Buildings and Museums
Medieval Buildings and Museums
The Archeological Museum of Sitia
One of the most important Cretan Museums is located in the Sitia town. In the town’s archeological museum are placed important finds of Minoan Civilization and other archaic Cretan civilizations. Unique exhibits of the excavations in Zakros, Mochlos, Psira, Palekastro, Itanos, Agia Fotia and other significant Minoan hubs in central Crete present a new experience for the visitor. Many of the exhibits refer to the olive, the vine cutlery, fishing bee- keeping as to other sectors of rural activity.
The long archeological and historical research at the Sitia area has brought to light rare and valuable finds and information of all civilizations from
the Neolithic Age and the Minoan period to the New Age. The civilizations that have flourished the grounds of Sitia, one of the richest areas in archeological sites internationally have bequeathed us magnificent samples of material and intellectual wealth that are exhibited in the district Museums and Collections.
There are important folklore museums in Chamezi and Palekastro and minor folklore collections in Chandra and Pefkoi. In spaces fit out for exhibitions you find items that represent the Cretan folk culture and the rural and pastoral life. Three kilometers in the east of Sitia next to the Road to TOPLOU – Vai is built by the Sitia touring Club a large and well equipped Centre of Traditional Culture with Folklore Collections, Art Workshops, show rooms – selling points- rooms for trying local products, cinemas, multiple purpose halls, exhibition halls etc.
The Folklore Museum of Sitia
The Folklore Museum of Sitia was founded in 1975 by the educational and cultural association “Vintsenzos Kornaros”. It contains many important folklore exhibits; mainly hand woven materials, embroideries, local costumes, furniture:
It includes linen table clothes, cotton handmade pillows, bedcovers and clothes. Hand-woven drapes with images of ancient gods and semi gods like Eros, Aphrodite and Pan. Cotton linen and silk towels, woven and adorned with various patterns.
A large variety of woven products like carpets, rugs, carrying bags, cloaks.
Various handmade furniture including the iron bed, pictured on the top of this page, wooden cases for storing clothes and produce, a children’s rocking bed. Most wooden furniture on display is also hand carved with various motifs, and pictures from the Cretan history.
A variety of hand made and polished mirrors, various small boxes for every day use like a newspaper rack, a toiletries box etc., Also some clocks in hand carved cases, pictures frames constructed from wood and decorated with silk.
Some costumes are on display, depicting the typical dressing of the locals in older times. This includes the clothes worn by a typical farmer, a typical dress worn by a lady at the beginning of the century, etc.
Various cooking utensils and equipment, like irons, rock and mills for grinding coffee, and flour, lamp stands, iron pots and pans.
Ceramic pans, pots and plates, water carafes, flower vases, glasses.
Some old Orthodox Christian icons are also on display.
A complete loom with all its parts, on working condition, is on display. Here the visitor can examine the whole process of weaving. The loom is currently used by the museum staff, to produce artifacts on sale in the museum shop.
Woodcarving Museum in Tourtoulous
At the old forge which is currently being used as an exhibition hall after its restoration, displayed the artwork of the popular artist Manolis Th. Perakis- Chalkias (1910-2006). Chalkias, after having subdued iron material as a blacksmith an impressive piece of his work is the handmade quintal, “kandari” (a traditional scale) – he also tried to express himself artisticly working on raw wood material for 35 whole years (from 1971 till his death).
Inspired by nature, Manolis Th. Perakis- Chalkias created various realistic, as well as imaginary shapes. The main raw materials he used were the natural wood of medlar tree (despolia), mandarin tree, orange tree, olive tree, pear tree etc. Some of the artist’s favourite topics are: portraits (Christ’s, Virgin Mary’s), busts of political persons (Eleftherios Venizelos), ornamented useful things, musical instruments ( the lyre and the violin), incomprehensible animal complexes, monstrous birds and supernatural reptiles.
All he created, using his imagination, became true as he engraved wood. Naturalness, simplicity and uniqueness dominate upon his craftwork. Chalkia’s handmade artistry is based on traditional tools such as hack hammers, chisels, saws and sharpeners. When artist’s hands “talk” we can do nothing more than remain silent enjoying his work!
Zakros Museum of Water and Hydraulics
Zakros is one of the biggest villages in Eastern Crete, known for the Minoan Palace in Kato Zakros but also for the abundance of water, the springs and the ravines with plane trees.
The existence of water has always played a vital part in the inhabitants’ activities, having a parallel course with the “water’s path”. A path that has been carved by the force of the movement of water for thousands of years, starting from the biggest spring in Zakros called “Mesa Mylos” reaching the gorge and continuing its course towards the sea.
The settlement was built along the course of water. In the beginning the inhabitants had small vegetable gardens for their everyday needs but later large expanses with olive trees were cultivated which are today fully irrigated and they produce Zakro’s distinguished olive oil.
People fully exploited the possibility given by water to move the engines they invented to produce goods and improve their living standards. Watermills were built along this water path in order to grind grain, small factories to produce olive oil and rasotrivia* to process woollen textiles.
In the early 1900s Zakros constituted the centre of an “industrial area” since there were 11 watermills functioning. The watermill is considered to be the “factory” of the pre-industrial era.
A smart and simple construction exploited the water power to move millstones, the whole process controlled by only one person, the miller.
The grain was mostly barley and wheat, cultivated around Zakros and the nearby areas. Many were those who came a long distance to grind the grain at the watermills of Zakros. The construction of a watermill was mainly of a simple right-angle shaping including the workroom and in larger watermills, a reception room for customers and the miller’s residence with a fireplace for cooking and heating. Next to the watermill there used to be a stable for animals and sometimes a wood-oven.
The well is probably the most impressive element as far as construction is concerned. Located above the watermills, 6 to 8 meters in height, it forwarded the water to a propeller which moved the millstones to grind the grain which slowly fell off the basket always under the miller’s supervision.
The Museum of Water in Zakros is housed in the restored watermills which were given away by the owners’ families in 1997. It is a theme museum whose aim is to gather every object or other material relative to the use of water in the past and also to make the importance of water known in our days as well.
The watermills which have been restored and formed to exhibitions are:
– “Brilakenas'” watermill. It was a property of Brilakis and N. Rodanakis family, built before 1900. there is a rasotrivio* nearby owned by N. Rodanakis.
– “Rodanovagelis'” watermill, built before 1900 by Vagelis Rodanakis’ father. In the same space an olive oil factory functioned with the power of water.
– “Xopapa’s” watermill, one of the oldest watermills. There is a wood-oven right outside.
* Small factory which processed woollen textiles
Zakros Minoan Palace
The palace at Zakros is the fourth in terms of size, among the Minoan palaces. It was located at an advantageous strategic position, at a protected bay, and was the centre of commercial exchange with the countries of the East, as is indicated by the excavation finds (elephants’ tusks, faience, copper etc.) It has two main building phases: the old palace was built in c. 1900 B.C., and the new one in c. 1600 B.C., but was destroyed in 1450 B.C. along with the other centers of Minoan Crete. The palace was the administrative, religious and commercial centre, and was surrounded by the town. After its destruction, it was not rebuilt and the site was used only for cultivation. Burials have been uncovered inside caves on the slopes of the “Ravine of the Dead”, as the ravine that stretches from Pano Zakros to Kato Zakros is called.
The English admiral Th. Spratt in his book “Travels in Crete”, published in the middle of the 19th century, mentions to have seen ancient ruins in the area. At the end of the 19th century, the Italian archaeologists F. Halbherr and L. Mariani, and the English A. Evans conducted trial excavations in the area. The first systematic excavation was carried out in 1901 by D.G. Hogarth of the British School of Archeology, who excavated two deposits and houses that suffered severe destruction during the Second World War. Hogarth came very close to the palace but did not uncover it. Sixty years later, a few gold ornaments given by a peasant as a “gift” to doctor Giamalakis, and remodelling works in the area that brought to light ashlars blocks and a sword, in 1961, led N. Platon to start systematic excavation, with the financial support of the Americans L. and H. Pomerance, bringing to light the palace and the settlement around it.
The finds from the excavation are exhibited in the Museum of Herakleion, while a few are kept in the Museums of Sitia and Aghios Nikolaos.
Each historical era has left its sign in the soil of Sitia. During the declining years of the Minoan civilisation, the city of Presos continued to uphold Minoan values, successfully holding off Dorian invaders. It was finally destroyed by the powerful city of Ierapetra. The development of the Greek and Hellenistic period came to a halt with the arrival of the Romans who in turn left their mark – eg. the Roman fish tanks in Sitia and the theatre on the island of Koufonisi. The subsequent Byzantine period led to the construction of new fortresses, major ports and churches both large and small. Despite being easy prey for marauding pirates and robbers the Sitian people continued an uninterrupted cultural development of some significance.
The Venetians – new masters of the region – buried all previous history under the foundations of their new buildings, in this way stamping their authority on the area and leaving their own mark on the passage of time.
The Kazarma fortress, the feudal towers scattered around the area, imposing buildings and new settlements are all built on the ruins of the old. Wherever the visitor wanders, he can see traces of the long Venetian occupation in the “vigilae” and guard towers, in the spacious villas of the ruling families and in the fortifications.
The Ottoman Turks were the next people to leave their mark in the region. However, the Ottomans left few traces of cultural development. Their mark can be seen only in written archives and felt in the living traditions and stories which are etched into the collective memory of the peoples of Sitia and of the surrounding villages, many of which have names which can be traced back to the Ottoman occupation.
The castle fortress known today as “Kazarma” (Casa di arma), is the most imposing historical monument in Sitia.
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.
However, pirate raids, the continual uprisings against the Venetian occupation by the local people and the great earthquake all led to the partial destruction of the fortifications until the Venetians themselves were forced to completely destroy them with the intention of rebuilding them. This never happened and in 1651 the town was razed and then occupied by the Turks.
During the Turkish occupation it would appear that the walls were never rebuilt but Kazarma was restored and evidence of the Turkish extensions can be seen today, for example in the cupolas (“koubedes”) on the battlements that form the watch towers. Kazarma has since been carefully restored and is open to the public offering a panoramic view across the bay of Sitia.
Concerts, plays, lectures and art exhibitions all take place in Kazarma during the summer months as part of the festival known as “Kornaria”.
According to the evidence of recent excavations it would appear that the site of Hellenistic Sitia is situated at Tripitos, a small headland 3 kms east of Sitia. On the side of a hill tilted towards the sea, an oblong hole or pit with a floor was discovered measuring 30m x 5.50 x 5. Archeologists believe that it was used to hoist, protect and repair ships (like a present day ship-builders yard). It is the only confirmed such find in Crete and dates from the Hellenistic period.
A small Hellenistic town with the remains of some dwellings was also recently unearthed at the same site. Archeologists also found a large fortified wall to the South and many vases, coins, pieces of jewellery and lead weights.
The deserted settlement of Voila occupies the north and west sides of the steep hill located on the eastern side of the Armenochantrades plateau. On the southeast side the settlement is protected by the steep cliff. In the north and western sides of the hill, the houses are built like fortifications, while a short wall is protecting the remaining perimeter towards the valley. The settlement spans below the contemporary road which destroyed many of the archaeological buildings when it was built. Domed warehouses or stables are still preserved in the low external zone while all the houses are built on the slope.
During the Venetian domination over the island, the settlement belonged to the feud of the Salomon family. During their reign they expanded the Aghios-Georgios church which also includes the family tomb of the Salomons. During the Ottoman Empire most of its citizens were ottomans and was also the base of a janizary battalion. The most know commander of the janizary was Jen Ali after whom the tower of the settlement was named. Since the end of the 19th century, the settlement declined and today lies in ruins. The majority of the remaining buildings belongs to the Ottoman Empire era. However, the architecture of the Venetian built edifices is a witnesse to the affluence of the area during their reign.
Etia probably took its name from the tree Itea (willow) The village seems to have been populated since the Byzantine period as one can see from the remaining churches of Aghios-Ioannis and Aghia-Ekaterini. During the Venetian reign it was on of the largest villages of the area with 563 citizens. The area was a feud of the Venetian aristocrat Dei Mezzo from the great Dei Mezzo family, which is one of the most populous families of Sitia. Dei Mezzo built the villa that bears its name and is one of the most important Venetian monuments of the Cretan country side.
The building had a rectangular shape with an entry hall covered by arches; as was the main dining hall and the corridor. All the auxiliary structures around the mansion were probably built during the Ottoman reign. Many engravings and the escutcheon of the Dei Mezzo family can also be found.
The villa was built at end of the 15th century, the same time the Toplou monastery was built and it was preserved intact until 1828. The building was surrounded by a big yard and was protected by walls. The main gate was palatial and bore the coat of arms of the Dei Mezzo family. On the eastern side of the yard close to the door, a fountain was found; the water was passed to the basin along the road.
Fortress of Liopetro
The fortress of Liopetra (from Leon di Pietra) which was built at the beginning of the 17th century AD, also belongs to the Hamezi area. In 579 the Venetian Proveditor Giacomo Foscarini had proposed to the Senate that such a fort should be built to shelter the inhabitants of Sitia in the event of war against the Turks.
The matter was brought up again by both Petros Zanos and Scotti in 1590 and 1595 respectively; so at the beginning of the 17th century the Senate gave orders for the building of this large fortress which could shelter as many as 6000 people.
There are indications that the fort was erected over the foundations of an ancient castle, the cistern of which remains to this day.