Greece, with its picturesque scenery and long, fabled history has become a magnet for tourists looking for a peek into the wonders of the past. Particularly in Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities and often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, one can find such legendary historical locations as the Acropolis of Athens, with its Parthenon, among countless other ancient ruins dotting the cityscape and surrounding countryside. Yet among this rich tapestry of history, there are other more enigmatic places that seem to be largely unknown to the droves of visitors who pour into Athens every year, which while relatively little known nevertheless are heavily wreathed in history and indeed weirdness. One such mysterious location can be found just to the north of Athens, and is a place at once steeped in history and high strangeness, dripping with tales of the paranormal, UFOs, and secret government conspiracies.
On the outskirts of Athens, Greece, located on the craggy south-western slope of Mt. Penteli and surrounded by ominous looking pine forests, is a bizarre cave mostly unknown to tourists, but very well-entrenched in the history of the area and also cloaked in mystery, folklore, and superstition, which is officially known as Penteli Cave, but also variously called Ntavelis’s Cave and the Davelis Cave. The cave is located within an ancient quarry from which was taken the marble used in the construction of such legendary structures as the Parthenon and Acropolis, which was moved down the mountain via carts and pulleys whose tracks can still be seen, along with the ancient road that once was used to reach it. It was in fact this excavation of precious marble that uncovered the entrance to the cave in the 5th century.
The mouth of the Penteli Cave seems mundane and innocuous enough, but penetrate into its cold dark recesses and it becomes clear that this is much more than it appears. The cave proper is 60 m long, 40 m wide, and 20 m high, and branches off into an impressive and intricate network of tunnels that snake deep underground, one of which leads up to a subterranean pond of water, and another that leads down into abysmal blackness that has long been claimed since ancient times to be the road to Hell itself. The finding of such a vast cave and tunnel network within the quarry must have been enough to inspire awe into the people of the time, and indeed the cave became a revered place which would go on to weave a rather colorful history. The cave was once a Panaipolion, a place of worship for followers of the Greek goat-like god Pan, who was considered to be the patron of shepherds, and many artifacts depicting Pan surrounded by nymphs have been found within the numerous passages here. There are also many small niches carved into the rock of the walls that are thought to have been for the purpose of displaying idols, statues, and offerings to Pan. There is also a hollow in one of the walls bearing a small pool of water for unknown purposes.
The cave went on to become a favored hideout for marauding cutthroat thieves, a haunt for mountain hermits, and a shelter for nomad monks and other holy people, some of whose remains have been found buried under the floor. In around the 11th century, two byzantine chapels were carved directly into the rock at its entrance which are rather unusual in the fact that they are interconnected, converging as one church within two sanctums and are said to be dedicated to Saint Spyridon and Saint Nicolas. The smaller of the chapels contains glyphs and engravings thought to have been produced by the anchorites, and there is a mural in the larger one depicting Michael Akominatos, the last Greek archbishop of Athens. Beyond these chapels lies the cave proper, with various passages that meander through the inky darkness past vast halls and impressive stalagmite formations.
One of the most popular historical legends concerning the cave came in the 19th century, when the notorious outlaw Davelis set his sights on it as a mountain hideout. Davelis at the time was considered to be an almost Robin Hood-like figure who was well-known for stealing from the rich and affluent. He and his band of robbers utilized the cave as a hideaway and it was said that the infamously womanizing brigand started an affair with a French noblewoman, the Duchess of Plakentia, who lived down the mountain in the Old Penteli village, or the modern Palaia Penteli community. Legend has it that a series of tunnels led all the way down through the mountain to a secret meeting place where the robber could meet his lover in secrecy, as well as to the nearby Pentelikon Monastery, and it is also said that a good amount of Davelis’ loot was hidden down within the remote corners of the cave where it remains to this day. Davelis’ reign of terror upon his wealthy high society targets would end when he was hunted down and killed near Mount Parnassos and his head paraded about on a stick in the Syntagma Square. It is the name of this legendary robber that gives the cave one of it nicknames, the Davelis Cave.
There is certainly a lot of interesting history surrounding the Davelis Cave, but perhaps even more intriguing is the amount of strange phenomena that has long been associated with it. Since its first discovery there have been bizarre tales spinning around the cave and its surroundings. Glowing orbs, strange creatures, and shadowy, mist-like human figures were often spotted prowling about in the darkness, and there has always been an intense sense of disorientation and dread that descends upon all who enter, as well as an indescribable thrumming atmosphere as a place of power, and indeed it is this palpable, thick mystical aura that is said to have made the cave such a magnet for monks and other religious groups. In the 19th century, visitors to the cave often told of hearing the ghostly sounds of music, talking, and laughter emanating from the depths of the caverns here. In more modern times, the area has become somewhat of a UFO hotspot, with numerous mysterious lights and orbs spotted flitting above it or within it. Cases of missing time and panic attacks have long been common here, as well as sudden blackouts or aberrant changes of behavior. There are also numerous reports of goat-like apparitions which appear to only vanish into thin air when approached, as well as the seemingly ever present humanoid shadow figures and even bipedal cat-like creatures. Attempts to photograph such strangeness is frustratingly confounded by the tendency for cameras and other electrical equipment to stop working when in the vicinity of the cave, or produce images of spectral shapes or orbs and streaks that were not present when the photos were taken. Other phenomena often reported from the area are magnetic and gravitational anomalies such as water flowing uphill or, in the case of one 200 m long road on the other side of the mountain, cars inexplicably rolling up inclines.
In the late 1960s, the various weird happenings circling the Cave of Penteli caused an intense interest from the paranormal community, and the area became a mecca for those looking into unexplained mysteries, including the famed investigator George Balanos, who in 1982 would later go on to write perhaps the most extensive compendium of the cave’s mysteries, The Riddle of Penteli, and subsequently bring the oddities of the cave to the mainstream consciousness. In 1977, there was a series of very odd occurrences reported from the surrounding craggy slopes of Mt. Penteli. In mid-April of 1977, a husband and wife allegedly spotted a car inexplicably perched upon an inaccessible rocky outcropping near the cave where no car could have possibly driven to. For three days in a row the couple returned to the location to see if it was still there and it was. When they climbed up to where the car was, they noticed that it was totally intact, displaying none of the damage that would normally be expected on a car trying to drive over the hostile rocky landscape, and in the snow surrounding the rocks were found a series of unusual large footprints which were oval shaped, about a meter long, and meandered up over rocks and even vertical surfaces where no human being would be able to walk. When the wife went to peek into a cavity in the rocks behind some bushes, she allegedly started screaming wildly and claimed that she had seen a hideous white creature of some sort which was 60 cm tall and sported two huge, luminous oval-shaped eyes. Although the husband did not see it, he did notice the bushes shake as if an animal were hidden behind them, and the panicked couple hastily left the scene. When the couple once again cautiously returned to the area a few days later out of curiosity, the car was reportedly still there and the husband claimed to see a huge, dark sphere apparently fashioned of thick black smoke spinning at a high speed emerge from the abandoned car. He would later claim that during the incident, which lasted for just a second, he had felt as though something were trying to enter or invade his mind.
Indeed 1977 would turn out to be a strange year for the area, and marks when the cave was suddenly closed to the public in what has perhaps led to one of the most inexplicable mysteries surrounding it. It was at this time that the whole area was cordoned off and some sort of top secret project was launched within the cave system by parties that remain nebulous, but which are believed to be some sort of secret government agency from an as yet named country. Bulldozers and other heavy machinery were brought in and dynamite was used to blast into the cave to apparently expand the tunnel system already in place and penetrate even further into the mountainside. It was a highly unusual thing to happen at such an archeologically and historically important site, but during this time the area was heavily patrolled by guards who forbade anyone from coming anywhere near it, and local authorities claimed that the project was under military jurisdiction. Bizarrely, it seemed as if there was nothing actually being built, but rather just an attempt to expand the cave system or otherwise delve deeper into the mountainside. All through this clandestine digging swirled rumors of who was responsible, with rumors pointing at everyone from NATO, to the United States, to the Greek government itself, but there was never any official admission as to who was behind it all.
Of course this thick veil of secrecy led to a plethora of conspiracy theories involving the somewhat sinister cave excavations, and speculation ran rampant. Theories ranged from the Greek government looking to exploit the caves for national defense reasons to the construction of some kind of nuclear weapon storage facility, a nuclear bunker, a secret scientific experiment facility, or some sort of radar or telecommunications base, but no one knew for sure. When the Greek government was approached by concerned citizens complaining about the potential damage to such a historically important site, the government merely stated that it was work involved with “national security,” which only further stoked the fires of conspiracy and mystery whirling about the whole project. Quite a few more far out conspiracy theories started to be flung about as well, including the idea that there was some mysterious magnetic channel connecting the cave to a base in Langley, West Virginia, and that the cave was being used in tandem with two other American military telecommunications installations in the region for some sort of top-secret research, perhaps something to do with an archeological find, the purported mystical qualities of the mountain, or even UFOs or research into opening inter-dimensional portals.
Although this secret excavation work was already odd enough as it was, the real strangeness came in 1983, when the whole project just suddenly halted before it was even apparently finished. Digging just suddenly stopped, and the heavy machinery and personnel were moved out, leaving only the barbed wire fences behind. Of course it would not be long before interested parties started sneaking past the now unguarded fences to take a look inside. It became immediately obvious that the digging had caused irreparable damage to the churches and other spots of archeological importance within the cave system, and numerous new tunnels and concrete walls had been constructed, some of them only half completed. It was found that some tunnels that had been recently carved into the rock led to dead ends and that still other passages, including naturally formed tunnels of the cave system, had been blocked off and sealed for unknown reasons. There was also some heavy digging machinery within the cave that had just been abandoned where it lie, as well as a cache of drugs used for the treatment of cancer.
Even more bizarrely were footprints that were pressed into concrete that seemed to lead up to a dead end and simply stopped, with no indication of the person who had made them turning around to go back. It was also found that the entrance of the cave was pervaded by a large amount of ozone, and some of the remaining tire tracks of various vehicles seemed to lead over rough terrain and slopes too steep for any known vehicle to be able to feasibly navigate, yet there they were. Creepily, at one point during all of this exploration of the cave in the wake of the government’s departure, it was reported that a doll once appeared up on a perilous cliff on the nearby mountainside and when someone climbed up to remove it, a seemingly identical doll was found in the same spot the next day. Over the years, it has been rumored that occult groups and Satanists use the abandoned caves for rituals and even animal sacrifices, evidenced by several slaughtered dogs found within the caves as well as a large amount of graffiti featuring occult imagery and the remnants of “black magic rituals.” In 1990, mysterious construction seemed once again ready to resume in the cave, but this time, the Greek Ministry of Culture intervened to put a stop to it before it could begin.
In recent years, the Cave of Penteli is still a spot that draws curiosity seekers and paranormal investigators from all over the world, yet its isolated mountainous location and lack of a modern road leading to it make it only accessible by a long trek over rocky terrain, allowing it to remain mostly free of casual tourists. Nevertheless, the cave has seen quite a bit of abuse over the years. Garbage litters the floor and the entrance, and there is a lot of vandalism and graffiti, including various messages etched into the rock walls by past visitors. A massive forest fire in July 1995 that spread throughout much of Mt. Penteli has reduced much of the surrounding pine forest to black, skeletal shapes that only add to the sinister quality that even now hangs in the air here. It is rather sad that such an ancient and potentially important archeological site has been so neglected and damaged, but its remote location has made preserving it difficult. The cave remains a place known for its many strange phenomena and weird history more than anything else, and is certainly a stop to make for anyone looking for a peek at something different and off the beaten path while in Greece.