The cavern of Milatos

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The cavern of Milatos is located near the village Milatos, in northwestern Lasithi. It’s accessible by foot (10 minutes), from a paved trail that starts 2.5km east of the village. The cavern is organized for visitors, even though there are several dark spots that require a flashlight to be explored. It consists of numerous small chambers on different levels and there is no charge to enter.

In the cavern of Milatos, in February 1823 took place a terrible tragedy. In the winter of 1822-23, Hasan Pasha and his army acted against the Lasithi Plateau, destroying it. The surrounding areas were next, so the villagers were forced to evacuate their homes and head to the caves.

The residents of Neapoli, Latsida, Boulismeni and Milatos, all headed towards the cavern of Milatos.

A Turkish person from Boulismeni, however, called Terzalis (also known as Deres), informed Hasan Pasha that the locals had hidden in the cavern of Milatos. He immediately ordered his second in command, Husein Bei, to attack with 5000 soldiers. The Cretan captains tried to stop Husein, causing his army severe casualties. However, the Turks managed to surround the cavern, in which apart from the unarmed people, 150 soldiers resided.

The Turks’ siege began in February the 3rd and lasted for many days. The besieged, apart from the Turks, had to deal with hunger, thirst and the stench from the bodies that were piling up. It’s also said that 40 children were born in the cavern, during the siege.

The Turks brought cannons and started bombarding the cavern, while the besieged were waiting for help from the outside. Indeed, 2500 Greeks came to their aid, but the Turks had gained the strategic positions and the numbers necessary to deflect them.

The Turks called for the besieged to surrender, swearing that they would remain unharmed, but they were not believed. On February the 15th, the Turks lit a fire in the entrance of the cavern, and that resulted in the cavern being filled with smoke. The smoke caused the besieged to try and escape. The first ones out were the warriors.

The Turks, despite the reassurance of Hasan Pasha, slaughtered 30 of the warriors, leading the women and children to panic and start running. With ropes and chains, they tied up whoever tried to escape and led them to Neapoli. The women were tied together, using their braids, and the most beautiful one was offered as a slave to the Pasha.

The Elderly were moved to Grambelles, where the cavalry ran them over with their horses. Their heads were chopped off and used to set up a pyramid in an opening, which was floundered as a trophy. All of the infants were slaughtered and their mothers were sold as slaves. All 18 priests that were in the cavern were slaughtered or burned alive, after they had first cut off the 3 fingers that they used to symbolize the cross.

That was the end of the story of the cavern of Milatos. It’s remarkable that the heinous crimes committed by Hasan Pasha in Lasithi and Milato, were repaid a few days later. On his way to Milato, he camped in the Planes of Kasteli, planning to head to Mesara. While he was riding in the planes, his horse suddenly went wild and dropped him, instantly killing him. He was buried in the yard surrounding Agios Titos in Heraklion.

Historians claim that the besieged were 200-3700 unarmed and 150-300 warriors. Other reports speak of 5000 people. Despite that, the numbers are considered to be overstated, since the cavern can not hold so many people, while the area’s population was not that big either.

However, the real number can easily be over 1000, which was either way another tragic page in the history of the Cretan Revolution.

To commemorate this sacrifice, an engraved sign was placed at the entrance of the cavern and in the interior, a small chapel and ossuary were built.

The cavern has 8 entrances that extend to a length of 40m. The main entrance has a width of 9m and a height of 2m. The right-most entrance provides daylight to the chamber where the chapel of Agios Thomas lies. Both entrances lead to the main cavern. On the other hand, the rest of the entrances lead to the left-most part of the cavern, which is smaller.

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