The cave of Antiparos
is situated on the southeastern side of the island on the hill of Agios loannis at the height of 177 metres above sea level and is well known all over the world as possibly the oldest cave in Greece.
The inhabitants of Antiparos have known about the cave for many centuries, but the inside of the cave remained undiscovered until 1673, when the French ambassador to Constantinople, marquis de Nouadel, visited the island. The purpose of his trip was to visit the cave because according to his information he would be able to locate some valuable archaeological finds to take back to France. He and his escorts entered the cave by climbing down ropes and were amazed to find nature's wonderful creation, which they lit up with large candles, oil lamps and dry firewood
In the center of the island, in the edges of the mountain of Ai Yiannis we find the known Cave of Antiparos, one of the most beautiful and mysterious caves in the world. The cave was used as a refuge during Neolithic period and later on became a cult place of Goddess Artemis. The cave’s entrance is named “prothalamos” [antechamber] and is divided in 3 levels. The first and highest level is named “Kalimeni Platia” [Covered Square], while the second “Krifos Thalamos” [Secret Chamber]. The second part is separated with the first with a huge stalagmite, which is the most ancient in Europe (45 m. years) and is named “Peloria Kentriki Kolona” [Huge Central Column]. In the third level there is a small opening which is known as “Kripti” [Crypt]. The cave’s “heart” is divided in three halls: the first hall or “chamber of the stone waterfalls”, the second hall or “chamber of the cathedral” and the third hall or otherwise called “royal”. The “Katafygi” [shelter], as locals used to call the cave is located 171 meters above sea level, an area of 5,600 square meters and its maximum depth reaches 100 meters. It is the only upright cave in Greece without water in its interior, the descent of which is made through 400 steps. In the cave’s outdoor area two small churches were built, the one of Ai Yiannis Spiliotis and Zoodochos Pigi. In 1714 the church of Ai Yiannis is renovated by the Metropolitan
Bishop of Nafpaktos and Arta Neofitos Mavromatis. The inscriptions and engravings in stalagmites and stalactites evince its visitors. Some people claim that the Cyclope Polyphemus known by the Odyssey, son of Poseidon, used to live in the cave of Antiparos and was visited by Odysseus. Moreover, Archilochus, the Greek lyric poet from Paros, was reportedly the first known visitor. The enchanting decoration of the cave and the quaintness of its location inspired thousands of people through the years. Travelers of modern years visit the cave and feel awe and admiration at its sight. In December 1673, Marquis de Nointel, the French ambassador in Istanbul arrived in Antiparos along with Turks and other pirates to collect treasures for France.
The marquis was informed by few peasants about a colossal statue that brought him to the hill of Ais Yiannis. He reached the entrance to the Cave only to discover - to his disappointment - a huge stalagmite. However he did not leave and entered the cave with torches. He was dazzled not by some archaeological treasure, but by its wondrous decorative sculptures. Since it was Christmas eve, he decided to celebrate it and hold Christmas Mass in the cave. The following inscription was etched upon the stalagmite that had served as the Altar: HIC IPSE CHRISTUS ADFUIT EJUS NATALI DIE MEDIA NOCTE CELEBRATO MDCLXXIII [‘Christ himself was here and celebrated the day of His birth at midnight in 1673’]. The next three days De Nointel and 500 people more were entering the cave cutting stalactites and engraving their names. The French traveler Tournefort visited the cave and managed to read the following inscription: ‘Epi Kritonos ide ilthon Menandros, Soharmos, Menekratis, Antipatros, Ippomedon, Aristeas, Fileas, Gorgos, Diogenis, Filokratis, Onisimos.’ [Menander, Socharmos, Menecrates, Antipater, Hippomedon, Aristeus, Phileus, Gorgus, Diogenes, Philocrates, Onesimus], names which he renders skeptically to conspirators plotting against the life of Alexander the Great, and used the cave as refuge.