The picture of this prefecture is made up of fertile plains, long beaches with coarse, dark or fine sand, a rugged landscape, large towns, and villages which cling to tradition. There are many archaeological and historical sites of particular interest. Lassithi region is known for its many caves and two areas which are unique: Vai with its wood of palm trees and the Lassithi Plateau with thousands of wind-pumps.
Lassithi is at the most eastern end of Crete and has an area of 1.818 sq. km. Its capital is the picturesque port of Agios Nikolaos, and it is divided into four sub-prefectures: Mirabello, Lassithi, Ierapetra, and Sitia. Agios Nikolaos, like Elounda, has developed into an important tourist centre with large luxury hotels.
Agios Nikolaos, the capital of Lassithi
Agios Nikolaos has been the capital of the region since 1904. It stands on the north-western shore of the attractive Gulf of Mirabello, Crete’s largest bay. This busy, cosmopolitan town has about 8.000 habitants. In spite of the fact that it is modern, just few things can distinguish Agios Nikolaos from a contemporary city. The town attracts thousands of tourists every year because of the picturesqueness of its harbour, the wealth of sightseeing which the region provides and the high quality of accommodation and services with which it can supply its visitors.
In the period when the Venetians ruled the island, they built the Mirabello (“beautiful view”) Fortress on the highest hill in the area, close to the sea, on a site now occupied by the municipality buildings. Its purpose was to protect the harbour, which was to the north of Agios Nikolaos and from that time on was known as “Porto di San Nicolo”, from the dedication of a nearby chapel.
Under Turkish occupation the town was uninhabited and its harbour, Mandraki, was used for the commercial exportation of agricultural products. Towards the end of Turkish rule, a small village began to grow up round the harbour. This took the name of Agios Nikolaos (St Nicolas) from the old single-aisled domed church which stands by the Port.
A characteristic feature of Agios Nikolaos is the attractive Voulismeni or “Xepatomeni” lake, which is linked to the sea by a canal. On its north-western side there is a zoo. According to mythology, the goddesses Athena and Artemis Vritomartis were accustomed to bathe here. At the northern end of the harbour, on a small headland, is the Byzantine chapel of St Nicholas, which gave its name to the town. Two islets add to the picturesqueness of Agios Nikolaos. The larger is that of Agion Panton (“All Saints”), on which Cretan wild goats are bred, and the smaller called Mikro.
Museums in Agios Nikolaos
– The Archaeological Museum contains eight rooms with finds from excavations in eastern Crete. Link [74 Konstantinou Palaiologou Str., 72100, Agios Nikolaos]
– The Folklore Museum (on the ground floor of the harbourmaster’s building) has examples of folk art and craft, textiles, wood carvings, costumes and Byzantine icons. Link [2, Kondylaki Street, 72100, Agios Nikolaos]
– The Koundourios Municipal Library contains more than 10.000 books.