CAVE OF CASTANIA
A Speleological Wonder
The Cave of Castania is not the
largest in Greece nor the easiest to visit. The road to Castania
was somewhat difficult, but recently local authorities repaired
it, widened it, and added new sections that have made getting
there easier. A visitor has the choice of driving to the Cave
from the charming town of Neapoli, near the southern tip of Peloponnesus,
or by taking a short boat ride from Monemvassia - another geological
wonder - a few miles north of Castania.
To this day, the true
size of the Castania Cave is not known since it has not been
extensively explored or studied. It may be as large as that of
Diros or other caves of southern Peloponnesus. However, it is
not size that makes this cave at Castania so unique. What makes
this cave different - and a true speleological wonder - is the
abundance, richness and diversity of truly unique stalactitic
and stalgmitic forms that nature has created and decorated it.
Sattelite Photo of
Peloponnesus, Greece. The Cave of Castania is on the easternmost
peninsula which ends at Cape Maleas - a site where numerous ancient
shipwrecks have been found. The town on Neapoli is only a few
kilometers from the Petrified Forest at Cape Maleas. The Island
of Kythira is at the lower right of the satellite photo.
to the Cave - A brief description of what one can expect to see
The Cave of Castania
is a magical place that is difficult to describe with words.
One needs to experience it to fully appreciate it. Upon entering,
the visitor leaves the reality of the surface world and starts
a journey of transformation in a mystical setting below where
mythical forms and ever-evolving shapes created by nature, become
an adventure into a world of fantasy and poetic interpretation.
Here, the eternal silence that has lasted for millions of years
is only interrupted by the slow and almost imperceptible drips
of water, which, drop by drop over eons of time, have sculptured
fantastic works of art, in amazing combinations of colors and
Although relatively brief, the
visitor's path inside the Cave of Castania meanders gracefully
- down - up, down up and then up again. The walk is comfortable
and full of wonders. Glistening textures of stalactites and stalagmites
of all sizes and shapes reflect the lights that outline the visitor's
path. Additional lights placed throughout the cave reveal gently
the large range of triumphant colors forms and textures that
nature created over thousands of years. One must move slowly,
carefully, pause frequently, and look around with reverence,
so that some miracle of vision, beauty, or fantasy may not be
lost by undue haste.
A very knowledgeable
Greek guide - explains in both Greek and perfect English the
facts and the history of the Castania Cave, and how a local shepherd
accidentally discovered it. She tells the story of how this shepherd
watched bees enter and come out of a crack in the rocks of his
field and how, his need for water, prompted him to break open
the fissure, only to discover this beautifully unique and rare
cave full of brilliant stalactites and stalagmites. The guide
points out unique forms and shapes of interesting stalactite
formations and tells their acquired descriptive names. Seeing
these formations makes it easy to understand why they were so
One does not have to be a speleologist
or geologist to appreciate the magic forces of nature that have
shaped these forms in the formations and have created this mythical
Kingdom of the Cave of Castania. At this magic place everything
seems possible and all ancient Greek myths become readily believable.
Indeed there must have been twelve gods living on Mt. Olympus
and hundreds more elsewhere, and some must have wondered south
to help nature create the Cave of Castania.
The only regret a visitor will
have at the tour's end is of leaving this Cave of Castania. However,
the fantastic forms that have been seen and the magic that has
been experienced will be forever etched in memory - for as long
as one lives.
PALEOLITHIC AND NEOLITHIC PEOPLE?
anthropologists have determined that quite a few of the caves
in Greece were inhabited during the Stone Age - some of them
continuously. The earliest evidence of such inhabitation goes
back to 35,000 B.C. (Upper Paleolithic) ago. More concrete evidence
begins at about 20,000 B.C. (Middle Paleolithic). Finally, the
latest finds are from 4,000 to 3000 B.C. (Final Neolithic).
There is concrete
evidence that in the late Neolithic period, about 4000 - 3000
BC, many of the people inhabiting this southern region of Greece,
used caves for their homes, workshops and as cemeteries or as
places of worship. Not too far from the Cave of Castania, at
the caves of Diros, vases and bones from various periods were
discovered some years ago. These findings indicate that Neolithic
people in this region maintained complex communities and engaged
in trade, farming and maritime travel - among many other activities.
Also, human skeletons found in some of the caves, have led to
the conclusion that perhaps some of these Neolithic people were
killed or entombed when the cave's entrance or ceiling collapsed
following strong earthquakes. Strong earthquakes are quite common
in this area of Greece. There is evidence of extensive landslides,
rock falls and past catastrophes near the Cape Maleas and Cape
Tenaros in southern Peloponnesus. There is even a petrified forest
of palms at the edge of the sea near Cape Maleas, which indicates
not only geological changes but climate changes as well. There
is also extensive evidence of extensive subsidence and of ancient
settlements under the sea in the general area.
Whether the Cave of
Castania also served as home to Neolithic people is not known
at this time, since only a small section of this geological wonder
has been so far explored. Future searches may determine the true
size of the Cave and perhaps lead to important palaeontological
discoveries on whether ancient Neolithic cultures of this region
also used it.
Forest of Cape Maleas
GEOLOGICAL FACTS OF HOW THE CAVES LIKE CASTANIA WERE CREATED
IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
Greece is located
in a very complex geologic region. During most of the Triassic
(245 to 208 million years ago), Jurassic (208 to 144 million
years ago), Cretaceous (144 to 66.4 million years ago) and even
in the latest periods of the Mesozoic Era, the eastern region
of the Mediterranean basin was an ancient, shallow, oxygen-rich,
sea. With continuous submergence, thick layers of limestone formed
on the floor of this basin. Active tectonic interaction and collision
of the converging African and Eurasian plates along the entire
eastern Mediterranean margin resulted in extreme seismicity and
volcanism -processes that continue to the present.
The Hellenic Arc -
Three major tectonic plates, the Eurasia, Africa, and Arabia
plates meet in the eastern Mediterranean and have formed broad
boundaries of seismic and volcanic activity. Greece is located
near the boundary of the two great lithospheric plates of Africa
and Eurasia. The interaction of the great plates results in numerous
earthquakes. A zone of active seismicity extends
along Western Peloponnesus and continues along the islands of
Kythera and Antikythera to south of Crete, then to Rhodes and
Western Turkey. Paralleling the Hellenic Arc
is the volcanic Arc which includes the volcanoes of Methana,
Milos, Santorin and Nisyros. The plate movements and the associated
earthquakes have also formed a series of sea basins extending
from Kefalonia to Rodes.(Map modified after Nafi Toksoz of MIT/ERL).
Many caves have partially collapsed because of earthquake activity
in the region. The earthquake of 365 A.D. in the Kythera Strait
is believed to be the strongest historical earthquake that ever
occurred in Greece. It impacted the greatest part of the Roman
empire. Knossos on Crete was destroyed by the earthquake. There
was heavy damage from the earthquake at Gortyna and in Patra
and throughout the provinces of Ahaia and Viotia on Peloponnesus.
Skandia, the ancient harbour of Kythera on the east side of the
island , was destroyed by the combined effects of the earthquake
and the tsunami.
During the Cretaceous
period (between 144 and 66.4 million years ago), continuing tectonic
processes resulted in the Alpine Orogeny - a still ongoing process
of - and the formation of the Alps, where marine sediments and
fossil organisms can be found, even at the highest elevations.
During the Cretaceous period, the stresses of the great colliding
tectonic plates lifted and folded the upper limestone layers
as well as the deeper metamorphic rock layers of the Eastern
Mediterranean Basin. Big landmasses eventually begun to emerge
from the sea, and formed the Greek mainland and some of the islands
of the present Aegean and Ionian Seas. The uplifted and folded
masses consisted primarily of limestone and of metamorphic rocks.
With the passage of time, these upper layers of this land mass
intrusions led to the formation of large crystalline rocks, ample
metallogenesis of manganese, iron and aluminum, and the formation
of large coal deposits. Tectonic processes continued to stress
and fold the earth's upper crust in the region, thus forming
more islands, more mainland mass, and lifting the mountains of
Greece to greater heights. About 65% of these upper surface layers
of the uplifted area of Greece consisted of limestones.
the Tertiary (66.4 to 1.6 million years ago) and Quaternary (less
than 1.6 million years ago) Periods, but particularly during
the Pliocene Epoch of the late Quaternary, karst phenomena (due
to erosion by water) begun to take place throughout the present
Eastern Mediterranean region. Karstic action - that is erosion
by water - begun to carve thousands of huge subterranean caves
deep into these limestone layers of Greece. And this is how caves
like Castania were formed. Eons of time later, the continuous
slow penetration of water from the surface begun to further sculpture
the wondrous forms or stalactites and stalagmites in these caves.
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