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Karaftu Caves, The Mysterious Lair of Hercules in Western Iran

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Karaftu Caves, Iran. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Caves of Karaftu are a magnificent spectacle formed by both nature and human activity over the course of millennia.

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The structures, which are located approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Iran’s city of Saqqez, are situated at an altitude of approximately 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level.

The magnificent caves are located in the province of Kurdistan in Western Iran, where Alexander the Great’s arrival in the area formed the basis of the Seleucid Empire.

The Seleucid Empire and Alexander the Great

The Seleucid Empire was a major center in the east after the Macedonian ruler’s vast empire was divided in 321 BC.

Although the Seleucid Empire was generally quite tolerant of the various cultures and religions among the many peoples in its domain, Greek language and customs were widespread and preferred before others.

The cave complex comprises a series of smaller and larger caves formed inside a massive  limestone outcrop, and many believe that they served as an encampment or garrison for Seleucid fighters.

According to archaeological evidence, they had been inhabited for centuries by humans, and were particularly important during ancient times since they were located along the passage of the famous Silk Route which connected Europe with China.

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The location of the Karaftu Caves

Karaftu caves home to an Ancient Greek inscription

In one of the most spectacular finds in the area’s history, a Greek inscription was discovered in the early nineteenth century by European explorers inside one of the caves.

The marvelously well-preserved inscription reads: “Here is the home of Hercules. Whoever enters this cave shall be safe.”

This mysterious and intriguing find is one of the very few examples of ancient Greek artifacts found and preserved in situ in Iran.

Archaeologists believe that those who inhabited the caves at some point honored the ancient Greek divine hero Hercules as their protector, proving a direct connection of the people of this remote place with Greece and Greek culture, most likely by way of the Seleucid Empire.

The amazing cave formations offer a unique experience to the area’s fortunate visitors, since apart from their own beauty, they offer spectacular views over this mountainous area of West Asia.

The caves of Karaftu are believed to have been formed several million years ago by geologic and hydrologic forces.

Scientists believe that these very cliffs were once underwater, and over the course of millions of years, they emerged, forming the mountain ranges of western Iran.

While the caves were formed naturally, ancient people carved the small passageways that connect the cave complex together, making it into a small settlement.

Archaeologists have found pottery and objects that cover most of the region’s historical periods over time inside the caves.

The magnificent Karaftu Caves are a popular and unique tourist attraction in the region, and thousands of people visit them every year.

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