Natural Environment in East Crete Palekastro and Kato Zakros - Palekastro Kato Zakros Xerokambos | East Crete - Palekastro Kato Zakros Xerokambos | East Crete Mon, 22 Jan 2018 15:26:14 +0200 By en-gb The mountainous area of Karidi

Karidi plateauA completely different picture than by other parts of Sitia is projected on the plateau of "Karydi", located on the mountainous area on the southeast of Sitia and west of Zakros. Here is the "Kingdom of Stone", the "rocky-garden" of Nikos Kazantzakis, the imprints of the world's creation.

Here visitors experience in the most direct way the mystic genesis of the earth and the traces of the complex geological procedures that shaped the island of Crete. Here is where God spoke with the stones!

Here is the place where the architecture of the rock and the sculpture of nature meet their perfection, creating masterpieces of divine inspiration. This is also the place where one can admire the power of humanity. Through stone, the human managed to survive and create civilization! The stone-made houses, the stockyards, the shepherd's huts, the dams, the vineyards, and the gardens surrounded by stonewalls, suddenly become works of admiration and symbols of human ability and will to survive, create and develop.

Here is where the popular "mantinada" (Cretan poems/rimes) of Kostis Fragkoulis-Antaios finds its vivid expression: "Lots of stone, little water, the ground dispersed, this is Sitia, the beautiful, with the nice people!"

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The Endemic Plants of Sitia - Itanos

Endemic Plants in ItanosThe Endemic Plants of Sitia - Itanos region

The Cretan endemic plants in the region of Sitia usually grow in high altitudes, in gorges and isolated areas. Some of these plants are extremely rare or in danger of extinction. Most of the endemic plants grow in rock cracks and steep cliffs, where humans and animals cannot reach them.

Campanula (Campanula tubulosa)

Its shoot is median, fuzzy, with medium and basal oblongovate leafs and dichotomous stem. The calyx lobes are twice the size of the ovary, and it has tubelike corolla of blue-violet color. It blooms in April-May and grows on rocks and gorges in high and low altitudes.

Kyklamino (Cyclamen creticum)

It is the only endemic cyclamen species in Crete. It has tuber at its root, and the leafs are long-petioled, more or less cordate at base. Its white (and sometimes rosy) flowers bloom in March-April. It grows on montane and sub-montane zones, in shady locations.

Petromarula (Petromarula pinata)

A biennial plant with a rosette of pinnatelylobed or pinnate leafs, up to 30cm. High and hairless stems, up to 80cm. Flowers blue that bloom from April to May. It grows on rocks and gorges from sealevel to the montane zone.

Agriogarufalo (Dianthus juniperinus)

It is a species that has many varieties, all endemic in Crete. A woody perennial shrub, closely packed at the base, with many short non-flowering stems. Flowering stems up to 20cm high with 2-3 flowers. Pale pink or pink dentate petals 4-8mm and 4-8 epicalyx scales. It grows on rocks in altitudes of 200-1500 meters.

Matzourana (Origanum mirophyllum)

It is an endemic plant of Crete and grows on rocky areas, usually in an altitude of 100 to 1800 meters. It has pubescent or hairy leafs, slender quandrangular reddish stems, and purple corolla. It is boiled in water and used as hot medicinal drink. In eastern Crete it is also known by the name "Antonaida". 

The Cretan Ebenus, arhontoksulo (Ebenus cretica)

Small endemic shrub of Crete that grows all over the island, on dry, rocky slopes of hills and gorges in the montane and lowland zones. It has impressive reddish flowers in dense hairy racemes that bloom in April.

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Speleological Park of Sitia-Itanos

Caves in East CreteThe mountainous areas of Sitia, in comparison with other mountainous areas of Crete, do not have intense formations. However, due to the limestone composition of its rocks, the rain and river water has created an extended surface carst. In some places, the carst is quite impressive and has formed hundreds of limestone tips that look like a meteorite rain with uneven shapes.

Even more impressive from the surface carst is the underground carst. There is a small amount of running water on the surface, as most of it is absorbed in the subsoil and moves underground through the multiple channels of the water-soluble limestone. In the mountainous area of Itanos only, more than 82 caves, chasms, sinks and underground rivers have been recorded and the total explored routes are more than 6,000 meters and basically provide a bilge system for the province.

From here, the waters flow to the east to finally end up in various springs near the east coastline, like the ones in Zakros and Hohlakia. The past few years, the municipality of Itanos in cooperation with the speleological Club of Crete are working towards the creation of a speleological park. Many of the caves of Sitia, and of Crete in general, are connected with religious rituals and traditions dating back to the Minoan period. For the time being, the caves are not open to the public.

However, it is possible to access some of them with the appropriate equipement. The most important caves of the region that functioned as sites of worship in the past are:

The cave Okso Latsidi

The cave of Peristeras

The cave of Pelekiton

Vreiko in Makrigialos

Megalo Katofygi

The cave of Petsofas

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Regions NATURA 2000 by Palekastro

Natura 200: Palm forest VaiTwo areas of the Sitia province are integrated to the "NATURA 2000" network (EU guide 92/43/ AIE), which are of great interest, in terms of natural environment. One of is by Toplou - Cavo Sidero - Vai region:

North East End of Crete Dionysades, Elasa & the Peninsula of Sidero (Akra Mayrovouni - Vai - Akra Plaka)

This region includes the Northeast side of Crete, the Peninsula of Sidero and the nearby islands, Dionysades and Elasa. The vegetation mainly consists of shrubs, while in the prairies degraded maquis are preserved. The only palm tree forest in Europe with Phoenix theophrasti is located in Vai. There are water streams that dry up during the summer, riverain vegetation and many aquatic invertebrates.

There are 2-3 villages in the whole area. The areas around the villages are cultivated, while there are greenhouses with banana trees. In the east coast, facing the palm tree forest, there are sand dunes. In the west coast, there are "Posidonia" prairies. In the same area, groups of dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been spotted. In the end of the Peninsula there is a military base. The islands of Dionysades and Elasa are deserted. The vegetation on these islands is shrubs, while near the sea there are halophyllous plants.

The wider region presents a unique flaura and fauna, on the land and in the sea environment. The palm tree forest of Vai is a unique and especially important biotope and has been characterized as the "Aesthetic Forest".

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East Crete and the gorges

East Crete gorgesThe wider region of Sitia, and especially its southeastern part, is characterized by exceptionally beautiful gorges, where orange and grey-green colours prevail on their rocky cliffs, creating gorgeous scenes of wild nature. The gorges of the region and of Crete in general, were created about 2 millions years ago, when Crete took its final form.

Major tectonic changes formed the island to a large degree, and then environmental changes and erosions formed its final form. The geological structure of the Sitia region was perfect for the creation of gorges that, in turn, contribute to the creation of a rich and diverse landscape. Visitors will feel the presence of this geological wealth in every step and during spring and summer, lovely scents cover the atmosphere in these gorges that are considered the heaven of aromatic and medicinal plants since Minoan times. There is also a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Populations of important and rare species of the animal kingdom find shelter at the stiff cliffs of the gorges, such as griffon vultures and hawks.

There is a sacred relationship between the people of Sitia and the gorges since antiquity, when nature was worshiped and ancient Cretan deities were closely connected with its reproductive abilities.

The Gorge "ton nekron" ("Faraghi ton nekron", meaning, the gorge of the dead) in Zakros is a place that carries these ancient roots and bonds of humans with nature. A visit to the gorges of the region is at the same time a journey in ancient nature, in the civilization and history of Sitia. The natural landscape in this journey constantly changes. The landscape varies from green lands, rich in vegetation to dry, wild and naked areas. In spring, the green cliffs release the scents of pure Cretan nature.

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