Ancient Greek myth tells the tale of King Minos constructing an elaborate maze to contain the ghastly product of his wife’s adulterous bestiality: the flesh-eating, bull-man hybrid known as the Minotaur. Until very recently, this story was thought to have little basis in real events, though some archaeologists had claimed that the ruins of Knossos display a slight resemblance to the legendary labyrinth.
However, a team of researchers has excavated an overlooked series of chambers and tunnels snaking beneath a quarry at Gortyn, a mere 20 miles distance from the former palace at Knossos, and pronounced it to be the primary candidate for the mythical labyrinth. For more than two-and-a-half miles the Labyrinthos Caves, as locals call them, take visitors on a disorienting trip through a series of intertwining passageways interspersed with widened rooms—on such is the eerily named “Altar Chamber”—and dead ends.
While there is a limit to which the precise history of these caves will be discovered, explorers have tried for centuries to unravel its mysteries. The first foreign traveler to visit Gortyn was in 1415, who wrote of his experiences,
“There is to the east a first corridor of two hundred steps. Another one with a northern direction seems to be endless. At least that’s what the locals claim. We observe many galleries, entangling one another and all of which seem to come back to the point where they begin…”
This account suggests he fared better in the tunnels than the next visitor, Englishman Bernard Randolph, who in 1680 spent an hour in the passages and advanced no more than 100 meters, as measured by the ball of yarn he’d used to mark his trail. Randolph’s report merely stated that he saw lots of bats.
Labyrinthos Caves have also been associated with their share of modern day gore, though of a different nature than that wrought by the Minotaur. Louis XVI sent spies to the caves for clandestine purposes, and the Nazis used them for an ammunition dump during the Second World War.
Regardless of whether they were once the home and battlefield of a grotesque Grecian lovechild, the Labyrinthos Caves have already earned their spot on the short list of history buffs.
Know Before You Go
Precise location has not yet been disclosed to the public, though it is said to occupy a large area beneath the quarry at Gortyn, on the Greek isle of Crete. A smaller cave, known as Lavyrinthaki Cave, is accessible, though it's said to be infested with bats and wasps.