The Nida plain (right) beneath the Idean Cave, the cave itself, and Mt. Ida (Mt. Psiloritis), highest mountain in Crete at 2456meters/8,055feet, all took their ancient name from a word meaning 'wooded place', which it must have been in Minoan times. The cave is at 1500 meters/4920feet and was inhabited during Neolithic times (4th millennium BC). It was first excavated in 1884 and again in 1917 and 1956, the last excavation undertaken by Spiros Marinatos, (who excavated the village of Akrotiri in Santorini after the famous volcanic explosion of around 1450BC).
Like most caves in Crete, the Idean cave was, at various times a habitation and at others a place of refuge from danger. In early Minoan times, it was a place of the cult worship of a god of vegetation, and later of Zeus, according to legend, hidden in the cave by his mother so that his father Kronos wouldn't swallow him as his done his siblings. Though locals are certain that this was the cave where Zeus was raised, there have been other contenders (Mt. Dhikti in Lasithi province for one).
The cave (left) was considered sacred and was a place of pilgrimage, one of its visitors being Pythagoras. Excavations unearthed a building dated to 1600BC with very thick walls, within which was found a bull rhyton and three vases. Burnt timber, broken pots pointed to the probably occurrence of earthquakes. Also found was a potter's workshop with a wheel, bronze tools, vases, and a pit for preparing the clay. Votive offering from the 9th century BC up through Roman times were found there, including bronze and terracotta figurines, basins, wine jars, gold and ivory objects, as well as tripod cauldrons. Many of these finds are housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Also of great interest were ivory objects from the Near East, including some from north Syria, dated from the 8th to 7th centuries BC.
The climb to summit of Mt. Ida from the cave takes about seven or eight hours round-trip, and is not advised to be undertaken solo, or in early spring (as there might still be snow on the ground). There are shelters and chapels along the way. Take supplies and sleeping gear, just in case you need to spend a night somewhere. The summit can also be reached from the Amari villages to the west, and though the peak is visible most of the way, there are no marked trails. You can also reach the summit from the south, from Kamares. It was in the Kamares Cave that the famous Kamares ware pottery was found (see Heraklion Archaeological Museum). The Grave of author Nikos Kazantzakis with a snow covered Mt. Ida in the back ground.