In the south of central Crete: Palace of Festos above the Mesara plain and Matala with the hippie sandstone caves on the Libyan Sea.
Palace of Festos overlooking the Mesara plain.
Directions, history and visit of the particularly impressive site which, unlike Knossos, have not been changed.
After about 4 1/4 miles (7 km) in western direction from the destroyed, former Roman provincial capital Gortys and the small town of Mires, one reaches the ruins of the Palace of Festos.
The palace is particularly impressive and, unlike Knossos, have not been restored. Also, the magnificent location of the palace on a hill above the Mesara plain and overlooking the often snow-capped peaks of the Psiloritis mountains makes the visit worthwhile.
Festos was one of the oldest and most important cities on Crete. At the time of the peak of its power, the city dominated the entire Mesara plain to the Cape Lithinos with its two ports in Matala and Kommos.
The discovery of the old city, which in ancient times was called Phaistos, was based on information from Strabo. It was also mentioned by Homer and the historian Diodorus who named Festos as one of the three cities founded by King Minos. The palace was said to have been inhabited by his brother Rhadamanthys.
It has been confirmed that the place had existed since the end of the Neolithic period, but it reached its greatest importance during the time of the Neopalatial period, and existed still after the catastrophe of 1,450 BC, which is confirmed by buildings from the Geometrical Period and ruins of the Archaic period and a temple of Rhea.
The town was destroyed only by the neighbouring rival Gortys at the end of the 3rd century BC.
Festos, as an autonomous city, coined many of its own coins and brought forth important personalities such as the theologians and shamans Theosophistis Epimenides, one of the Seven Wise Men of antiquity.
The first palace was built between 1,900 and 1,850 BC, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1,700 BC. However, the construction of a majestic, new palace complex was immediately begun on the ruins of the old one. Most of the ruins one can visit today belong to the new palace.
The new palace was destroyed also in the catastrophe of 1,450 BC. and there remained only a settlement on its slope, which, however, increasingly lost its importance in comparison to the up-and-coming Gortys.
The excavations of Festos were begun in 1900 by Italian archaeologists, and the entire palace area was completely cleared until 1909. The excavations are still ongoing and focus on the ancient Minoan and Hellenistic city.
One starts with the visit of the palace over the elevated and stone-paved courtyard of the old palace on the west side. In the south-western corner of the courtyard, go down the stairs to the courtyard, which is paved with stones and also belongs to the old palace.
At the northern end are eight, each 72ft long steps, which were used as seats for the theatre area. This is considered the oldest theatre in history.
From here a processional road leads to the Propylaeum, where you can reach the many, small apartments.
The entrance to the new palace is at the north-east end of the west court, with a great staircase. This is a monumental Propylaeum, a miracle of the Minoan architecture.
Further ahead is an outer space, a light well with three pillars, a staircase with a narrow staircase leading down to an entrance hall and storage rooms.
South of the corridor there are sacred and religious rooms. From the entrance hall one goes to the stone-paved central courtyard, which is interspersed with irregular patterns of ‘porous’ stones.
In the north-eastern part of the court is a polythyra (‘many doors’) typical for the Minoans, an outdoor light fountain, an antechamber and a pleasure pool, and it is certainly a religious section of the palace. The east wing is almost completely broken off from the slope.
Through a corridor on the north side of the central courtyard, one reaches the entrance to the royal chambers, which are located in the northern part of the palace. Through an exterior corridor and to a small courtyard, one enter the luxurious chamber of the queen. A narrow staircase leads to rooms which must have been the king’s dwelling.
There was probably another floor over the royal chambers, which must have been of representation rooms.
An independent complex of buildings from the pre-Palaeolithic period, which was also used during the time of the new palace, lies further north-east. The Disc of Festos, the most important piece of the palace, was found in one of the long, narrow storage rooms, which must have served as a treasury.
More photos of the Palace of Festos:
From April to October: Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm, Sundays from 8 am to 3 pm.
From November to March: daily from 8 am to 3 pm.
Admission: 4 Euros (possibly no longer current)
Video from the view of the mountains of Psiloritis
Directions to Festos
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Festos.
Matala, the hippy sandstone caves on the Libyan Sea on Crete. Location, visit and history of Matala, Kommos and other beaches nearby with directions and currently available hotels.
From the Palace of Festos there is a turn-off to Matala, which is 7 miles (ca. 11 km) away. Before you reach Pitsidia after 4 miles (6.44 km) and after another mile you will notice a dirt road which leads to the right to Kommos, the old port of Festos.
This settlement flourished from the Neopalatial period to the Romans. During the excavations, a sacred complex with surrounding buildings were discovered, which dates back to the 1st century AD. The buildings in the southwest were probably warehouses or port facilities.
7 miles (ca. 11 km) further is the small village of Matala, which was the second port of Festos and later of Gortys during the Roman era. The caves with the sand beach and the semicircular bay are an impressive scenic phenomenon.
More photos about Kommos:
History of Matala
The caves of Matala were struck from the ocher, rugged and oblique layered sandstone rocks. The steep walls of the valley, which is open to the sea, had probably been used for living caves since the 6th millennium BC. The soft sandstone can be worked even with very simple stone tools.
The Minoans had their main ports further north in the already mentioned and closer to Festos located Kommos, where excavations still take place, but the protected bay of Matala could have been probably also used.
The saga also tells us that Zeus had landed here in Matala in the form of a bull with Europe on his back. Homer writes that Menelaus suffered here a shipwreck on his return from Troy.
Finally, for the Romans, Matala was the most important port, along with Lendas.
Thus, it is only certain that all the caves were man-made, and that they were first built and arranged as Roman and early Christian graves. The first Christians used the caves as tombs and created sarcophagi inside.
However, since then, they have been used repeatedly and in any different way, so that it is impossible to establish how they had originally looked or were created.
Some caves have windows and doors and cut-out seats or beds, which were probably once grave slabs. Others are not more than cut-out cavities. The locals also lived in them time and time.
In the year 823 AD, the Saracens landed in Matala, from where they besieged and destroyed the provincial capital of Gortys and finally conquered Crete. In WW2, the caves were used as ammunition dumps.
But the caves of Matala became only really famous in the 1960s when they were the abode of a large international hippy community. It was supposed that Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell were here (‘they’re playing the scratchy rock and roll’ from the 1971 album ‘Blue’).
The last ‘real’ hippy here was Scotty until a few years ago. He arrived at Matala in 1964 and had spent his time on earth here until a few years before his death at the age of 76 in 2016.
The time of the great Hippy community ended only when the Greek authorities placed the site under monument protection and shut down. The Hippies moved on to the palm beach of Vai for a limited time.
Today, the caves are fenced and can be visited daily from 10am to 7pm from April to September (entry 2 Euros). At night there is a police patrol, and they are illuminated by floodlight, so that no one can enter there anymore.
In winter, however, the site is often not locked and can be visited at any time.
Visit of Matala
When arriving by car, one should use the parking behind the beach (parking fee 2 Euros), which is indicated on the right when you reach the village. During the high season, however, this place can be full of cars and there is only a limited number of parking spaces (3 Euros) in the Hotel Street. If these are also occupied, there is only the possibility to find a parking facility on the side of the access road.
By bus, it is possible to reach Matala from Mires or Heraklion, where it stops directly at the entrance of the village.
It is true that there are still people who will tell you, that Matala with its hippy community in the caves, is ‘the most desirable tourist beach on Crete’ but these times – if they ever existed – are legends and the place is in spite of its fame surprisingly small and in 10 minutes everything of it could be visited.
Basically the place consists of a single pedestrian zone, which runs behind the beach. There is the market and numerous tavernas on the right, while the ‘old Matala’ is squeezed against the rocks on the left side.
More photos about Matala:
Tip: other beaches nearby
If the crowds on the beach in the semi-circular bay of Matala take over, you can reach the Kokkino Beach (Red Beach) in 20 to 30 minutes by foot. The route can also be covered by boat.
The reddish-golden beach with its nudists and the slightly downed ‘Kantina’ is located south of Matala and one either simply follows the ‘Hotel Street’ away from the place, where one meets an unobtainable path, but in sections not easy to walk.
There is an easier, but longer route from the village. This one is followed by the white arrows painted on the main street.
The Kommos beach, on the other hand, is in the other direction, north of Matala and one has to follow the gravel road from Pitsidia. There is a miles-long, natural sandy beach.
Hotels in and around Matala
Overview of currently available hotels in and around Matala at the best price!
Video about Matala
(Duration 1 min 11 sec)
Directions to Matala
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Matala.