The Cave of Antiparos is among the most beautiful and most significant in the world; this because, in addition to being an enchanting natural site worth seeing, it is inextricably linked to the history of the area and generates great archaeological interest, owing to the findings from the Stone Age discovered in its interior. The engraved inscriptions that ‘adorn’ it are also an inexhaustible source of stories, legends and information concerning famous—and more anonymous—visitors, like a kind of guest book, whose first page was written hundreds of year before the birth of Christ.
Stalactites and stalagmites, which change form according to the inspiration and imagination of the individual visitor, adorn the ‘Katafygi’ [shelter], as locals used to call the Cave. It is located some 171 metres above sea level, is precipitous, and its interior temperature in wintertime is at about 15 degrees Celsius. It has an area of approximately 5,600 square metres. Its maximum depth reaches some 85 metres and the descent takes place easily and securely, by way of a cement staircase made up of 411 steps. The exceptional visibility makes possible the observation of details created by ‘Nature, the artist’, and also permits the search for human presence from the times of the Parian poet Archilochus (c. 680 – c. 645 BC) up to the 20th century.
Many centuries ago, the roof of the anterior section collapsed, resulting in the creation of the vaulted entrance to the Cave. Two picturesque little churches—Ai Yiannis Spiliotis and Zoodohos Piyi—which are connected to one other and beloved to Antipariots and visitors alike, were erected in the outdoor and semi-outdoor areas created by this collapse. The latter church, though smaller, is older; however, it is the former church that has lent its name not only to the entire Ayioyiannitiko vouno [Ai Yiannian hill; or vounali tou Ai Yianni—hillock of Ai Yiannis], but also to the Cave itself, which many call the ‘Cave of Ai Yiannis’ [Spilaio tou Ai Yianni].
The entrance to the Cave is called the ‘Prothalamos’ [antechamber] and consists of three levels. The first—and highest—the ‘Kalymmeni Plateia’ [covered square]—is paved in concrete and benches have been placed all around its perimeter. The second—‘Kryfos Thalamos’ [secret chamber]—is separated from the first by a huge stalagmite, the most ancient in all of Europe, named ‘Peloria Kentriki Kolona’ [huge central column], and stalagmites to its right and left, which resemble statues. In the old days they would tie ropes to the ‘Kolona’ [column] in order to descend into the Cave proper. The third level of the ‘Prothalamos’ is extended by a kind of passage, at the end of which a railed door leads to the main interior of the Cave. On this level and at a height of about three metres from the floor, one finds a small opening that reveals a chamber measuring 20 x 10 metres, known as ‘Krypti’ [crypt]. Archaeological investigation into this area carried out in 1974-1975 revealed potsherds and human bones, housed today in the Museum of Paros. Passing through the railed door, one finds oneself in the heart of the Cave, which, in turn, is divided into three ‘halls’.
The first hall, or the ‘Thalamos ton Petrinon Katarrakton’ [chamber of the stone waterfalls], has dimensions of 17 x 27 x 10 metres and is richly adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. It received its name on account of the majestic and wondrous adornment towards its right wall, where one finds dazzlingly beautiful columns and stalactites like waterfalls.
The second hall, or ‘Thalamos tou Kathedrikou Naou’ [chamber of the cathedral], is found 25 metres below the first. Its dimensions are 33 x 20 x 30 metres. This is where, in 1673, Christmas Mass was held by the Marquis de Nointel and his entourage. To the right are all-white stalagmite complexes, and above these are suspended ‘chandeliers’. Further off, there is a formation that has aptly been named ‘Mavros Katarraktis’ [black waterfall], and opposite it is a series stalagmites, the lowest of which is the renowned ‘Ayia Trapeza’ [(Holy) Altar]. On the one end of this hall and one metre below it, one finds a smaller hall with a most beautiful stalagmite called the ‘Ombrella’ [umbrella]. This hall is named the ‘Aithousa tou Varathrou’ [hall of the chasm], because there is a hole in it with a diameter of two metres and a depth of about seven to eight metres.
The third hall, which is found on a lower level, is called the ‘Vasiliki’ [royal], owing to the visit paid by Greece’s King Otto [or Othonas, reigned 1832-1862] and his consort, Queen Amalia, and the inscription they etched there. Its dimensions are 27 x 50 x 20 metres. Its adornment is not particularly impressive, but it is commanding, nonetheless.