Éditions Jonglez - 2010-08-04
Just four kilometers west of the port of Tinos, there lies a small, strange, seaside cave that holiday spenders and even most of the locals are unaware about, most probably because its entrance is obscured by formations of white rocks, making it invisible from the sea, and hard to find by land.
The cave of ‘Gastria’, as it is called, can be found by reaching the also non-popular and relatively unknown beach called ‘Plateia Ammos’ (‘Wide Sand’) – or ‘The beach of the German’, named this way simply because a German has built there an imposing Mediterranean villa. When on the beach, one sees a chapel on top of a small cape on the west; this is the catholic chapel of Saint Stephan, and it’s the destination you should follow in order to reach the cave. When at the chapel start walking a few meters down south, towards the sea, and you’ll notice how the rock is changing color from brown to white. This is where the entrance to the cave is found. Before entering, be sure to have with you a strong flashlight, be prepared to crawl at certain sections, and be aware of the bats! There are narrow points not for the claustrophobic or non-flexible ones!
The part of the cave next to the entrance is a rather wide space, but further down, it gets narrow and you should actually crawl on your knees to fit. This is where you start noticing, under the beam of your flashlight, strange carvings on the wall. Some of them are the usual graffiti by the occasional modern-day visitor, a name, and a date – this cave has been favorite among adventurous youths throughout the years, and you do indeed see inscriptions dating back many years back – but what is really interesting is the Byzantine scriptures carved on certain parts of the tunnel walls, some of them prayers to the Virgin Mary or the saints, asking for salvation and mercy. These graffiti have been dated back to Paleochristian times, and evoke a sense of mystery and antiquity. The reason why these are found here is because this cave has been used by Christians as a hiding place away from pirates or the Ottoman conquerors, and while crawling on your knees to get through the narrow passage toward the end of the cave, imagining people hiding in there in agony, hoping to escape the slaughter, seven hundred years ago, gives a creepy and fascinating atmosphere to your little adventure.
After about 50 meters of walking and crawling, you might be surprised to find high-ceilinged, underground cavernous hall, with a mysterious stone altar sitting in the middle. Some say that the worship of Saint Stephan from the chapel above moved down to this hall, and others say that this place is actually linked via a long underground, secret tunnel, to the castle of Xobourgo, a huge rock standing almost 700 meters above sea level, just north of the port, where stood the medieval acropolis and fortress of the island. The same legend says that the inhabitant of the old acropolis, used to flee their castle via this tunnel when they were under pirate threat, hence the inscribed pleads for divine help on the cave walls.
One other legend talks about a golden piglet and her golden pigs that was lying in this cave, but both the tunnel and pig theories have not been proven by now. Looking for a possible entrance to the alleged tunell leading to the old castle, one does find a hole in the floor, filled with water, and the crumbled cave walls all around do testify to a possible blocking of such a tunell by a rock slide. Urban legends aside, the cave of Gastria, is urely, a place worthy of more scientific research, and one offering an atmospheric expedition taking you a millennium back.
Leaving the cave, you’re back in reality – a jetski is polluting the air with its buzz, and a cruiser passes close the coast, taking passengers to nearby Mykonos…
NB: please make sure that you and the people accompanying you are sufficiently physically fit to visit this site and that you are properly equipped, particularly with good shoes.ViaMichelin cannot, in any way, be held responsible for accidents.