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Traumhafter Strand in Matala, Bild: Georgios Tsichlis / shutterstock

Matala on Crete – once home of cavemen and hippies

Crete has long since become one of the most popular holiday destinations . But who knows that there is a small fishing village on the island that was important for the people of the Neolithic Age as well as for the Roman Empire and the hippie community? Matala is not only worth a visit for this reason.

A beach straight out of a picture book

Panorama of Matala beach and caves on the rocks
Once a hippie paradise in the 1960s, Matala is now known for its impressive rock tombs and the beach of the same name, which is surrounded by steep cliffs, Image: Dziewul / shutterstock

Matala currently has barely 120 inhabitants. If you visit the place outside the holiday season, you will probably be surprised by the many oversized buildings. For example, about the restaurants, the cinema or the taverns, which are designed for many dozens of guests. These are not filled by the local population alone. Matala has been focusing entirely on tourism for several years. In the warm months of the year, the narrow streets that lie between the white fishermen’s huts can be quite crowded. The picturesque beach in particular attracts travellers from all over the world to linger here for a while.

Inhabited for more than 12,000 years

The village, located on the south coast of Crete, has an interesting history. People settled here as early as around 10,000 years before the birth of Christ. They took advantage of the fact that the rocks on the island have a rather soft rock that is easy to work with. So they punched deep holes in the walls they inhabited. From the year 67 BC, Crete was conquered by the Romans. They used the former caves to bury their deceased in them. At that time, Matala developed into a port respected throughout the Mediterranean, through which trade was conducted.

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From the Army’s Standpoint to the Home of Conscientious Objectors

What’s more, the Roman Empire stationed a powerful army on Matala. On the one hand, to protect the island against enemy attacks. On the other hand, to make some trips to enemy territory from here. Of course, it was not foreseeable at the time that this formerly heavily fortified place would later become the destination of many Americans who refused to participate in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. By the way, the world-famous singer Joni Mitchell also pitched her tent in the steadily growing hippie community for a time and composed some of her songs here.

The caves can be visited

Teenagers lying in the rock caves of Matala
Teenagers lying in the rock caves of Matala, Image: JGA / shutterstock

In addition to the white beach, the caves are now the island’s biggest tourist attraction. Especially since some of them are allowed to be entered. In some cases, the life of our ancestors can be admired here true to the original. Relics recovered during excavations on land and under water point to a primitive existence that saw fishing as a way to win the fight against hunger. Particularly interesting for travelers are the guided tours through the caves and the surrounding area, where they can learn some interesting facts. After all, the people of the Neolithic Age have left some inscriptions here.

The hippies have also shaped the island

Nevertheless, Matala presents itself quite colorful, playful and modern. This is due to the many colorful graffiti that were spread throughout the town, especially by US citizens in the 1960s and 1970s. Tourists can admire numerous spiritual messages and even some wisdom that is more relevant today than ever. Viewers are often reminded of transience – and encouraged to live in the here and now instead of looking anxiously into the future. The former fishing village is also an impressive reminder of the time of flower power and the international peace movement.

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Street art for your own home

Colorful street in Matala
Colorful street in Matala, Image: Georgios Tsichlis / shutterstock

Holidaymakers will find many suppliers of regional goods and food while strolling through the village. From olives to fish to white wine, the typical delicacies of the Mediterranean are served in the restaurants and at the market. Some inhabitants have also specialized in carving sculptures from wood and stone, others weave fine cloths. At some dealers, you can also buy handmade pictures and paintings that are based on the tradition of street art, which was established here by the hippies as an expression of their thoughts and feelings. So if you want to combine the trip with the purchase of tricks, Matala is the right place for you.

The island invites you to hikes

If you want to explore the surrounding area of Matala, a trip to Red Beach is recommended. The way there can be done on foot in less than half an hour, even inexperienced hikers should have no problems. However, sturdy shoes must be planned. The paths to the red beach have been paved. Especially after heavy rainfall, however, the terrain can have some pitfalls. A little caution should also be exercised on the coast itself: Sometimes there is a high wave formation here, which is of course attractive for surfers – but which is likely to pose some challenges for swimmers.