Caves of Paros

Interview: Alexandros Sgardelis

Worlds of silence and darkness, always mystical and evocative, the caves hold a special fascination and a strange mixture of fear, excitement and an exploratory wish along with a feeling of something both otherworldly and inexplicably familiar.

“In Greece, due to its geological relief, there are over ten thousand registered caves. The caves are ancient natural monuments and play a regulatory role in the country’s hydro geological basins. They are considered to be extremely sensitive ecosystems, nature reserves of rare or threatened with extinction species. They have archaeological, paleontological, environmental, aesthetic and tourist significance. That’s why they must be protected. But in order to be protected, they must be registered first.” This was the closing phrase of a presentation of Paros caves at the Archilochus hall last winter by Giorgos Anoussakis, the youngest and most enthusiastic amateur speleologist of Paros.
His curiosity for the unknown and his love for nature urged him to get involved in the exploration and the mapping of the island’s caves, with selflessness and dedication.

How did you decide to get involved in Speleology?
I’ve had the exploration bug since I was a child, like all my friends. We walked on the mountain, we took excursions, we went hiking, we explored abandoned houses at the village of Marpissa and naturally we listened to stories told by the grownups about various places and events. In one of these stories I heard from my father about the Cave of the Demons at Lagada, which he had visited when he was a child. Some years later, in September 2005, while I was still a school boy we decided with a group of friends to find the Cave of the Demons. We went up to the Agios Georgios monastery, we walked to the mountain’s back side and began looking for the cave’s entrance. After some time, we found it and we carried out our first reconnaissance exploration. It was an indescribable sensation. In 2012, I decided to attend a seminar by the Hellenic Speleological Society (H.S.S), the oldest speleological association in Greece and I became a member. It was founded in 1950 by the couple of Yiannis and Anna Petrochilou and decisively contributed to the protection and promotion of the Greek caves which constitute a part of our cultural heritage.

How did you decide to start registering and mapping the caves?
In 2014 at the initiative of the Marpissa Women Association and myself, the H.S.S. visits Paros. We visited the Cave of the Demons and in the next two days we visited two new locations.
Later, the H.S.S. wrote an article about the speleological research carried out at Paros, with data and notes about some locations. It was then that I realized I could also contribute to this as an offer to my island. Thus, before the return of the H.S.S. to Paros I had mapped eight caves. Now, I carry on with registering the island’s caves because in this way they are acknowledged and given a speleological registry number.

What do you like most in cave exploration?
What instigates my interest in cave exploration is the collection of information from people, mainly old locals, who know the region well. Then you have to search either by yourself or together with the person who gave the information. You get to know places, place names and you walk in places you had never been before. The exciting part is the moment when you enter the cave -you often have to crawl, to get dirty and scratch yourself. But in the end nature always rewards you with unique pictures as it only knows how!

To what degree have your speleological activities developed?
Following the cave registering and exploration I’ve had my fist contact with a bio speleologist who asked me to collect cave organisms, not registered on the island. They are called dolichopoda, a species of locust, a troglobitic organism living and feeding in caves, which cannot live outside them. I gave him some samples which are now at the Zoological Museum of Athens University and La Sapienza University in Rome where they are under study. According to the first results the Parian dolichopoda are related to those of Naxos -the D. Naxia. Since 2016 I cooperate with the Speleology and Paleoanthropology Ephorate, providing them with data from my investigations inside the caves. This joint work, still under way, has provided significant evidence about the island’s past. This service belongs to the Culture Ministry and is responsible for the investigation, protection and supervision of caves in Greece. So far there have been 35 registered locations -20 of them have been mapped- and we hope that this will expand to cover all of them.

Summer 2018