Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is known for its picturesque landscapes, ancient ruins, and vibrant culture. Among its many intriguing attractions, the underground city of Matala stands out for its unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance. This site offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who sought refuge and solace within its cavernous walls.

The History of Matala

Matala, located on the southern coast of Crete, is famous for its man-made caves carved into the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Libyan Sea. These caves were first created during the Neolithic period and have been used for various purposes throughout history. However, it is the Roman and early Christian periods that have left the most notable marks on Matala’s history.

Roman Influence and Early Christian Use

During the Roman era, Matala served as a port town and the caves were used as tombs for Roman soldiers and settlers. The inscriptions and artifacts found in some of these caves attest to their use as burial sites. Later, in the early Christian period, the caves were transformed into dwellings and places of worship. This period saw the creation of more sophisticated cave structures, some of which included carved niches, steps, and small altars.

The Hippie Haven

The 1960s and 1970s brought a new wave of inhabitants to Matala: the hippies. Attracted by the natural beauty and the simplicity of life, young people from all over the world flocked to Matala, making the caves their home. This period left a lasting cultural impact on the village, with Matala becoming a symbol of freedom and artistic expression. The famous Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell even wrote a song about her time in Matala, capturing the essence of the hippie lifestyle.

Exploring the Caves of Matala

Today, the caves of Matala are a protected archaeological site, attracting visitors who are eager to explore their historical and cultural significance. Some of the highlights include:

1. The Roman Tombs

Many of the caves still bear the marks of their Roman past, with niches carved into the walls that were used for burials. These tombs offer a poignant reminder of Matala’s ancient history.

2. The Christian Dwellings

The caves that were used by early Christians often feature small carved crosses and rudimentary altars, providing insights into the religious practices of the time.

3. The Hippie Caves

While the hippies left few physical alterations to the caves, their legacy is evident in the colorful graffiti and the vibrant atmosphere that pervades Matala. The annual Matala Beach Festival celebrates this era with music, art, and a sense of communal spirit.

The Beach and Surrounding Area

Matala is not only famous for its caves but also for its stunning beach. The sandy shore, crystal-clear waters, and striking cliffs make it a perfect spot for relaxation and exploration. The beach is well-equipped with amenities, including tavernas, cafes, and shops, providing a blend of natural beauty and modern convenience.

Tips for Visiting Matala

  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: The terrain around the caves can be uneven, so sturdy footwear is recommended.
  • Respect the Site: As a protected archaeological area, it is important to respect the caves and avoid damaging any part of them.
  • Stay Hydrated: The Cretan sun can be intense, so be sure to bring water and sunscreen.

The underground city of Matala is a testament to the rich and varied history of Crete. From its origins as Neolithic dwellings to its role as a Roman burial site and later as a haven for early Christians and hippies, Matala’s caves have witnessed millennia of human activity. Today, they offer a unique and captivating experience for visitors, blending natural beauty with historical intrigue. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a lover of nature, or simply seeking a unique travel destination, Matala is a place where the past and present harmoniously converge.

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