The artificial caves in the cliff of the Matala bay were created in the Neolithic Age. Matala was the port of Phaistos during the Minoan period. In the year 220 BC., Matala was occupied by the Gortynians, and during the Roman period, Matala became the port of Gortys. It has been suggested that the caves were once used as tombs, but it is more likely that they were used as living spaces, given their volume (corpses do not need that much room to walk around). One of the caves is called "Brutospeliana" because according to the legend it was frequented by the Roman general Brutus.
Matala was then a fishing village. In the 1960s, the caves were occupied by hippies who were later driven out by the church and the military junta. Matala is now a heavily overbuilt tourist destination relying on coach tours and summer visitors. There are many gift shops and bars. Matala's hippie history relives during the 3 days Matala Beach Festival (since 2011).
When Zeus seduced the princess Europa in the form of a white bull, he crossed the sea and brought her to the beach of Matala. There he changed into an eagle and flew her to Gortys where he had sex with her.
In popular culture
- In Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, the USS Ronald Reagan, along with the carrier support group docked in Matala and the naval base on the island, is destroyed by GLA forces .
- In Simon Scarrow's historical adventure novel, The Gladiator, the protagonists beach their damaged ship just outside Matala after it is damaged by a tsunami.
- Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell's experiences with the Matala hippies were immortalised in her 1971 songs "Carey" and "California", from her album "Blue".
- Media related to Matala at Wikimedia Commons