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The Cyclops' secret cave

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

According to Homer's Odyssey, the Cyclopes were mythical giants, Poseidon’s one-eyed sons, described as an uncivilized group of shepherds, the brethren of Polyphemus encountered by Odysseus on his long return voyage to Ithaka. Cyclops Polyphemus, the wildest of all, dwelled in a cave on a mythical island and lived off his sheep.

A prevailing version states that this island was Sicily. Nonetheless, the Greek myth revives on a small island in Cyclades, Irakleia where the hidden "Cyclops' Cave" remains a secret destination. Polyphemus captured Odysseus and his companions in his cave. Odysseus cunningly got him drunk and blinded him with a burning stick, thus creating a diversion to escape with his men by hanging themselves under the bellies of Polyphemus' giant sheep. The word "cyclops" derives from the combination of two Greek words "circle" and "eye" meaning "Round-eye".

Irakleia is located in the Small Cyclades complex, southeast of Naxos island. It is a quiet destination with few inhabitants and an unusual history that draws its origin from the Odyssey. In the center of the small island lies a "hidden" cave with rich stalactite decoration, locally known as the "Cyclops' Cave". According to the island's tradition, the cave was the residence of mythical Polyphemus. The legend says that when the giant realized that Odysseus was escaping with his men, he chased them in anger and threw rocks into the sea to sink their ship. The two rocky islets of Irakleia, the Small and the Big Avelas, (or Avellonissia), are said to have been created from Polyphemus' flying rocks.

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The cave, one of the largest caves in the Cyclades, can be reached by following a 2,5 km path, at just at 1-hour walking distance and its entrance is narrow. Once inside, the large cave hall is revealed with its impressive stalactite formations, including a rare stalagmite hydrous material called "cave milk" and a small chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Every year, on August 28th, on John the Baptist's eve, the islanders gather in the cave hall to celebrate and dozens of children light candles. The illumination of the cave rocks creates a unique and breathtaking ambiance.

Photo by Iraklia

"Cyclops' caves", are found in other areas of Greece, such as in Thrace, in Makri beach and in Crete.

Cave photos by Caveworld

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