Zeus and Brutus were here, Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan too. The caves of Matala have exerted a mystical fascination on people since their formation in Neolithic times and still stand for freedom and exuberance.
Cretan holidaymakers visit the small village of Matala on the south coast of Crete mainly because of its interesting caves. In ancient times, Matala was the port of Phaistos and Gortyn. Today, the former fishing village is a modern holiday centre and is one of our top 10 sights of Crete.
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PICTURES: Caves near Matala on Crete
The drive from Heraklion to Matala takes about 1.5 hours by rental car. In addition to the mystical rock caves, the sandy beach of Matala Beach and typical Greek tavernas invite you to spend an idyllic day on holiday in Matala.
Tip: The best time to visit the fascinating Matala caves and enjoy the beautiful sandy beach is in the morning or evening, when most of the daytime guests have already left.
Origin of the Matala Caves
The caves of Matala are ancient. They were dug into the porous rock of the bay in the Neolithic period and served as living caves at that time. Around 150 AD, when Crete was occupied by the Romans, the numerous caves of Matala were used as a secret cemetery . The persecuted Christians held holy masses in a rock church of the Virgin Mary. But why are the caves of Matala so famous and interesting?
Matala in Greek mythology
According to legend, Matala was the place where Zeus, the father of the gods, landed in the form of a bull after he had kidnapped the Phoenician princess Europa. Here he transformed himself into an eagle and took Europa on to Gortyn. The Roman general Brutus, famous son of Caesar, is also said to have once been here. The cave Brutospeliana is named after him.
Not quite so mythological, Matala was also the place where the Saracens landed on Crete in 824 and subsequently conquered the island.
Matala as a hippie commune
The "flower power" also left its mark on Crete. In the 1960s, the Matala Caves were one of the largest hippie communities on the island. Flower children and dropouts from all over the world lived here in the intoxication of air and love, including superstars such as Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
Many young men (and women) from the USA came to the Matala commune, who did not want to go to Vietnam and spoke out vehemently against violence and war. The novel "Flight of a Dead Man" by David Bielmann, in which the Matala caves play a leading role, is also set in the 1960s.
For whatever reason, the caves of Matala still exert a magical attraction on their viewers. The caves are listed and can be visited, at least partially, for a small entrance fee of a few euros.
Tip: Every year in June, the three-day Matala Beach Festival takes place at the caves of Matala with live music by regional bands. Thousands of party animals revive the light-heartedness of the 1960s in the bay of Matala.
Excursion tips from Matala
If you haven't had enough beach feeling from Matala Beach, you can walk to Red Beach. The fine sandy Kokkini Ammos (Red Beach) south of Matala can be reached from the bay with the caves via a steep, narrow path in just under half an hour. Sturdy shoes are recommended, but nude bathing is allowed at the "Red Beach" near Matala!
Also nearby are the ruins of the 5,000-year-old Minoan city of Phaistos, from which numerous finds can be admired in the National Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. The excavations can be visited for a small entrance fee and are at least as fascinating as the many times more famous ruins of Knossos.
A little further away, about 30 minutes by car, is the bay of Agio Farago, which is still considered an insider tip among Crete holidaymakers. In this bay, too, dwelling caves were once dug into the sandstone. Even more worth seeing, however, is the heavenly tranquillity and the crystal-clear sea of Agio Farago.