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Agios Nikolaos - Zakros

 

21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros (see Map)

21.1 Agios Nikolaos - Sitia 21.2 Sitia 21.3 Sitia - Zakros

Sitia

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.

Map,  Agios Nikolaos to Zakros

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.

View of Sitia

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.

Sitia

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 of it.

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 Sitia waterfront.

Sitia

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 casserole dishes.

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.

Erotokritos, by Vincentzos Kornaros

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 Pireas.


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

 

Tip of the day

Syros. This is the island where Greek tradition and western influence come to a harmonious marriage. Ermoúpoli(meaning “the city of Hermes”) is the island’s capital town and has been the first important trade and industrial centre of the country in the 19th century. Evidence of this glorious past can be seen on public buildings (the City Hall, the Customs Office, “Apollo” theatre), on the neoclassical houses and at the beautiful squares. Due to its economic activity, Ermoúpoli has been called “Manchester of Greece” and the history of its years of blossom is exhibited in the Industrial Museum.
The Orthodox community has contributed some outstanding religious monuments to the architecture of Ermoúpoli such as the churches of Metamórphossi tou Sotíros (Transfiguration of Jesus Christ), St Nicolas the Rich (Áyios Nikólaos Ploússios), Dormition of the Mother of God (Koímissis tis Theotókou).

 

 

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