The Caves of Matala in Heraklion Crete: The village of Matala, the most ancient village in Crete lies about 70 km south of Heraklion. Matala was the ancient port of Phaestos and Gortyn and a former fishing community. The remains of the ancient city stay submerged under the sea. It is built on the coastline of Messara bay inside a small and beautiful inlet. There is a nice, long sandy beach here that attracts a lot of tourists especially in the summer.
This beach is famous for its artificial caves that are carved into rocks located to the north of the coast. These caves were first inhabited during the prehistoric period. Initially, they were used as dwellings and places of worship. They were later used as tombs during the 1st and 2nd Century.
The tombs found here date back to the Greek, Roman and Early Christian Times. The 1960s and early 1970s saw an increase in the number of foreigners who visited the caves. During the 1970s, the caves became home to an international hippie community. Great musicians like Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell have lived here using the breathtaking beauty of the area as an inspiration to come up with equally beautiful songs.
In fact, Joni's 1971 song Carey talks of her experiences with the hippies in Matala. However, the locals never having seen tourists before, did not approve of the hippie settlement and wanted them out of there. Eventually, they were successful in driving the hippies out. To the south of the caves there is a huge rock formation known as the rock of Theosyni offering a beautiful view of Messara Bay. The rock forms a marine cave under the sea called Kouropi that shelters wild pigeons and Mediterranean seals.
Today the Matala Caves are protected by the Archaeological Service. Entering the caves costs about two Euros but overnight stays are not allowed anymore. Although the people visiting the place are no longer free spirited hippies, the caves should be visited for their sheer beauty with the surrounding turquoise blue sea, the sand and the red sun setting into the horizon.