Crete #10 Matala (or the effects of mass tourism)

Leaving the Palace of Phaistos, following the route towards the coast, a 15′ drive leads to another legendary place: Matala Bay with its wide sandy beach, crystal clear waters and the world famous cliff with its neolithic caves.

Matala was the port of Phaistos in the Minoan period. Legend has it,  that when Zeus transformed into a white bull and abducted princess Europa – who later gave her name to our ”Old Continent” – he carried her on his back and swam all the way from Phoenicia to Matala. Here, Zeus revealed his true identity and Europa bore his three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon.

But, for all its romance and godliness, this story is not  why Matala became a modern legend. Rather, it owes its fame to those free-spirited young things in their quest for the unconventional; freedom; love & happiness – the hippies.

They made homes out of the caves, they formed a community, the beach was their paradise – that was the intoxicating ’60s.

Reality started hitting in the darker ’70s. The hippies were not allowed to live in the caves anymore but could camp on the beach and visit them during daylight. They were eventually driven away by the conservative military junta, backed up by the church.

Then came the ’80s and the place was rediscovered by the locals who realised its touristic potential. Thus Matala became a village, complete with tourist accommodation, shops, super markets. And busloads of tourists.

Today, part of the beach became a huge parking lot; on the south, it is completely surrounded by tavernas and cafes; on the north, the once free caves are now a site of historical interest, their entrance fenced off and a ticket booth placed in front.

There is nothing natural, picturesque or even remotely attractive about Matala today, besides its history; like so many others all over Greece, the place has become a massive tourist machine cashing in on its past, apparently oblivious to the disastrous effects brought about by mass tourism.

See Matala then (taken from a website with stories of young people that visited Matala in the sixties and seventies – these are Kim’s photos from ’76-’77) :




And now – our photos:











Matala, 06 July 2015