Updated: Oct 3
The most impressive monument of the past and one which dominates present day in Sitia is the keep of the beautiful fortress, known as the Kazarma from Gaza di Arma. Many local people mistakenly believe that this was the castle of the mediaeval town, but the word castle in the middle ages meant the whole fortified area within which where all the public buildings and many private houses, mainly of the nobility and officials.
Thus the fort that remains today was the barracks of the garrison or the administrative building, i.e. only one of the buildings of the mediaeval walled town of Sitia. Judging by maps and drawings of the Venetian era, also small sections remaining in the sea wall near the Roman fish tanks, and the traces that have been found during excavations for foundations on private building plots near the sea, the fortification walls stretched, towards the sea. From the Roman fish tanks beyond the Customs House to as far as the crossing of El. Venizelou Street with N. Kazantzakis Street, carrying on up to above the fort where it would have joined the north-eastern wall.
The walls and the fort must originally have been built in the last years of the Byzantine era. First modifications and repairs to the fortifications were carried out in 1204 by the Genoese Enrico Pescatore. The Venetians carried out considerable alterations and renovations in 1303, 1450 and on a large scale after the earthquake of 1508. After this came Barbarossa’s raid in 1538 which caused such a damage to the wall that the Venetian engineers Pallavicini and Savorgan asked permission to level them. This resulted in the inhabitants themselves contributing 1500 ducats for repairs in 1586. The possibility of demolishing the walls was again discussed when it was found that a part of the seaward wall could not be properly repaired. Gerolemo Bembo and Hannibale Gongara, Bailiffs of Sitia, took action and managed to prevent the destruction of the castle walls, but in 1626 the Venetian Proveditor Trevisan reported that Sitia was virtually an unfortified town.
It was during the time of his successor Francisco Morosini that Venice sent money and engineers to repair the fortification, but unfortunately it was by then too late and as is it mentioned above, the population was moved away and though there were garrisons in the fort until 1651, when they left, the town was demolished. During the Turkish occupation the walls do not seem to have been rebuilt although the fort was restored and one can still see the Turkish additions including the doomed look- out posts up on the battlements.
The fort stands on a raised platform, so as to command the area. Two stairways to the west and east bring one up to the arced southern entrance which is the main gate, and above this is one of the Turkish sentry posts. One enters a large courtyard and having mounded two rough platforms, or terraces by the stairs at one end or the other, one stands before the keep itself. To the east there is a building consisting of three rooms, one of which is roofed with a barrel vault, these is probably from the Ottoman period.
Opposite to the west, there was a smaller building which has fallen to ruins now, but it may have been the kitchen as it had a very wide fireplace. Above the buildings on the eastern side there is another Turkish look out post, and between this and the keep is the eastern gate. The faced of the keep has a small narrow centrally placed door over which there is a square opening. Higher up are four windows. Three steps lead up to the entrance and than inside a flight of sixteen steps brings one onto the first floor level. The walls, except for that of the faced, have loop holes.
Further up can be seen rows of holes left by the beams of the second floor which was also supported by wooden posts (the stone bases for these are still in place). On the level of the second floor one can see loop holes in all the walls, above these are the holes left by the roof timbers and then the crowing battlements with another look-out post in the north-west corner. The wall enclosing the courtyard, which are five meters high at some places, are also topped with battlements with the exception of the south side. Over the years the Kazarma fort has been methodically restored and is must visit when you are in Sitia or the area around it.