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Agia Sofia Cave in Topolia (Wisdom of God)

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Place description

Cave of Agia Sofia is located at the narrowest point of the Topolia gorge on its western edge, and merely 2 km from Topolia village. The Agia Sofia Cave is situated above a slender, stone-built road tunnel leading to the Elafonisi region. Named after the small chapel, measuring 6 by 3 meters, that is uniquely positioned at the cave’s entrance, sharing its left side wall, the cave is reached via a path that ascends from the road level, incorporating steps in certain sections, and climbs to 285 meters above sea level, culminating at a magnificent arched entrance measuring 25 by 10 meters.

Within, the cave unfolds into a vast single dome, 70 meters in diameter and with a variable height of 10 to 20 meters, segmented into smaller areas by dramatic stalagmites. These formations are particularly notable for their sheer size, some reaching heights of 5 to 6 meters, and are yet to connect with their stalactite counterparts above, missing each other by 4 to 5 meters, underscoring the cave’s grand scale. Visitors can closely observe these spectacular formations, the variety of shapes in stalactites and stalagmites, and the algae that swathes portions of the walls in a dark green hue, creating a scene of natural wonder.

The cave holds significance across archaeological, historical, and biological dimensions. Discoveries within include a 4th century B.C. clay figure, shells from the Neolithic, Classical, and Roman periods, and pottery from the Neolithic, Minoan, and Graeco-Roman eras. It is also the exclusive habitat of the Pholcus Creticus spider, making it a steno-endemic site, where a species exists solely in one particular locale.

The cave is shrouded in an array of myths and legends, including one about St. George’s shoehorn, which is said to have left a hoof imprint of his horse on a rock within the cave, a mark that can indeed be found. Another tale recounts Cretan soldiers retrieving the icon of Sophia Wisdom of God from the grand Justinian temple after the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks. This icon was later discovered lodged against a rock inside the cave, precisely at the location where the chapel now stands.

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