In February 1823, between 2.500 – 3.000 mothers and children from the villages of Voulismeni, Latsida and Milatos, along with 150 armed men, found refuge in the cave of Milatos in order to avoid the troops of Hasan Pasha that had caused severe damage to the city of Lasithi.
The Cave of Milatos, is located East of Milatos, 12km far from Malia (west) and 33 from Agios Nikolaos city at the east. Its height is 155m. The cave has eight small and larger entrances, covering a space of 40m with three different levels.
Unfortunately, some Turk from Voulismeni, named Terzalis or Deres, descending from a family of traitors (that of Venetian Draganiges), heard of the Greeks hiding in the cave and notified Hasan Pasha. The latter sent Mohammed Ali Houssein Bey, his brother in law, with 5000 men to arrest them. The captains of Merabello, who had their own people in the cave, started a series of combats and although their ammunition was deficient, they managed to dilapidate the Turkish troops.
The siege of the cave was taking long and many Turks were killed as the hostages were also striking from within. Food supplies and water were running short in the cave making hunger and thirst the main enemy of the “imprisoned” Greeks. Whilst the elderly started to pass away, newborns were adding to the population inside the cave. During the siege 40 babies were born.
The Turks added more cannons to their weaponry and stroke the entry of the cave from the opposite bulge. In an attempt to protect themselves the besieged were piling their mattresses and their blankets up at the mouth of the cave. The enemy was calling them out to surrender, promising that they wouldn’t hurt them. The Christians did not believe the Turkish promises and refused to give in. They were waiting for their captains to come and save them. And quite rightly, as the captains of Merabello and Lasithi came with 2500 men to their assistance. They had to face Hasan Pasha’s army that numbered 16000 men, cannons, plenty of ammunition and food.
The battle was uneven. Most of the armed men that were staying in the cave, decided to leave at night and join their captains. The siege lasted for 22 days. As time went by, the hostages inside the cave had to face not only their hunger and the lack of water but also the stench of the dead ones. In order to force the Christians to leave the cave, the Turks lit fire in front of the cave and filled it with smoke. Not being able to breathe, the Greeks had to exit the cave.
The ones that came out first were the armed men. As soon as they left the cave, Houssein took back his promises and vows about not hurting them and ordered: “kill the giaours!” Thirty of the first men were killed instantly in the face of the women and children that followed who were so shocked that they started running off in different directions “like scared birds chased by the hawk”. The Turks stopped them and started to tie them up. The women were tied up in pairs by their strands. The rest were tied in with ropes and chains and were lead to location “Agoroi”; from there they were taken to the new village and Houssein gave the prettiest girl to Pasha as his slave.
Under the commands of Hassan Pasha the elderly were separated (about 500) and were lead to “Grambelles” location were his cavalry trod down on them and killed them. Then they cut off their heads and piled them up into a pyramid. 18 of them were priests who were either killed or burnt alive after they had their three fingers, that they used to cross themselves, chopped off. They slaughtered the babies and sold their mothers as slaves.
That was the end of the Milatos cave drama. The crimes that Hassan Pasha committed were to come back his way after a few days. He was leaving the area of Milatos heading towards Messara, but decided to camp at Casteli. He went out for a trot around Casteli downs but his horse bolted and threw him off its back. The fall was so sudden and bad that he died on the spot. He was buried in the yard of Agios Titos in Herakleion.
In 1937 a small temple dedicated to Agios Thomas was built inside the cave were some of the bones of the killed ones are buried too. Every year, on St. Thomas’ day (which in christian orthodox religion is always on a Sunday) people honour the drama of Milatos cave and a prayer for the dead is chanted.Bibliography:“I Kriti” by Stergios Spanakis“Apomnimonevmata tou peri tis aftonomias tis Ellados polemou ton Kriton” by K. Kritovoulides“Istoria tis Kritis” by I. Mourellou.
Places near Milatos Cave
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It is said that the first man who colonized the area was Sarpidon, Minoas’ brother and according to Apollodoros (3,1,2) Milatos was established by Militos, son of Apollo and Aria, Kleohos’ grandson. This city has been the metropolitan city of the Ionian Militos. Milatos (the Dorian name of Militos) throve from the Classical to the Hellenistic times, when it got destroyed by Liktioi (about 200 BC), (Stravon β’, 10, p.479). Excavations in the area have discovered objects of Minoan art as well as Mycenean tombs and vases of Mycenean order, clues that indicate the city’s prehistoric past. It seems that the ancient city was on today’s Castello hill. The city is also mentioned by Stravon (β’, 12, p.570), Pausanias (Fok. K. 30) and others. Milatos was Pindareos’ homeland who, according to mythology, stole Zeus’ dog and gave it to Tantalos.
Zeus killed Pindareos and his wife and left their three daughters (Aedona, Cleothera and Merope), orphan virgins, to be brought up by Aphrodite. Hera gave them wisdom and beauty, Artemis gave them a good body posture and Athena taught them the feminine virtues. When Aphrodite went to ask Zeus to provide a happy marriage for her dependants, the Harpies snatched the virgin daughters of Pindareos and gave them to Erinyes (female chthonic deities of vengeance) to have them as their slaves.