I must admit I liked Sitia very much. The town is so Greek, so Cretan. I could not see the influence of touristic development throughout the city, and that’s probably because the holiday-makers prefer the more eastern accommodations towards Palekastro. Sitia is also not easy to reach, the International Airport Heraklion is quite a piece away!
Young scholars chat in the many Cafeterias, narrow alleys lead over steps up to the Kazarma Fortress high above the historical neighborhood and the large beach promenade invites the guest to linger a while longer, this seems to be the typical Cretan environment.
The town of Sitia is widely believed to have taken its name from the ancient Hellenistic settlement of Itia, Itida or Sitea, hometown of Misona (one of the seven renowned ancient wise men) and of Vitzenzos Kornaros, the poet who wrote Erotokritos.
Others reject this theory and are still searching for the ancient town of Sitia wherever there are the ruins of Minoan settlements. It is certain however that the ruins of a Byzantine settlement can be found beneath present day Sitia.
The town had a turbulent history up to 1651 in which year the Venetians razed the buildings left standing after the great earthquake of 1508 and the subsequent raid in 1538 by the infamous Barbarossa.
It was rebuilt on the site of the ruins in 1870 and called Avnie, a name which was rejected by the people who preferred the name Sitia, thus maintaining their links with the past.
Upon the arrival of the Byzantines it became an important commercial port and remained so up to and throughout the early Venetian era.
The Venetians described Sitia as “the radiant focal point of the island” (maximum statum et lumen insulae) and refer to it in Regno di Candia as a major commercial hub for the East and Africa. The Venetians stamped their authority by building many fortresses in areas of strategic importance, most of which can still be seen today.
Worth a visit
The castle fortress known today as “Kazarma” (Casa di arma), is the most imposing historical monument in Sitia. The Kazarma used to be a military and administrative centre which consisted of a Medieval dwelling surrounded by walls. The fortification of the town and of the Kazarma can be dated to the late Byzantine period.
Concerts, plays, lectures and art exhibitions all take place in the Kazarma during the summer months as part of the festival known as “Kornaria”.
The Archaeological Museum
Rich displays cover the periods 3500 B.C to 500 A.D. The oldest artefacts come from the wider region of Sitia. The museum is divided into five chronological parts and displays include a valuable collection of vases, clay tablets in Linear A script which were found in the archives at Zakros, figurines from peak sanctuaries,Archaeological Museum
a wine press from the neo-palatial period and a Hellenistic wheat mill. Of special interest is the ivory and gold male figurine which was found in Roussolakos near Palekastro. Continue reading in: A Kouros in the Archaeological Museum of Sitia
Archaeological site of Petras
Many archaeologists believe that Petras is the site of ancient Itia or Itidas, the home town of the philosopher Misonas who is thought to be one of the seven great ancient philosophers. It is situated on a small hill now known as Petras. New finds are constantly brought to light here and the sheer extent of the settlement is proof of its long existance. Continue reading in: The Minoan site of Petras
Each year, the cultural Kornaria Summer festival is held in Sitia from the beginning of July until mid August.
The events include concerts of music, dance and theatre, exhibitions of fine art and photography, talks and sports events (eg. “Kornarios ” road race, beach volley competition). Events take place outdoors in the Venetian fortress “Kazarma” and indoors at the “Polikendro”. The Council of Sitia organizes these events in order to encourage the cultural development of Sitia and to provide foreign visitors with an opportunity to get to know the customs and traditions of Sitia.
The coastal town Sitia is the ideal base for a further exploration of Lassithi. Don’t miss to visit:
- Vai with the only palm forest in Europe with its clean waters and beautiful beach on the northern edge of the region on the headland of Sidero.
- The ancient Minoan palace of Kato Zakros, where over 10,000 objects of exceptional workmanship were found, many of which were classified as “royal”.
- or combine your visit/stay in Sitia with the exceptional road trip Lassithi from north to south – from Sitia to the monastery Kapsa