The Cave of Antiparos
If there’s one thing to see in Antiparos, this has to be the Cave. A reminder of how grand Mother Nature is, in many unexpected ways. Who would have thought that just 12km south of Antiparos town, 177 metres above sea level on a hill called Agios loannis, we would find the entrance to a spectacular and quite possibly the oldest cave in Greece!
Its existence was known for centuries; its earliest visitor on record was Archilochos, a lyrical poet from Paros, who lived in 728-650 b.c. But its first documented exploration [exploitation] was by the French Ambassador to the Ottoman Court, Charles François Ollier, the Marquis de Nointel. According to historical records, the Marquis embarked on a tour to Athens, the Aegean, Palestine and Egypt, in September 1673. The official purpose was to deal with some political issues but I read that -not surprisingly- the Marquis was on the lookout for antiquities too and thought he was doing the French Court a favour by collecting whatever took his fancy on the way. Only to find out that Louis XIV would not agree to cover the enormous debts his loyal servant had occurred and on top of that recalled him in 1680! It must have been in this context that the Marquis decided to explore the cave and thus arrived in Antiparos in December 1673. Whatever his motives, we have him and his men to thank for being able to admire today this awe-inspiring creation of nature.
Already at the entrance, we were greeted by an enormous stalagmite, around 45 million years old, the oldest in Europe.
It’s a long descent until the lowest ground but our effort was supported by a steady construction of rails, wooden platforms and stairs. For a short while, we were accompanied by one of the permanent residents, a fussy little bat who wasn’t sure what to make of these intruders… in the end, she decided to ignore us and disappeared into the depths of her huge, dark castle without introducing us to the rest of her family.
The temperature inside is a few degrees lower; especially welcome on the way up! Apparently there are 411 steps (number according to a leaflet we received at the ticket office). There is adequate lighting all the way down to the 100m-deep bottom; a warm orange that creates a theatrical set illusion. Not natural perhaps, but I loved the way it accentuated the curvy surfaces and excited my imagination; scenes from science fiction and fantasy films, hanging cities jumping directly out of a Hayao Miyazaki anime, Dr Who encounters with prehistoric enemies, I saw them all… Either way, I couldn’t shake the feeling of having travelled in time and space!
There are inscriptions everywhere by everyone that has ever visited the cave, or so it seems… Obviously, before the modern railing and camera installations, visitors felt pretty free to mark their existence for posterity… Some are quite interesting though, like the one left from ”Greek” king Otto who visited the cave with his wife Amalia in 1840. Or the inscription curved in Latin: HIC IPSE CHRISTUS / EJUS NATALIE DIE MEDIA CELEBRATO / MDCLXXIII, which roughly translates “Here Christ himself celebrated Midnight Mass on Christmas 1673”. It was actually the Marquis de Nointel and his team that celebrated, as it was Christmas when they first entered the cave so they decided to hold a mass on a stalagmite that looked like an altar.
The cave suffered more mutilations since its discovery by humanity. During the short-lived Russian occupation of 1770-74, Russian officers cut off many stalactites that can be seen today at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. I didn’t know this when I visited the Hermitage in 2010, but even if I did, I’d still concentrate on the paintings, precious decorative items – tsarist legacy – and those grandiose staircases… I can’t see how stalactites would look as impressive sitting in a museum, completely cut off from their natural habitat. Back to the cave, the last major recorded damages were suffered during the second World War, inevitable as this was; since then it was left in relative peace and is slowly healing itself.
It has been estimated that to create one centimetre of a stalagmite, it takes 80 to 120 years. You can hear, touch the water dripping…
Easily accessible by public transportation (in summer, every hour) and tour operator buses. Tickets cost 5 euros. All info, including opening hours, should be checked ahead of visit, as they may fluctuate depending on season, year and depth of recession.
Photos by Konstantinos Implikian
Antiparos, 07-19 June 2013