Heraklion Caves of Matala

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Location: Matala

The village of Matala lies about 70 km south of Heraklion Town, on the coast of Messara Bay. During the Minoan times, Matala was used as a port of the palatial center of Phaistos, while during the Roman era, it was the port of Gortyn. The gorgeous, golden-sanded beach of Matala is one of the most renowned beaches in the whole country and it attracts a lot of tourists, especially in the summer.

Book an unforgettable Tour in Heraklion or get there with your own car rental.

This beach is famous for its artificial caves, which were chiseled by human hand thousands of years ago and were first inhabited during the Neolithic Age. Though it has been suggested that they were once used as tombs, it is far more probable that they served as dwellings, as some of them have rooms, stairs and windows.

The 1960s and early 1970s saw an increase in the number of foreigners who visited the caves, and during the 1960s, they 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 a source of inspiration for their beautiful songs. In fact, Joni's 1971 song Carey talks of her experience with the hippies in Matala. However, the hippie settlement was eventually dismantled by the church and the military junta that ruled Greece at the time, under the claim that the hippies would corrupt the local youth.

Along the coast, there are also some natural caves, which are only accessible by boat. To the south of the caves, there is also a huge rock formation known as the rock of Theosyni, offering a stunning view of Messara Bay. The rock forms a marine cave called Kouroupi that shelters wild pigeons and Mediterranean seals.

Today, the Matala Caves are protected by the Archaeological Service. There is an entrance fee and overnight stays are not allowed anymore. Although the people visiting the place are no longer free-spirited hippies, the caves are worth visiting for their sheer beauty, as they are surrounded by the azure waters of the sea and the golden sand. Watching the red sun set into the horizon from the caves is a magical moment.

Bonus info: To the southeast of the village, visitors can see the ruins of an ancient temple, while on the hill of Kastri opposite Matala, there are ruins of an old fort called Koules. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary can also be discerned nearby, jutting out of a cave. During times of persecution of Christians, this chapel served as a catacomb.

Finally, don't miss the chance to visit the square of Matala village, where you can see a world-renowned 600-year-old olive tree. What captures people's imagination is not the tree's age though; rather, it is the faces carved on its trunk, which represent four of the Olympian gods. Each of the gods is meant to symbolize an aspect of Crete: Zeus stands for hospitality, Poseidon for the sea, Dionysus for feasting and Hermes for trade and the arts.



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