Caves in Greece are an important element of Greek mythology. Some caves in Greece have been found to contain significant archaeological, mainly Paleolithic, finds:
- Petralona Cave in Chalkidiki, where the famous Archanthropus skull was found, belonging to a transitional type of human between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.
- The unique Cave of the Lakes in Kalavryta, Achaea, with 13 stepped lakes on three levels.
- Perama Cave in Ioannina.
- The Minoan cave sanctuary in Arkalochori, Crete.
There are also many Greece caves with underground lakes, stalagmites, stalactites and damp corridors, attracting both professional speleologists and visitors who want to admire these mysterious places.
In Greece there are countless examples of every type of cave, perhaps more than in any other part of the world. Caves in Greece are rich and rare museums. Before the Palaeolithic Period they were the dens of various animals (bears, tigers, hyenas, wolves). They also formed safe refuges for primitive humans (the Greek Archanthropus) in the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods (“Kokkines Petres” or Petralona Cave in Chalkidiki, “Alepotrypa” in Dyros, etc.)
Caves have also been used as places of worship from Paleolithic times to the present day. The greatest Greek myths were set in majestic caves. Greek caves are linked to many local legends and traditions. (Read the Cave of the Lakes legend)
Some caves contain Christian churches and monasteries, such as the Cave of the Apocalypse in Patmos. Many hollows in craggy cliff sides were also used by hermits and anchorites. Countless caves played a part in the struggles for independence, used as secret schools, rebel lairs, hospitals, workshops, etc. Even cave water has been used since ancient times for drinking, irrigation and healing, while the inhabitants of many mountainous regions get ice from caves and store their cheeses in them.
Greece has the largest number of caves in the world. The first systematic attempt at their scientific exploration was by the husband-and-wide team Ioannis and Anna Petrochilos, who founded the Hellenic Speleological Society in 1950.