Sitia is Now a European and Global Geopark
Feb 5, 2020
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Eastern Crete, and especially the area of Sitia, is one of the most important and environmentally unique areas of Crete.
Its geographical position on the eastern edge of the island, which allowed for the exchange of species with Asia Minor, in combination with the intense dry and hot climate of the area, created a mosaic of habitats and ecosystems, some of which, such as the Palm Forest of Vai, are unique in the Mediterranean.
Here you will find the great "The Natural Park of Sitia".
It covers the entire area of the former Kapodistrian Municipality of Itanos, as well as parts of the former Municipalities of Lefki and Sitia. Geographically, it extends from cape Kavo Sidero, in the north, to the southern coast of the Municipality, the edges of the city of Sitia, to the west, and the coast of Zakros, to the east. It is mainly a mountainous area, with the Zakros Mountains dominating the landscape and the lace-like coastline all along the shores. Park’s boundary have been assigned in detail covering an area of 361,4 km2 (or 361,4 hectares).
The prevailing ecosystem in the area is mainly brush, i.e. low vegetation that mostly consists of brushwood, aromatic herbs and invertebrates, reptiles and mammals that live in such habitats. There are no large forest ecosystems or clusters of trees in the area, except in the Palm Forest of Vai, where the Cretan Date Palm (Phoenix theophrasti) prevails, and small patches of Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Oriental Planes (Platanus orientalis) and carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua), usually found in canyons and ravines. The habitats observed in the area, which have been recorded in the NATURA 2000 network, are patches of Phoenician Juniper (Juniperus prhoenicea) on coastal sand dunes, such as the areas of Chryssi Ammos in Vai and Katsounaki beach in Xerokambos, and brush vegetation that dominate the entire park, Mediterannean ecosystems with a steppe-like mountainous grasses, rocky habitats on steep mountainsides and canyons, Mediterranean rivers with periodic flow, clusters of Cretan Date Palms, wetland systems and small Mediterranean lakes that periodically flood with waters, and, lastly, agricultural land as well as crop fields, mainly vineyards and olive groves.
Sitia Natural Park presents great floral interest. Amongst the hundreds of plant species it hosts, there are many endemic species encountered throughout Crete, endemic to Crete and Kasos, as well as unique species, known only to the southeast Aegean. The region as a whole belongs to the Mediterranean Vegetation Zone, where brush vegetation prevails. Variations in the vegetation are small, with some exceptions in areas such as the Vai Palm Forest and the surrounding area, as well as in some canyons with an intense presence of water, at least during winter months (Zakros canyon, Xerokambos, Chochlakia). The existence of great expanses of olive trees, vineyards and other tree crops is also very important for the composition of the island’s flora.
The brush that covers many parts of the park, both coastally and in the mountain area, are dominated by low, thorny and spherical bushes, such as the Thorny Burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), Thyme (Coridothymus capitatus), Broom (Genista acanthoclada), Winter Savuory (Satureja thymbra) and Greek Spiny Spurge (Euphorbia acanthothamnos). They coexist with non-thorny bushes such as Heather (Erica manipuliflora), Ballota acetabulosa, Greek Sage (Salvia fruticosa) and the Rock Rose (Cistus creticus, Cistus salviifolius). On smaller expanses of land, taller bushes are encountered, forming maquis vegetation and consisting of Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Spiny Broom (Calicotome villosa), Wild Olives (Olea europaea subsp. Oleaster), Phoenician Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua), Osyris alba, oleander (Phlomis fruticosa) and Tree Spurge (Euphorbia dendroides). Other plants that grow in the ravines in the area of Zakros, where there is plenty of water, are Oriental Planes (Platanus orientalis), Oleander (Nerium oleander) and Vitex (Vitex agnus castus).
The region’s canyons offer refuge to many important species of flora in the area. The canyons of Kato Zakros and Chochlakia, in particular, are home to a large number of plants and they attract many researchers and observers every year. Characteristic species that have found a home on the sheer limestone rocks and on the ravine beds are Αristolochia cretica, Delphinium staphisagria, Wild Carnations (Dianthus juniperinus), Εuphorbia dendroides, the Lecokia cretica, Εphedra cambylopoda, Nepeta melissifolia , Capers (Capparis spinosa), the Dracunculus vulgaris, bluebells (Campanula pelviformis and Campanula spatulata ssp. Filicaulis), Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis lanata), Oregano (Origanum onites), Tulipa saxatilis and many orchid species.
Coastal areas are dominated exclusively by herbaceous plants, mainly Amaranth (Limonium greacum) and the endemic Limonium sitiacum, while on the beaches of Katsounaki and Argilos in Xerokambos, there are Sea Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum).
Read more about Sitia Nature Park.