History of Sitia – East Crete
Sitia took its name from the ancient city of Itia or Itida which was located a little east of the current city. Itia was inhabited since the Bronze Age and experienced great prosperity during the 2nd century AD. It is also assumed to be the homeland of Myson, one of the seven sages of antiquity.
The city was inhabited by the Eteocrites, that is, the “old” Cretans. These were the Minoans that escaped to the mountainous and remote areas of Crete, after the fall of the Minoan civilization and the occupation of the island by the Dorians. However, its development is due to the Praisians, from the ancient city of Praisos, who took refuge here after its destruction by Ierapetra.
During the first Byzantine years, the city was moved to its current location and the port of Sitia experienced significant commercial activity. Throughout the years of Venetian rule, Sitia was characterized as “maximum statum et lumen ejiusdem insulae“, meaning “maximum station and light of the island”. Various castles and fortresses were built during this time; the barracks are one of the defining features that dominate the city and survive to this day. Sitia suffered enormous damage during the earthquake of 1508 and thirty years later, in 1538, was completely destroyed by the pirates of Barbarossa. Eventually, in 1651, its inhabitants abandoned it and the Venetians destroyed its walls and most important buildings so as not to surrender to the Turks.
The city was rebuilt in 1870 by Hussein Avni Pasha, who moved the capital of his province here and it was renamed “Avnie” in his honour. However, the locals continued to call it Sitia and so the name has remained until today.
When it comes to its modern history, Sitia was occupied in 1941 by the Italians who remained in the city until the arrival of the German army. The people of Sitia had an active role in the resistance against the German occupiers. One of the most important centres was the monastery of Toplou, which sheltered the rebels and also operated a radio station for communication purposes. The monastery is located only 15 km east of Sitia and is worth a visit. Some other places worth exploring are Palaikastro, Zakros and the beautiful palm forest beach of Vai.