a large chamber at the opening
and two horizontal chambers that open to the inner sanctum of the cave. Excavations
are in progress and the cave is now closed to the public.
The original excavations were done by Professor Marinatos and revealed the Greek
and Roman use of the cave. The recent excavations in the cave are concerned with
the finds of the lower deposits in the cave. The cave is known to have been used
in the Neolithic Age. Recently, a superb bronze shield was found intact.
This text is cited Dec 2002 from the Crete TOURnet URL below, which contains images.
At a height of 1538 m on the Nida plateau the "Cave of the Shepherd girl" is situated. According to the myth Zeus, the father of the gods, was raised and probably even born here. To be more precise, his mother Rea hid the new born child in this cave in order to protect him from his father Kronos, who was in the habit of swallowing his children because he feared they might deprive him of his power. Hidden in that cave Zeus grew up being fed with the milk of the goat Amalthia, while the 'Kourites" covered the child's crying through banging their copper shields. Being closely connected with the myth the cave of Ideon Andron achieved great fame during ancient times and developed into a centre of worship, which lasted over the centuries from the Minoan up until the Late Roman period.
Research and excavation works, which the Italian archaeologist Federico Halbherr started in 1885, proved that the cave had been used as a sanctuary. From 1983 and henceforth systematic research was continued by the archaeologists Giannis and Efi Sakellarakis.
A large variety of archaeological findings have been brought to light, such as the copper shields with relief performances of the Ideon order, cameos, objects made from ivory and gold jewellery. Equally impressive is the large variety of ceramics, figurines, tools and metal objects.
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