Do you remember back in the 1960’s when Life Magazine ran an article about hippies living in the caves at the little seaside village of Matala on the south coast of Crete? Of course, the caves weren’t actually caves at all; they were catacombs or graves for Romans who had died on Crete. I’m not sure if they were Roman soldiers or simply Roman citizens, but, at any rate, they were entombed in these catacombs above the beach at Matala, and in the 1960’s hippies had moved into these “caves” to live their idyllic lives! I’m sure that many of you not only remember the article that documented the hippies who lived there, but also probably ventured there to witness firsthand those who lived in the caves.
Well, on Sunday, October 18, 2009, I decided to travel to Matala to visit the village and photograph the caves or the catacombs. It was a beautiful day when I pulled out of Bus Station B which is located on the west side of Iraklion just before passing through the Venetian walls. I bought my round trip ticket from Iraklion to Matala and back for 14.40 Euros ($21.41 based on today’s exchange rate). I left Iraklion at 11:30 A.M. and at about 1:00 P.M., the bus pulled into Matala. I was expecting throngs of people, but I suppose this being October, the tourist season had begun to wind down. I wandered through the narrow streets of the little village of Matala, ate lunch at a small taverna, and then ventured toward the beach and the “caves” (catacombs). I was a little amazed at the color of the water – it was a much lighter shade of blue and appeared much clearer than the water at the little village of Amoudara on the north coast of Crete where I have been staying since the first of August. Children played at the water’s edge, letting the waves chase them up onto the sand as the watchful eyes of parents kept a close vigil on them. Others lay on the sand seeking to obtain that last little bit of suntan before fall chased them from their solar pursuit. And, others were just content to lie on the beach watching others...lying on the beach! There was a narrow boardwalk that led across the sand toward the caves, and situated along either side of the boardwalk were small tables set up where young people in their twenties with long hair, beards, sandals, and a somewhat unkempt appearance were selling beaded necklaces, bracelets, and other assorted bodily ornaments made from leather, shells, polished stones and anything else they could string together. I got the impression they were attempting to pass themselves off as hippies. But, alas, they were about forty years too late!!!
I photographed the caves from varying distances as I approached them. As I got nearer, I noticed a sign which read, “Roman Cemetery”, and pointed toward the caves. I began to scale and climb the rocks toward those caves (catacombs) located at the lowest level of the rock walls. I poked my head inside and looked. I was impressed! I had never before seen anything like that! I began to take photographs, almost as if I were afraid the caves might suddenly disappear! Then I ventured inside of one, then another and yet still another. I began to imagine that the grave in which Jesus Christ was placed after his crucifixion might have looked similar to these. The stone “bed” carved out of the rock where the person would lie, even had a stone “pillow” where his head would rest, slightly elevated. I wanted to climb even higher, but my broken toe protested vehemently! I relented and began my decent to the very bottom of the rock wall. I was amazed there appeared to be some caves which had not yet been opened. I couldn’t imagine archaeologists not wanting to satisfy their curiosity and leaving several of the tombs unopened. But, then I thought that perhaps some would look upon the act of opening a sealed tomb as an act of desecration. Anyway, even I began to wonder what lay just inside the walls of those which were unopened!
After taking numerous photos of the caves, the village, the little harbor and beach, I decided to head toward “Red Beach”. I had seen a sign earlier with an arrow pointing upward toward a little narrow concrete path that read, “Red Beach”. I didn’t know what “Red Beach” was, but I wanted to find out. After all, I was in Matala and didn’t know when, or if, I would ever return. If I wanted to find out what and where “Red Beach” was, now was my opportunity. I began my ascent...up, up, up. The concrete path gave way to a stone path and the ascent continued. Eventually, the stone path disintegrated into loose rocks. After about twenty minutes, I found myself well above Matala. I retrieved my Nikon D200 and took several photographs of the village, the beach, and, of course, the caves. As I continued making my way up, my broken toe began to object to the repeated abuse to which it was being subjected. I looked off in the distance and saw others far ahead who were still climbing and realized that “Red Beach” was perhaps a little too distant for me to visit in my current physical condition. I relented and began my descent. If a toe can possibly smile, I think mine was grinning like a pig in slop! Once back down in the village of Matala, I sat down on a bench – I was hot and tired. I was also just a little disappointed that I was unable to satisfy my natural curiosity by venturing on up and over the mountain to visit “Red Beach”. “Maybe next time”, I thought to myself. Of course, I realize there may never be a “next time”.
I caught the last bus out of Matala bound for Iraklion at 5:30 P.M., and at a little past 7:00 P.M. the bus rolled back into Bus Station B. In a short time, Bus #6 to Amoudara pulled up and I boarded it for the trip back to my apartment. In twenty minutes I was back in my apartment and on my computer searching Google for “Red Beach in Matala”...and I found it! Hmmmm...it seems that Red Beach is a “clothing optional” beach. I think that is a fancy way of saying it is a nudist beach. In other words, everybody runs around nekked!!! Maybe it was a good thing that I was unsuccessful in my attempt to go there. Those on the beach may not have appreciated a guy suddenly appearing with a camera! So now, I know what Red Beach is...and so do you! If you ever return to Matala and you are up for a little adventure...well, I’ll just leave it at that!
As alway, take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Looking north at the caves (Roman catacombs) in Matala on Crete from the balcony of a local taverna.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Bob Armistead stands on the beach at Matala on Crete with the caves (Roman catacombs) in the background.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The caves (Roman catacombs) at Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The caves (Roman catacombs) looking northwest at Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The caves (Roman catacombs) nearest the waters edge in the little bay at Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The caves (Roman catacombs) looking north, in the seaside village of Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The entrance to two of the caves (Roman catacombs) in the little seaside village of Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Bob Armistead stands before the entrance to one of the caves (Roman catacombs) in Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The interior of one of the Roman catacombs in the village of Matala, Crete, Greece. The body of the deceased would be laid out with the head resting, slightly elevated, on the far right side of the tomb.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: This Roman catacomb had a place for bodies to be laid out on the far left, the far right, the far background, and two graves just in front of the background. It almost made me wonder if this might have been the final resting place for an entire family. Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Entranceway into one of the Roman catacombs at Matala, Crete, Greece. Notice the second chamber beyond the first doorway.UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Looking from inside one of the Roman catacombs toward the beach outside and below. Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Looking slightly northeast across the little bay of Matala, Crete, Greece, toward the caves (Roman catacombs).
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Self portrait of Bob Armistead at Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Waves crashing at the northern tip of the little bay at Matala, Crete, Greece.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Looking north toward the caves (Roman catacombs) from atop the rocky path that leads to "Red Beach". Matala, Crete, Greece.
ABOVE PHOTO: Apparently, this young damsel thought the main beach at Matala was the "Red Beach". Funny, I didn't hear anyone complaining though!
NOTE: The following four photographs are from the 1960's when the caves at Matala were inhabited by the hippies. These four photos were borrowed from http://www.west-crete.com/
NOTE: The following photograph was borrowed from Matala - Hippies & Real Fun on Facebook.
LEFT PHOTO: Scotty, the last of the original hippies in Matala.