Diktaean (Psychro) Cave

Μετάφραση Greek Version

Diktaean (Psychro) Cave

Psychro Cave (also known as Diketeon Cave or Zeus Cave) is an ancient Minoan sacred cave, located at an altitude of 1025m above sea level on the northern slopes of the Dikti mountain above the Lasithi plateau in eastern Crete.


The cave is surrounded by the myth that this is the birthplace of Zeus. According to Hesiod, Rhea the mother of Zeus, hid in this cave to give birth to her son, in order to protect him from his father Cronus. Cronus devoured his offsprings because he wanted to prevent the prophecy according to which he would be killed by his son. It is said that Amalthea, who was either a goat or a nymph, fed baby Zeus with goat’s milk, while the Kouretes, a band of mythical warriors, made noise with weapons and dancing to cover the cries of the infant. Other myths state that Zeus brought Europa to this cave after he abducted her from Phoenicia. No matter what legend we chose to believe, this cave remains a must-visit place in the Lasithi plateau.

The cave covers an area of 2,200m² and the tourist route inside the cave extends for 250 meters. It is decorated with stalactites and stalagmites and is one of the best and most important caves in Crete. It is called Psychro Cave because it is located above the modern village of Psychro, and Dikteon because the mountain range where the cave stands are known as Dikte. The entrance of the cave is 18m wide and 14m high. You can only visit the main chamber, the height of which ranges from 4 to 6.5 meters. The cave has two spaces, the upper chamber where archaeologists discovered a sanctuary and ruins of an altar, and the lower chamber which hosts a small lake.

Ancient objects found inside the cave by local villagers, mainly shepherds and hunters, at the end of the 19th century, led archeologists Joseph Chatzidakis and F. Halbherr in 1886 to the site, where they conducted a small-scale excavation. The cave was also excavated by A. Evans in 1897, J. Demargne, and G. Hogarth in 1899, but systematic excavation has not taken place yet. As research continued over the years, archaeologists agree that, due to the importance of the artifacts in the chambers, the cave was probably one of Crete’s most important sites of worship. The findings of these excavations are now exhibited in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Unfortunately, because the cave was open over the centuries, many important objects are believed to have been removed.

The cave seems to have been used as a Minoan site of worship since 2800 BC. It was probably inhabited and used as a burial site and it certainly functioned as a cult center until around the 700 BC, while the cult in Dikteon Andron Cave continued until the Roman times. Archeologists have found artifacts that include pottery, needles, bronze objects, ceramic cups, and human figurines probably offerings left by pilgrims and worshippers that prove the site may have been the location of a cult.

How to get there

To get to the cave requires an uphill climb of maybe 20 minutes. It is a 1 km walk to the cave, then 200 steps down to the bottom of the cave and 200 steps back up, so it is not suitable for people with major mobility or health issues. Despite having some trees and shade along the way, the hike up can prove exhausting in summer. If you do not feel like walking, mules and donkeys can take you up to the cave for a fee. The walk is quite challenging in the heat, with uneven surfaces and slippery in places. Wear sturdy non-slip shoes and bring cool water. The ticket counter is at the top of the hike near the entrance. There is an entry fee per person (€6 for adults or €3 for those entitled to a reduced price, free for students and EU citizens over the age of 65) and car parking costs around €2.50. The village of Psychro below is lovely and the cafes have beautiful views of the Lassithi Plateau below. Some gift shops and restaurants are available around the carpark. 

The best places to stay in Crete if you plan to visit the Psychro Cave are Agios Nikolaos and Malia. If you do not want to drive, there are a few day trips to the cave. However, renting a car will offer you more flexibility to combine with other sights, such as the traditional windmills around the Lasithi plateau, the monastery of Panagia Kera, and the ruins of the Minoan palace of Malia further down the mountains. The cave is open daily from 8am to 6pm in the summer and from 8am to 3pm in the winter. Overall, this cave is lovely to see and a worthy visit it if you enjoy the mythological accounts and the geological formations. 

Distance Table:

  • Psychro Cave - Agios Nikolaos: 46km (1h 14mins)
  • Psychro Cave - Malia: 27,4km (43mins)
  • Psychro Cave - Hersonissos: 37,7km (50mins)