The E75 coastal road from Agios Nikolaos goes to the main town
of Eastern Crete,Sitia, 69 km to the east.
Shortly before Sitia is the settlement of Chamezi where
there is a prehistoric circular house. Siteia is a pretty
little harbour village that spreads around the bay of Siteia.
This town is not a major tourist place although it has a
busy atmosphere and a very nice uncrowded, sandy beach that
is 1km long that is provided with showers for bathers.
Its history is long, built on the site of ancient Eteia by the Venetians and after its destruction rebuilt by the Turks. On the eastern side of the town are the remains of a Venetian fort, an early Minoan cemetery with rock-cut graves and chamber tombs, and one of the most important and richest monasteries in Crete, the Panayia Akrotiriani (or Toplou) which has extremely well preserved 14th Century wall paintings.
The town of Sitia is located at a distance of approximately 69km east of Agios Nikolaos and its population numbers around 8,500 inhabitants. Archaeologists believe that the current town stands on the site of ancient Itia, the port of Presos and the birthplace of the 'wise Myson'. Excavations have established that it was a flourishing city during the Minoan Period. The town as it stands today was developed in 1870 according to the architectural design of the Turk, Avgi Pasha. Previous to this it had been deserted for around 200 years. The town has some remnants that portray its history.
Parts of a Venetian fortified wall still exist as does the castle of Kazarma. These constructions were partly destroyed in earthquakes that occurred in 1303 and 1508. Destruction also took place when the town was attacked in 1538 by the infamous pirate, Barbarossa. On a more positive note, Sitia is the birthplace of the famous poet, Vintsezos Kornaros, who wrote 'Erotokritos'. Interesting places to visit are the Archaeological Museum and the Laographic Museum both of which have interesting artefacts and information about the day-to-day life and traditions of the area. Around 15km away from Sitia are the ruins of the ancient city of Presos.
To the south is the area of Hamezi where there is a Mid-Minoan structure and close by are the Monasteries of Faneromeni and Toplou. The latter monastery, the Monastery of Toplou, is of great significance. It is one of the richest monasteries on Crete and is dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary and to St. John the Theologist. Originally it was named Panagia Akrotiriani (Virgin Mary of the Cape) due to its location close to the Sidero Cape. Its current name is of Turkish origin because of its Venetian cannon ('top' in Turkish). It was built in the 15th century and is thought to be sited on the ruins of an earlier convent. In 1530 it was plundered by the Knights of St. John and then destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1612. After this, it was repaired and renovated before falling into the hands of the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.
The construction is dominated by a tall, Italian style bell tower, thought to date from around 1558 and surround by a 10 metre high wall. Inscribed on the wall is a peace treaty between the cities of Itanos and Ierapitnos which dates from the 2nd century BC. Inside there are many exquisite icons and frescoes, some of which date from the 14th century. Amongst these is the 1770 painting by Ioannis Kornaros, 'Great Art Thou, O Lord' and an icon of Our Lady which, according to legend, was found in a nearby cave.
As with most of the monasteries on Crete it has a close association with the island's history in throwing off the yoke of oppression and occupation. During the Turkish occupation, it provided refuge to the persecuted Cretans and was the location of a 'secret school' which, on discovery by the Turks, led to the massacre of twelve monks in 1866. During the German occupation in World War Two, the monastery was used as the headquarters for the National Resistance movement of the area. There is a big festival and celebration every year on 26th September at the monastery when pilgrims from all over Crete come to pay homage.