From Aghia Marina, it is a 30 minute walk south to the important and puzzling site of the *cave of Ellinokamára. (The cave is currently unsigned: to reach it, take the north circuit road through Aghia Marina, passing a restored windmill, beyond which the road divides. Take the right fork, past the church of Aghios Phanourios, and continue straight along the road which soon becomes a ferrous-coloured track between stone walls. Where the right-hand wall ends, you take another walled pathway which leads uphill, diagonally to the left. By the ruined, rectangular, stone building at the top of the rise, cross over the wall to the right and drop down to find the cave entrance, which looks due north, a short distance below.)
What is seen from outside is a low irregularly shaped entrance to a natural cave, meticulously closed by a massive wall of dressed, rectangular stone blocks (some as large as 200cm x 60cm, and over 100cm deep) laid in parallel courses, with a central doorway leading into the cave. The masonry is typical of 4th century BC, Hellenistic building and fortification, but could even be as early as the late 5th century BC. Given the hidden site and its commanding view (from the mountains of eastern Crete to the coast of Karpathos), it cannot be excluded that the cave was used as a strategic look-out post, similar in purpose to the towers found on other islands. The carefully cut steps and platforms in the bed-rock before the entrance, however, would seem to suggest that at some period there has been a cultic use of this cave. There may even have been some built structures in front of the entrance. Inside the entrance, the doorway is framed symmetrically by the base of other walls in rectangular blocks, forming a small vestibule.
The interior of the cave is not large (c. 20m x 13m), but interpreting it is complicated by the fact that there has been extensive adaptation of the space with later construction. A stone wall of later date, with square apertures runs perpendicular to the entrance, and another (less clear) runs parallel to it to the west, dividing the interior into a central dromos and two lateral chambers. On the floor of the cave are fragments from an early Byzantine use of the cave: a ‘fluted' stone support with pommel, which formed part of an early church screen, lies directly ahead of the entrance.
Finds within the cave from prehistoric to Byzantine times, including fragments of Linear A and B script, show a very ancient and continuous use of the cave; but there is nothing which shows conclusively that it was ever a chthonic sanctuary in antiquity, which would be a plausible hypothesis for such a type of site. Its function may well have altered with time, from cultic to strategic, and then back to cultic in Christian times, finishing simply as a place of refuge in more recent history. An important element of its significance may have been a spring within the cave which has since dried.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)