Hiking to Fotini Cave

A trip to Agia Fotini Cave, the Place Where a Window to Heaven is Open

 For lovers of nature escapes and hiking in the mountains, Crete offers many landscaped routes, but also many lesser-known, surprising, and fascinating places that are worth exploring. On an early autumn day, we ventured with the motor scooter, from Malia resort, on the route leading to the Lassithi Plateau, in search of the church cave, named Spilia Agias Fotini (St. Fotini Cave). Located on Mount Louloudaki, about 7 km south of the tourist village of Avdou at an altitude of 760 m, the entrance of the cave has a northwest orientation offering a magnificent view over the Lagada valley and the Aposelemi accumulation lake.

 Leaving the paved road about 3 km and a half south of the tourist village Avdou, we pass a large gate, from which begins a gravel road. In front of us, a winding unpredictable ascent trail leads us on the spectacular slope, with sharp cliffs resembling some wide-open monsters' mouths. Soon, we abandon the scooter on the route, because the engine in the fight with the steep slope convinces us that it's time to take our backpacks and continue the trip on foot. We bravely march the remaining 3 km and we are lucky to have enough water with us. Although beautiful, the path is demanding, and the afternoon heat would quickly melt our "batteries".

 As in any of our hikes through Crete, nature offers us all the ingredients of a multi-sensory experience - enchanting views with games of size, shape, and color, the scents of wild vegetation, the cheerful song of birds, and the hum of crickets hidden in the bushes, goats perched impossibly on the most dangerous rocks, the dry sound of our footsteps on the hot gravel, our breathing, intense and conscious. Moments of silence, stillness, contemplation... After each sip of water, we inhale the sky, with our eyes closed. From one point of the trail, in a huge hollow of the rocky wall, we notice, shining in the sun, a bell with the national flag fluttering beside it, indicating the entrance to the cave.

 Shortly before reaching our destination, we meet the silhouette of a church as if out of the mountain, making its way through the wild vegetation, next to the gutter of a cold spring. We later found out that the place is dedicated to Saint Anne and Saint John The Theologian and that, several times a year, on holidays, religious services are held on the plateau in front of the church.

 In the steep wall above the plateau formed by the sharp collapse of the limestone, at the end of a stone staircase winding through the trees, is the entrance to the Agia Fotini cave. From this place between heaven and earth, the beautiful Lagada valley unfolds at our feet. We can barely stop our curiosity to hearing the sound of the church bell and its echo in the depths of the valley... 😊

 The cave is 2-7.5 m wide and 5-20 m high, and the galleries have a total length of 700 m, of which a segment of only 44 m is accessible to the public. The first room we enter, 12 m long, is a small shrine with icons and candle support. Splitting the rock into two, a very narrow rugged corridor that seems to have once been a riverbed leads us to an unlit underground cavity, which houses the church dedicated to Saint Fotini.

 Unfortunately, the total absence of natural light makes it impossible to photograph the place if you do not have the right equipment, but the electric cables and the bulbs indicate that the cave church is in use. This large hall is adorned with two stalagmites called "the knees of Agia Fotini", where the believers light candles, an altar with icons, and a pot where the holy water dripping from the ceiling is collected.

 Legend says that spiritually guided by the Virgin Mary, Fotini, one of the disciples of the Apostle Saint Peter (also known as The Samaritan Woman, the Greek Orthodox Great Martyr), withdrew from the world to this cave to devote her life to God alone. The Agia Fotini Church Cave has been used as a place of worship since the early 19th century and as a hide-out during the Cretan Revolts against Ottoman rule, until the independence of Crete in 1898. 

 Now traditionally many women come to pray here, mostly those who cannot get pregnant. Every year, on the fourth Sunday of Holy Pascha, called the Sunday of the Paralytic celebrating one of the miracles of Christ, the Agia Fotini cave and the square in front of St. Anna Church host a big religious ceremony and a popular festival, attended by many Orthodox believers.

 Touched by the beauty of the scenery, on our way back, we felt inspired and playful. Time in nature keeps us young and energetic and makes us share laughter, creative ideas, and fun. We are happy to be a part of the great spectacle of life and enjoy every divine miracle we witness: a statuesque tree embracing a cliff, a pure flower swaying in the wind, the breathtaking sunset…

  If you are among travelers who value the mountains and their treasures, and if it happens you spend your holiday in East Crete, you may consider putting the trip to Agia Fotini Cave Church on your do-and-see options list! 

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