Σπήλαια Κεφαλαρίου - Caves of Kefalari - Το κεφαλάρι του Άργους - The head of Argos

Useful Information

Location: 8 km north of Lerna.
(37.596186, 22.687963)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: KarstKarst Spring SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: n/a
Dimension: A=83 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: A. Morfis, H. Zojer (1986): Karst Hydrogeology of the Central and Eastern Peloponnesus (Greece) 5th International Symposium on Underground Water Tracing, Athens 1986. Steirische Beiträge zur Hydrogeologie 37/38. 301 pages, 150 figures, 52 tables, 9 plates, Graz 1986
Strabo (nY): Geography, Book VIII, Chapter 6, 371. From: The Geography of Strabo, published in Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927. online
Address: Kefalari, Kefalari 212 00, Tel: +30-.
Zoodochos Pigi Orthodox Church, Epar.Od. Argous - Kefalariou, Kefalari 212 00, Tel: +30-2751-086478.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1634 old church built, according to legend.
1835 church "Panagia Kefalariotissa" built.
18-MAY-1918 old church destroyed by a powerful explosion in a munitions depot nearby.


The term Κεφαλάρι (Kefalari) is the Greek word for a huge spring from which abundant water gushes. So it is actually not the name of the karst spring, it's the description, but has also become the name of the spring, village and community Kefalari in Argolis. This seems to be quite common, several Greek villages in mountainous areas, where spring water is abundant, have similar names. This actually has the drawback, that they are sometimes a little hard to keep apart.

The site is located about 8 km north of Lerna in Argolis, at the southern end of the Argos plain. The place is also called Το κεφαλάρι του Άργους (The head of Argos). Inhabited since prehistory, because of the huge sweet water spring, and famous since antiquity as a place of great significance. The site is hard to classify, as there are a huge spring, caves and the Greek Orthodox pilgrim destination, so we decided the spring is the most important and exceptional part.

The source of the abundant water is a huge karst spring which is actually the lower end of a water-filled cave system draining eastwards toward the Argolic Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea. the water originates from ponors in poljes of the arcadic highland and of the highlands of Corinthia and Argolis. The water reappears at the foot of the limestone hill as the impermeable sediments of Plain of Argos, mostly of fluvial origin, block the further karstification. So the spring is the result of contact karst. Rivers flow on the impermeable rocks on the surface, vanish underground at the border of the limestone and reappear on the other side of the karst to flow again on the impermeable surface. The research of the detailed hydrological examination of 1984 and 1985 including numerous dye tracing experiments was published in 1986 by Morfis and Zojer, see literature. They confirmed much, but not everything, that Strabo already suspected 200 years ago. He thought it was the water of KarstLimni Stymphalia. Actually, the water originates from the Katavothres of the Scotini and Alea poljes, a little south of Lake Stymphalia.

Now one of the rivers that flows through Argeia is the Inachus, but there is another river in Argeia, the Erasinus. The latter has its source in Stymphalus in Arcadia, that is, in the lake there which is called the Stymphalian Lake, which mythology makes the home of the birds that were driven out by the arrows and drums of Heracles; and the birds themselves are called Stymphalides. And they say that the Erasinus sinks beneath the ground and then issues forth in Argeia and waters the plain. The Erasinus is also called the Arsinus.
Strabo (nY): Geography, Book VIII, Chapter 6, 371. From: The Geography of Strabo, published in Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927. online

The spring is only 5 m asl, and the river is called Ερασίνος ποταμός (Erasinos or Erasmus River) After numerous meanders through the fertile coastal plain it finally reaches the sea at Νέα Κίος (Nea Kios), close to the Inachos Potamos river. But while that river is much bigger, it is also dry during summer, when Erasmus River still contains water. That's the obvious reason why the spring is also dubbed Πηγές Αργολικού Ερασίνου (Sources of the Argolic Greenery). The river was used for irrigation of the Plain of Argos since millennia. But this spring is also seasonal, and it may be dry too during late summer or droughts.

The Σπήλαια Κεφαλαρίου (Caves of Kefalari) are two prehistoric caves, about 60 m from the spring in the cliffside. A cave church was built into one cave in 1835, actually desroying all prehistoric remain, or at least making them inaccessible. The other cave, the Προϊστορικό Σπήλαιο Κεφαλαρίου (Prehistoric Cave of Kefalari) was excavated by German archaeologists. The findings included Neolithic pottery, stone tools and microlithic objects from the Later Paleolithic and Mesolithic Age, and the majority of the finds dated to the Middle Neolithic period. The finds from the Early Helladic and Middle Helladic Periods, the Geometric and Classical periods, are for some reason comparably low. The caves were mentioned by Pausanias as places dedicated to Dionysus and Pan.

Von Myli begab ich mich eine starke halbe Stunde weit nach der Lernäischen Höhle. Am Fusse der Felsen, in welchen wenige Lr. oberhalb sich die Höhle befindet, kommt die Quelle des Kephaläris mit schönem klaren Wasser hervor, und gleich so reichlich, dass sie bei ihrem Ausfluss einen breiten Bach bildet, der weiter unterhalb mehrere Mühlen treibt, zwei der Gefalle gehören dem Staat und sollen benutzt werden dort Pulverfabrication einzurichten, da dieser Platz einsam liegt, so dass wegen des öfteren Auffliegens aller Pulvermühlen der Umgebung in solchem Falle kein Schade geschehen kann.
Ueber die Lernäische Schlange berichtet Pausanias VII. 37.4. folgendes: „An der Quelle Araymone ist eine Platane aufgewachsen; unter dieser Platane soll sich die Wasserschlange ernährt haben. Ich glaube nun wohl, dass sich dieses Thier an Grösse von den übrigen Wasserschlangen unterschieden habe, und dass denn auch sein Gift so unheilbar gewesen, dass Herakles mit dem Geifer desselben die Spitzen seiner Pfeile vergiften konnte. Aber nur Einen Kopf, wie mir scheint, hatte sie, nicht mehrere. Peisandros dagegen, der Kamireer, damit das Thier desto furchtbarer erscheine und dadurch seine Dichtung mehr Bedeutung habe, dichtete dieser Schlange mehrere Köpfe an."

From Myli I went a good half hour to the Lernaean Cave. At the foot of the rocks, in which the cave is situated a few lr. above, the spring of the Cephalarius comes forth with beautiful clear water, and so abundantly that at its outflow it forms a broad stream, which drives several mills further downstream, two of which belong to the state and are to be used to set up powder manufacture there, as this place lies lonely, so that no harm can be done in such a case because of the frequent flying up of all the powder mills in the vicinity.
Pausanias VII. 37.4. reports the following about the Lernaean snake: "At the spring Araymone a plane tree has grown up; under this plane tree the water snake is said to have fed. I believe that this animal differed in size from the other water snakes, and that its poison was so incurable that Heracles could poison the tips of his arrows with its slobber. But it seems to me that it had only one head, not several. Peisandros, on the other hand, the Kamirean, in order that the beast might appear all the more terrible, and so that his poetry might have more meaning, attributed several heads to this serpent."

K.G. Fiedler (1841): Reise durch alle Teile des königreiches Griechenland in Auftrag der königl. griechischen Regierung in den Jahren 1834 bis 1837, 2 vols., Leipzig. Deutsch - German

There are classical Greek legends from the Bronze Age, but as always with such legends their truth is very hard to determine. Pausanias (*111/115-✝180) wrote a travelogue in the 2nd century BC, but it is poetry and quite hard to determine which parts are stories he heard, which parts he invented, and which he had actually seen. In the 19th century the site was visited by K.G. Fiedler. At that time Greece had thrown out the Ottoman occupiers and was starting new, with help from the German aristocracy, the first Greek King was actually German aristocracy. And so Fiedler was commissioned to travel through the country and make a sort of inventory. His description is the first reliable travelogue of Greece.

However, this description raises numerous questions, first of all what he actually visited. He tells he travelled half an hour, without mentioning if he travelled by foot, by horse or by carriage. And then he describes a spring with two caves, which actually does not fit Lerna, but it fits Kefalari. And we guess by carriage it would be half an hour from modern day Myli across the plain to Kefalari. So he was obviously misguided by his local guides and mixed up Lerna and Kefalari, though it actually does not matter, as it is only a legend.

Killing the mythical monster Hydra (Λερναία Ύδρα/Lernaia Hydra), a snake with many heads, was the second labor of Hercules. While the description of the spring, lake and swamp, and even the name fits Lerna which is today named Myloi, the legend tells actually nothing about caves. But it tells that after killing the Hydra, Hercules buried the main head of the Hydra above a small mountain named Chaon, we have no idea why he dragged the head along for hours just to bury it. As a result a large spring erupted, providing water in abundance to the people of Argos. This would fit the situation at Kefalari and the possible origin of the name: the words αἴρω and κεφάλι (lift/cut and head) are a strong reference to the head. It was probably established as a religious place as it was thought to be the place where Hercules buried the head of the Hydra. It was dedicated to the worship of the goddess Hera and minor deities such as nymphs or serpents with connection to that specific labor. But without archaeological evidence this is all just speculation.

The cave church is the sanctuary of Ζωοδόχου Πηγής (Zoodochos Pigi) of Panagia Kefalariotissa. It started with the Byzantine Empire, to which this place belonged from 337 until the mid 13th century. The worship of Zoodochos Pigi (the life-giving fountain) is a metaphor for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the 4th Crusade in 1204 AD the Peloponnese was conquered by French and Italian knights and mercenaries. In the 15th century, in 1460, the Ottoman Turks conquered the Peloponnese again. At this time the Peloponnese was called Morea and thrived economically and socially. Kefalari was one of the hundreds of villages that prospered for that short period. The old church was erected in the 17th century, legend has it in 1634, and was 16 m long with 9 m inside the cave. As a result of the Orlofika revolt in 1780 Kefalari was deserted by its inhabitants. It was restarted as a tiny village after the Greek War of Independence in 1821. The old church was destroyed in an explosion in 1918, which also killed 45 people and destroyed the church except for the altar. There was a munitions depot nearby, obviously a pretty good idea to store ammunition under the protection of god. The church was rebuilt between 1922 and 1928, the belltower was built from 1955 to 1957.