Traveling Classroom Foundation
Tuesday November 21st 2017

Caves and Villages

During the Stone Age, before anyone had houses (and long before castles were built), Kefalonians lived in caves. There was plenty of cave space to go around, because the island is mostly made of limestone, a rock that tends to dissolve when exposed to water for a long time. The action of water and frequent earthquakes combined to make holes in the rock – caves where people found shelter from the weather and wild animals.

Kefalonia Map

Map of Kefalonia and Ithaki islands

A few kilometers up the coast from Sami is Karavomylos, an ordinary village with a very peculiar feature. Next to the local beach is a brackish lake that emerges from underground channels which flow under the entire island. From the western coast near Argostoli, it takes two weeks for the water to course through underground channels and finally surface at Karavomylos. The flow is so steady and strong, it powers watermills on both sides of the island.

Not far from this lake is the Melissani cave, with its underground lake formed by the same water channels. It is a unique cave structure 160 meters long and 40 meters wide, with stalactites 20,000 years old. The roof caved in long ago, so you can peek in from above. However, it’s much nicer to take a boat inside. From the boat we can see the brilliant colors of the deep water as the sunlight falls through the hole in the roof. There are also dark corners and ledges that make the cave seem very mysterious. This is probably why the ancients used this cave to worship the god Pan and various nymphs here (nymphs always seem to be associated with watery caves and hidden springs).

Entrance to Melissani Cave

Inside Melissani Cave

Farther inland is Drogarati cave, which begins high in the hills and descends into the ground 95 meters. It is truly a phenomenal cavern, with beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations that give us the feeling of being inside a huge melting crystal. According to a local myth, the cave owes its name to a dragon thought to live there. Perhaps in the old days local folk thought the dragon’s fiery breath had melted the interior of the cave.

Great chamber in the Drogarati cave

It is also called “concert cave” because of its wonderful acoustics. The main chamber of the cave, which often serves as a venue for concerts, is about 100 meters long. There is an area where massive stone blocks have broken away from the ceiling, forming a natural stage decorated with milky stalactites. It’s too bad we won’t be around for the next show.

Having developed a taste for cave exploration (with so many being available), we decide to drive down the eastern coast of the island to a town called Poros. In the hills near Poros is Drakaina cave, which was used by people for thousands of years.

Traveling a winding road through the Kokini Rachi mountains, we notice that many of the villages along the way have names ending in “ata” – Janetata, Katapodata, Grizata, Zervata, Koulourata. Each village is just as intriguing as the previous one, with neat houses and pretty churches, encircled by cultivated fields, vineyards and orchards. They seem to use all the soil that can be used to grow crops. We slow down and sometimes stop to see the sights, and we keep trying to remember the song from Lion King with a similar name.

Mountains of Kefalonia

The mountain country of Kefalonia

When we arrive at Drakaina cave, we can see that the archaeological excavations are still in progress, and the area has been fenced off to prevent visitors from tripping over carefully a measured site grid marked off by string tied to stakes. Earlier studies of the cave have revealed artifacts from the later Neolithic (Stone Age), through the Helladic, Archaic and Hellenistic periods. However, the character of occupation changed dramatically over the ages.

During the prehistoric times it was used as a shelter for people and their flocks. Archaeological research has uncovered utilitarian ceramics (such a jugs and items for household use), as well as evidence of intensive stone tool production. There is also evidence that residents had organized the cave space by constructing walls, hearths, and floors – family homes.

Archaeological investigation in progress at Drakaina cave

In historical times the cave served as a shrine dedicated to the worship of nymphs and the god Pan. Archeologists  made some rich finds, including ceramics (cult vase and votive offerings, some imported from Corinth and Attica), figurines, mostly of female deities, few lamps, as well as animal bone remains, a result of sacrifices to the deity. The repeated use is also proved by the presence of offering pits.

As much as we would like to, we cannot wander about the site. In addition, the sun is beginning to drop towards the peak of Roudi Mountain in the west. When the mountain passes fall into shadow it will be more dangerous driving a twisting and unfamiliar road.

We decide it would be safer to return to Sami while there is still light. All the way back we are still trying to remember that Lion King song.

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