Among the most important caves in Heraklion Prefecture, and significant monuments for the whole of Crete, are the artificial caves of the Labyrinth and the Little Labyrinth. These were once the quarries of ancient Gortyn, cut into the south and north sides of the smooth hill south of Moroni village.
The Labyrinth Cave, on the south side of the hill, consists of a complex network of manmade galleries with a total length of 2,500 metres. Opening out from the galleries are many rock-hewn chambers with huge walls and columns. In many chambers are traces and graffiti left by travellers and visitors from the 15 century AD onwards. The scattered sherds of Roman pots and lamps demonstrated that the cave has been in use since antiquity.
The famous myth of the Cretan labyrinth contains many important elements which still survive today in legends, tales and archaeological sources. The myth of the labyrinth has been a source of inspiration for great artists from ancient times down to the present day.
During the German occupation of Crete in Second World War, the cave was used as an ammunition dump. On their departure in 1945, the Germans blew up the cave entrance with a large amount of explosives, causing widespread damage to almost the entire cave, with roof cave-ins at many points. After the war, attempts were made to clear the entrance and remove the munitions, but most of it is still there. Many young locals died in their search for ammunition, paying a “sacrifice” to the spirit of the Minotaur of ancient legend.
In recent years there have been efforts to promote and exploit the cave, which remains closed for safety reasons. Visitors can gain an impression of the Labyrinth by visiting the Little Labyrinth on the north side of the hill. Tradition has it that the Little Labyrinth communicates with the Labyrinth cave through secret passages. This is quite possible, as the caves are only a short distance away and large sections have been sealed off by rockfalls. The Little Labyrinth, with a total length of 120 metres, is a miniature version of the Labyrinth in both features and structure.