21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros (see Map)
As is the case with most protected bays, the one on which Sitia
is now built has been the scene of human habitation from a very
long time ago. Many small Neolithic settlements were scattered
behind this sandy coast, while in the Minoan era a large settlement
grew up on the hill of Petra, about 2 kilometres east of the
centre of Sitia.
The English archaeologist Robert Bosanquet was the first to
make excavations on this hill in 1901, and he maintained that
the traces of buildings which he discovered belonged to the
Minoan City of Itia. His hypothesis has been
confirmed by the extended excavations that have been carried
out here by the Greek archaeologist Metaxia Tsipopoulou since
1985 and which have revealed the foundations of a palace-like
building at the highest point of the hill, and of a large city
that grew up around it during the Neopalatial Period (1700-1450
BC). Myson, one of the seven sages of ancient
Greece, was born in this city. Its harbour was used as a port
by the ancient Praisians, who came and settled here in 155 BC
(those who survived, that is) after the destruction of Praisos
by the Ierapytnians. Most of the finds from the excavations
at Sitia and the surrounding area are exhibited at the Archaeological
Museum of Sitia (open Tuesday - Sunday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.) which
is situated at the east end of the town, on the road to Ierapetra.
Down on the coast, at
the point where Sitia is now, there was already a city from
the end of the Roman era. It was one of the cities the Genoans
fortified with walls in around 1204, but it soon passed into
the hands of the Venetians, who strengthened its walls.
During Venetian rule, the city was destroyed twice by earthquake
and, in 1538, it was razed to the ground by the worst pirate
of that time, Chairentin Barbarosa. Despite these numerous catastrophes,
Sitia not only survived but also became a strong artistic and
intellectual centre. It was here that Vincentzos Kornaros
was born and worked in the middle of the 17th century; he was
the poet who wrote Erotokritos, a long narrative
love poem of 10,000 lines which has been so widely read and
so loved by the people that many popular Cretan “bards”
learned large parts of it by heart and recited it at folk festivals.
In 1648, when the Turks were at its gates, the Venetians had
already moved its inhabitants to a castle which they built on
the steep hill of Liopetra, about 10 kilometres
west of Sitia. In 1651, after a spirited defence of 3 years,
the Turks captured Sitia and reduced it to a pile of ruins.
It remained in this condition for two centuries, until 1869,
when it was rebuilt by the Turks.
Nothing has been preserved of Turkish Sitia except for the
town’s street plan. Today Sitia is a very beautiful town,
the only town on the island that has managed to maintain a peaceful
atmosphere and its authentic Cretan character.
Don’t imagine that it is some poor neglected town - on the
contrary! Its 8,000 permanent residents are the most cheerful
and friendly Cretans you could hope to meet, people who love their
town and keep it clean and tidy, not so much to attract tourists
but more because they themselves take pleasure in it and are proud
They have left nothing to chance. They take care to keep their
big sandy beach really clean and they have installed communal
showers there. They have made exemplary restorations on the
last remaining tower of their once mighty Venetian castle, Kazarma,
where every August they organise the “Kornareia”,
a very interesting cultural festival. With respect to the appearance
of their town, they have the necessary infrastructure to offer
visitors a pleasant stay, treating them as friends and not as
walking wallets. In any case, tourism is not their main source
of income. They maintain their own social and economic life,
in which visitors are welcome. It is the only town in Crete
where the locals outnumber the foreigners, even in August. You
will see them bringing vitality to the commercial streets behind
the park, from early in the morning until late in the afternoon.
When evening comes, they dress in their best and go out for
the ‘statutory’ volta or walk
on the pavement next to the harbour, where most of the restaurants,
coffee-houses, patisseries and bars are grouped. From
the very first day of your stay, these cheerful people will
make you feel especially welcome.
For food and entertainment, all you have to do is take a walk
to the small harbour and the streets around it, and all the
choices open up in front of your very eyes. For well-grilled
fresh fish you can trust the Remetzo, the Zorbas
and the Kastro, all three of which are on the
A very good traditional taverna is the Neromylos
in the neighbouring village of Aghia Fotia, which is housed
in an old water-mill and, apart from the fantastic charcoal-grilled
meat, it offers a very lovely view of Sitia (especially at night).
Late at night (or early in the morning, if you prefer!) all
the night-owls end up in the two traditional night restaurants
on the north side of the harbour, the Pharo
and the Karnagia, for a steaming hot dish of
patsas (tripe), boiled goat, omaties (lamb’s intestines
stuffed with rise and finely-chopped offal) and all the typical
There is not much choice of evening entertainment in Sitia.
The outstanding place here is the Planitario,
a huge discotheque with a sliding roof for crazy fun under the
stars! It is situated 500 metres outside the northern edge of
the town, which allows it to play its music to whatever decibel
level it likes. In the town there are about ten bars, all in
the same style and all playing more or less the same music -
rock and jazz to start with, then techno and dance music and,
after 2 a.m. Greek music. People gather first at one and then
at the other bar, so you have to go to all of them (they’re
all near each other anyway) to see which one has the people.
Sitia does not have a motorcycle club, but it does have a
big group of motorcyclists. Michalis Zervakis, Nikos Tsimpidakis,
Ippokratis Misantonis, Giorgos Papadakis, and many others whom
you will find in the town’s motorcycle shops and workshops
(see the list of helpful information at the end of this Guide),
are eager to help you find your way around their home territory
and to assist you in whatever you need.
If you decide to start your holidays in Sitia, you can come
straight here from Pireas on the ferry Vincentzos Kornaros,
the best ship sailing between Pireas and Crete, and one of the
best Greek coastal liners.
You can also come by air on the small Olympic Air propeller
aeroplanes that land four times a week in the small airport
north of Sitia. If Sitia is the end of your journey, you can
take the boat to Karpathos, Kassos and Rhodes or straight to
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.