Crete's Heraklion (Iraklion) Prefecture Overview Page Twelve
Heraklion Capital of Crete
West of Phaestos
Timbaki to the west of Phaestos, is a drab town, in the midst of the ugliest part of Crete. This part of the Messara plain is covered with plastic greenhouses and concrete sprawl. Something a little better could be said of Vori, a little to the north, which is a village visited by few tourists, and mostly for the Museum of Cretan Ethnology, with items that illustrate traditional rural life in Crete. Shown are agricultural and building implements, furniture, domestic items, baskets, pottery, musical instruments, embroidery and weaving. 25 different kinds of baskets are exhibited, their designs related to their uses as snail traps, muzzles for animals, cheese-strainers, eel-traps, beehives.
Once the port of Gortys, Matala, (population 300) and 11 km to the southwest of Phaestos, is the best known beach-town in the south of this province. A touristy and expensive place. Its best point is its beach, which curves past cliffs with caves in them which may have been Roman or early Christian tombs, c. 1st century AD. The cliffs being of carvable compacted sand made it possible for windows and doorways to be formed, and beds or seats formed inside. Though inhabited for centuries, these caves achieved much notoriety during the sixties, with a large international community coming and going to camp in them, but that is a thing of the past now with police patrolling them at night to keep folks out. The beach, though nice for swimming, and with underwater remains of a Roman port around the rocks on either side, it is not a place for solitude. The rather hard-to-reach Red Beach behind the town is better, with reddish-brown sand and very clear water. There are some less obvious cave dwellings here too, some of them occupied in summer. Matala has a couple of campsites and some good room options. A good base for exploring the sites. There are buses every two hours between here and Heraklion, nine daily, cost 5 euros.
Also close to the sites, and quieter, are Pitsidhia about 5 km inland, and Kalamaki (left), on the beach to the north of Matala. In between is Kommos (Kommos beach right), at the southern end of the beach that begins in Kalmaki.
Kommos was a Minoan harbor town, and there is an archaeological site her which can be reached from Pitsidhia. Follow signs for 'Camping Kommos' to the right, 1 km west of the village. Excavation was begun only two decades ago by Joseph Shaw, funded by the American School of Classical Studies.
The three excavation areas are close to the beach. The one to the north has houses, including one with a limestone winepress. In the central one there are houses from the New Palace period, but the most important is the southernmost one with part of a limestone road three meters wide and more than sixty meters long with ruts from ox-drawn carts. There is a long stretch of Minoan dressed stone wall-the longest found in Crete-more than fifty meters. The wall was part of a huge building whose purpose is not known, though it could have been a port warehouse. The Minoan remains were overlaid by a Classical Greek sanctuary.
To the west, near the sea is an early 10th century BC Dorian temple, among the earliest in all of Greece. It was later replaced by one that may have been built by Phoenicians with a trading empire based in Lebanon. Later, during the Hellenistic period, this site became a sanctuary. Kali Limenes, just east of the south westernmost tip of the Heraklion province is one of two and is one of the least visited of beach resorts, due to its rather rough roads and also to the fact that it is now a port for oil tankers. This was the chief harbor for Gortys at the time that Matala was a significant Roman port. It is located on the other side of Cape Lithinon from Matala.