Davelis' Cave, just outside Athens, is one of the most notorious locations in the entire country, shunned and feared by many. It seems to have the power, even today, to generate strange stories of paranormal phenomena.
It lies high on the almost-sheer south-western slopes of Pendeli, to the north of Athens, beneath a spectacular cliff, which forms part of the ancient quarries from which the marble for the Parthenon was taken. Tales of the paranormal cluster around this mountain, and particularly around Davelis' Cave itself. During the nineteenth century, resin collectors, who would gather together in the evenings after their long day's work, would hear musical instruments, voices raised in laughter and song, and other sounds of celebration, coming through the trees after dusk where no humans were. Shepherds would see lights moving in places known to be deserted. They would say that the neraides were dancing. Tales of strange creatures encountered on the mountain, from huge bats to horned men, were, and still are, common among local people.
In the eastern end of the cave mouth are two ancient Byzantine chapels. One lies against the cave wall, and is the more ancient, being entirely cut out of the rock, while the other has been added on later. The dome of the second is inscribed with the date 1234 (or 1274). A mural in this chapel representing Michael Akominatos, the last Greek archbishop of Athens before its conquest by the Crusaders in 1205 has been removed to the Byzantine Museum in Athens. A space under the floor was used as an ossuary, and contained the bones of the hermits or monks who once lived there.
The smaller chapel contains several engravings on the natural wall of the cave, probably made by anchorites. These may be older than either of the churches, and may date from as early as the seventh century. Some structures within Davelis' Cave are of unknown purpose.
Behind these constructions lies the large domed cavern itself. Niches and pedestals on the walls once held statues and offerings. On the far side from the chapels is a strange stalagmite formation and a passage leading downwards. On the other side a small pool in a hollow in the wall, while at the rear, a second chamber used to be separated from the main hall by a curtain wall of stalagmites, and at the rear a tunnel once led to subterranean galleries, which were the subject of much speculation. The seventeenth century Turkish traveller, Evlia Tselepi, claimed that he was taken through extensive underground galleries by a monk of Pendeli, and it seems likely that their entrance was by means of Davelis' Cave. Even today, on a hot summer afternoon, the air inside is cooled by draughts of cold air coming from deep inside the mountain.
The cave is known as "Davelis' Cave" from a nineteenth century brigand who used it as a hideout. A shepherd of the Pendeli Monastery, he was falsely accused of theft by the abbot, and later killed a gendarme who mistakenly tried to arrest him under the impression that he was a deserter from the army. He soon had his own small company of followers, and came to acquire an undeserved reputation as a champion of the poor; but he robbed travellers, preyed upon defenceless villagers, and enjoyed romantic liaisons with various society ladies while on the run.
From his hideaway in the cave on the side of Mount Pendelis, which bears his name today, he would, according to local people, engage in romantic trysts with the rich and eccentric Duchess of Plaisance, using an underground tunnel which connected the cave to her mansion, the Villa Rododaphne. He became a national hero when an Anglo-French military force temporarily occupied Piraeus, and he kidnapped a French officer on the road between the port and the city. His career ended when he was pursued and killed near Mount Parnassos, and his head taken to Athens and displayed on a pike in Syntagma Square.
In his book Attica, John L. Tomkinson refers to the argument that 'Davelis' is a corruption of a form of the word 'devil', and that the cave was originally dedicated to the worship of Pan (often stigmatized as the devil by the Church) and the nymphs. Another small cave discovered higher up the mountainside, and hidden for centuries by quarry rubble, contained two plaques as offerings to the nymphs, which are now in the National Museum.
The mysteries of Davelis' Cave by no means ceased with the end of the nineteenth century. In 1977 the military appropriated it, and used bulldozers to level the floor of the cave. Over the next few years this work unaccountably stopped and was resumed several times. In order to preserve the chapels when the ground immediately to the rear of them was removed, it became necessary to buttress their foundations with concrete. The military also defaced the very beautiful area in front of the entrance with a strange construction of concrete and (now) rusty iron built onto the side of the cliff, and excavated several large tunnels into the mountain, three near the entrance to Davelis' Cave, and another on the far side of the mountain, before finally abandoning their enterprise in 1990.
It was said by some of those who explored these caves, in the days before the military workings blocked off access to the underground galleries, that they would never find quite the same physical structure from one visit to another. New clefts in the rock and new passages would seem to appear and disappear between visits. It was also claimed that electrical equipment would behave unpredictably.
Naturally, such a place has tended to attract, and exerted a strong fascination over, those excited by the unusual and the paranormal. Stories of moving balls of light and strange creatures seen, or half-seen; strange temperature changes, and cameras and compasses behaving oddly, are legion. One visitor found the cave swarming with domestic cats, even though there are no houses nearby ... and so on. Periodically embellished in this manner by fresh rumours and stories, the sinister reputation of the cave has grown, rather than faded, over the years.