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The Hippie Caves of Matala that housed Joni Mitchell

The Hippie Caves of Matala that housed Joni Mitchell

In a sleepy fishing village on the island of Crete, where Joni Mitchell had found herself a nomadic home inside manmade Neolithic caves carved into the sandstone cliff, she sang her folk songs, “under a starry dome…beneath the Matala Moon.”

It was the 1960s and a community of backpacking hippies had settled in Matala, a remote corner of the Mediterranean island where most locals had never seen a tourist before their arrival. It was here that Joni immortalised the ideal hippie scene in her 1971 song “Carey”, overlooking the unspoilt beach and azure blue waters.

The caves had originally housed lepers at the end of the Stone Age and then the Romans used them as burial crypts. When the hippies arrived searching for peace and enlightenment, the caves became the cheapest hotel in town. But of course, there was no hotel in town anyway.

There were no homes in Matala, “just two grocery stores, a bakery where the owner made fresh yogurt and bread, a general store with the only phone in town, two cafes and a few rental huts,” remembers Joni in an interview. “I don’t know what their business was before people came.”

Life was simple in Matala, perhaps too simple because the hippie nomads were eventually driven out by the church and the military junta.

Today, Matala is a small village still living mainly from tourism and while the caves where the hippies lived (now fenced-off) can be visited, they are protected by  the Archaeological Service, and certainly nobody is allowed to live or spend the night in them. The true nomadic hippie culture no longer exists in Matala, but there are hints to its bohemian past and a few people have tried to continue the lifestyle in Crete, on Disko beach in Lendas.

By MessyNessy, messynessychic.com

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