The history of Matala is as ancient as Crete … It was here Europa stepped on Cretan earth riding a bull. The bull disappeared and transformed Zeus into a human shape, and then under a plane tree in Gortyn Zeus and Europa produced three children: Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpidonas.
Humans can be traced from the Neolithic period who inhabited the caves of the sandstone hill on the western edge of the Matala Bay.
The Romans turned the caves in tombs, and the young people from around the world of the 60s again turned these caves into dwellings.
The bay of Matala has always served as an ideal port. In Minoan times it was a port of Phaistos and under Roman rule it served as a port for the former island capital Gortyn.
Matala owes its present fame to its caves. For decades, it has been a sightseeing spot for tourists travelling by excursion buses, who marvel at the strange caves and enjoy a swim in the beautiful sandy bay. For years the cave area was fenced off and it was impossible to visit them. Now the caves are open again to the public and can be visited by paying an entrance fee. They are certainly impressive …. but imagine the inhabitants of the 60s sleeping here above Roman skeletons …. I personally found it a bit scary in the caves!
There is hardly a building in Matala that has not been exploited for tourism. Souvenir shops, restaurants and taverns dominate the main road. But if you sit on one of the terraces overlooking the beach, you no longer care about exploitation and what truly matters is the summer atmosphere, the sun, the sea and the light. And the rock inscription: Today is life, tomorrow never comes.
Since 2011 the Matala Beach Festival takes place on the beach. In its first year it was called Matala Reunion Festival and launched by the German writer and journalist Arn Strohmeyer (he was 1967 in Matala), his publisher Thomas Balistier and the city of Phaistos. Obviously, this festival was crowned with success, and that’s why it now takes place annually.
“Today is life, tomorrow never comes”
… is a motto painted on the long white wall at the beach. They say that “ Matala-Giorgos” painted it and it seems, after much discussion, it has to do with the war in Vietnam. Some of the Vietnam War objectors from the United States of America had found refuge in Matala, which also formed the background of the violent dissolution of the hippie scene in Matala in May 1970.
Read more about the sandstone caves in The ancient city of Matala
The carved olive tree at the entrance of Matala
The Greek artist Spyros Stefanakis moved in 2007 to Matala to recover here from a personal nadir; the local population welcomed him with open arms. To thank them for this, he asked for the permission to carve this 600 year old and destined for firewood olive tree. It took him two years to finish this art piece. The tree is 6m high, its circumference is 3m and it adorns the entrance of Matala. (Text source: prosopakritis.gr)
Beaches in Matala
- The village itself has a beautiful sandy beach.
- After half an hour’s walk from the old church and following the signs over the hill you arrive at the Red Beach, a copper-colored sand beach. The walk can be tiring in the blazing sun.
- Komos beach is a splendid sandy mile-long beach overgrown with tamarisk bushes, which begins about 2.5 km west of Matala and is best reached via the village Pitsidia. Here you find yourself in the company the of sea turtle Caretta caretta, which buries its eggs in the sand dunes. Please pay attention to the nests marked annually by Archelon (Association for the Protection of the Marine Turtle Greece)
Activities: visit the archaeological sites Phaistos and Gortyn, Heraklion it is not far.
Agia Galini is certainly worth a trip to the west, and the mountain resort Zaros is quite famous among locals for its spring water and its trout farm in the adjoining lake.