Not far from the village of Psychro in east-central Crete and 15 km south of Malia is the Dikteon Cave, also called the Psychro Cave. It's probably the best-known cave in Greece, because it is considered the birthplace of the god Zeus.
The Lassithi Plateau, where the cave and village are sited, has seen human habitation since 6,000 BC. It is rare for settlements to arise at such high elevations in Greece. The cave is 1025 meters above sea level. Inside the cave is absolutely silent, and temperatures immediately drop. Rock dwelling birds live just inside the entrance, and bats live further in.
The cave has been a place of local cult worship for thousands of years. It has 5 main chambers, and at its deepest point there is a stalactite and stalagmite-encircled lake. The Mantle of Zeus is a massive, chandelier-like stalactite-stalagmite formation hanging over the lake. At the back of the lake is a chamber where Zeus is said to have been born.
The cave was used as a habitation at first, and later, as the cult of Dikteon Zeus arose around it, it became a center of worship from around 2,000-700 BC. A fragment of writing describing the ritual involved in Zeus worship called the Hymn to Dikteon Zeus. It says in part “Greatest Kouros (Zeus)... you come each year to Dicte and we chant your Hymn... striking lyres... to the sound of pipes... around your altar... "
The Dikteon Zeus is portrayed as a beardless young man who died and came back to life each year. Blazing fire from the depths of the cave accompanied his rebirth.
Other than the story of the birth of Zeus, there are a number of myths associated with the cave. One involves the 4 men who broke the rule that mortals were forbidden to visit the cave. They wanted to take honey from the sacred bees who lived there. they put on armor for protection against the bees. In the cave they found Zeus's swaddling clothes. In anger he struck them with a thunderbolt, which turned them into birds. Another says that King Minos met Zeus, his father, in the cave every 9 years to receive renewed laws. Minos was also supposed to have born in the cave. Another myth has that Epimenides (6th century BC), who was famed for his wisdom, falling asleep in the cave and waking up, like Rip Van Winkle, 50 years later without having aged a day, but having in the process acquired great wisdom.
Entrance fee is €4.