Topolia Gorge & Agia Sofia Cave. Topolia the gorge of Topolia (Topoliano) is located at west Crete and it runs along the road leading to Elafonissi via Elos. The canyon actually starts near the village Strovles at an altitude of 450 m, and exits near the village Topolia, at an altitude of 150 m. However, the narrowest and most impressive hiking part of the gorge is located between Katsomatados and Topolia, where the side rocks are very high and steep. The canyon is crossed by the River Tyflos, which originates from Mount Dikeos. At the beginning of the narrow part, it is worth visiting the Cave of Agia Sofia, located just above the main road.
The canyon and the wider area hosts rare and endemic plants of Crete, while the Cave of St. Sophia houses a species of cave spider that lives only there (Pholcus creticus). According to local traditions, Topolia Gorge hosted fairies and the Minoan goddess Vritomartis. Here, the legendary Talos used to stop and enjoy the divine music of the fairies. When Talos arrived in the place, rested inside a big cave, drank water and fell asleep. Then, the fairies and elves of the river arrived, singing and dancing. Just after Topolia, you will go through a small tunnel. Exactly at the tunnel’s exit, high up on your right, you will see the opening of a cave and an unusual metallic star reflecting the sun’s rays.
This is the entrance to an interesting cave named for Agia Sofia.
From the street level you have to climb quite a few steps, then continue walking through a small path. As you get closer to the cave, you realize the opening is actually quite big, and little by little the roof of a quaint church begins to appear on the left. Actually, the church is situated inside the cave itself, which is why they both bear the same name.
Upon entering the cave of Agia Sofia, you suddenly realize that it is in fact quite large (almost the size of a cathedral). According to official findings the cave of Agia Sofia is at an elevation of 285 meters, and includes a cupola 20 meters high and 70 meters in diameter with variform stalactites (deposits which hang down from the ceiling of the cave) and stalagmites (deposits that project upward from the ground of the cave). Many ancient objects were discovered at this location, including shells from the Neolithic period.
After taking a few hesitant steps until the eyes adjust to the dim light, continue towards the little church, which is in the front on the left side of the cave, and actually forms one of the church’s walls. The church is small and quite ordinary, without any architectural or hagiographical features. What makes it unique is the sense of space once you are inside.
Returning to the outside cave again, with eyes that are now hopefully accustomed to the darkness of the area, we begin our exploration.
The size of the stalagmites is truly unbelievable, with some of them measuring a staggering five to six meters. The stalactites are approximately the same dimensions. But they are still a long way from joining in the middle – in fact they are still about four to five meters apart – which will give you some idea of the size of this cave (think of a five story building and you’ll get the picture).
Information. Difficulty level – easy. Distance – 1,5 km. Accessible with the car.