The Diros Cave was one of the highlights of our tour around the Peloponnese. We stayed in Limenio for a couple of days, and from there it was a short drive to the cave. We arrived early in the morning and had to park way up the mountain, get our tickets and walk down the hill towards the entrance to the cave. There is a small pebble beach next to the road and some visitors took the time to dip in the water as the humidity and heat began building up. We entered the cave and to our surprise the thing we noticed first was the large cloud of smoke that was lingering about. The staff of ferrymen and assistants smoked in the cave and as the entrance is so small the smoke just lingered about the place. We stood in line and were fitted with life jackets before we entered the tiny wooden ferries two by two to the total of eight or ten. We were instructed to remain seated and not to extend our hands outside the boats as we began our journey through the cave propelled by the standing ferryman who used a long stick to push the boat along.
Diros cavern is a magical place. An underground river is responsible for the crystal waters, and the underground space meanders gracefully about through the glistening textures of stalactites and stalagmites of all sizes and shapes. The halogen lights that have been placed throughout the cave reveal the large gamut of colors and textures created by natural forces over thousands of years. We glided over the surface of the crystal clear waters effortlessly and were guided through large areas with tall ceilings while other times we squeezed through tiny openings of the cave. Our ferryman explained (in Greek only) a little bit about the facts and the history of the cave, but most of the time he recited the names of the different rooms that we traveled through, or he pointed out interesting stalactite formations that had acquired descriptive names.
I am not a speleologist but it seemed to me that the large amount of tourist traffic is taking its' toll on the fragile ecosystem of the cave. There was a great deal of stalactites with flat ends which did not look to be a natural occurrence, and the constant pushing against the wall caves with the ferryman's stick and often by the heavy boat itself is bound to leave its' marks. As it is, it is a real treat to be able to go through such mythical space. It is no surprise that the ancient Greeks considered the area around cape Tenaro to be one of the entrances to Hades and the underworld. The Diros cavern as well as the multitude of other smaller earth cavities around the area must have contributed greatly to the mythology of the place. In fact, as we glided peacefully over the water's surface I thought of the ancient myths regarding the passage to the underworld and the underground landscape of Diros seemed to be a fitting backdrop to such stories.
The ancient Greeks believed that a deceased was carried by the god Hermes (Mercury) to the water and then he/she was escorted by Charon, the ferryman, across an underground lake or river to their last resting place in Hades. He received as payment an "Obolos" coin which the family usually placed in the mouth of the dead to ensure their safe passage to the underworld. Without the Obolos, Charon would refuse passage and the soul would be doomed to wander in the world of the living forever. Such beliefs guided ancient Greeks to build sanctuaries and Nekromanteia in places where they believed passages to the underworld existed. The most well known nekromanteio exists by the river Acheron, while the sanctuary of Poseidon in Cape Tenaro, near the Diros cavern, was also recently identified as an important shrine of the Dead.
While the mythology of death has no direct connection to the Diros cave itself, cape Tenaro as a whole was a spiritual place for ancient Greeks, and sites such as the Diros cavern are volatile fuel for anyone's imagination.