The ancient Itanos was one of the strongest cities in Crete, especially during the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman times. The name comes from its founder Itanos, who came from Phoenicia. Its territory, during its peak, stretched from Cape Samonio (current Cape Sidero) to Cape Erythrae (current Cape Goudouras). The city flourished due to glass trade, fishing and trade of Tyrian purple, the red dye coming from shell extract. Koufonissi Island, which was owned by Itanos, was famous for the production of purple. Also, in Palekastro was located the temple of Diktaean Zeus, which brought big profits in the region. The site of the city was located very close to the famous palmgrove of Vai in East Crete.
The power of Itanos was expressed by the imposing marble buildings, the temples of Asclepius, Zeus, Tyche, Athena and its own currency with the face of its protector, Athena. Itanos was a big rival of Praesus (near today's Nea Presos) and Ierapytna (current Ierapetra). The main point of the rivalry was the imposing Temple of Diktaean Zeus and Koufonissi. Praesus managed to add the Temple of Zeus in its territory, but Itanos regained that in 150 BC, after requesting the help of its Egyptian allies. A relevant inscription is preserved intact on the wall of the monastery Toplou, a few miles to the west. After four years the impoverished Praesus was destroyed by Ierapytna, leaving two players on the scene, Itanos and Ierapytna. Thus, disputes about the temple of Zeus and Koufonissi started quickly. Itanos started to decline in 795 AC due to an earthquake, which caused a land subsidence, while it was redestroyed by the attack of the Arabs in the 9th century. But even during that period Itanos survived, as its great Christian churches depict. The city was not abandoned until the 15th century, when the successive raids of Arabs forced its residents to abandon the coastal areas. Indeed, it is believed that its residents founded the current village Sitanos, near Nea Presos and Karydi, in Zakros mountains.
Today visitors can walk through the archaeological site and admire the various ruins such as the large tower on the western acropolis built by black stones, the large Christian church in the eastern citadel of the Hellenistic settlement, the two Early Christian churches at the foot of the hill that leads to Vai and the cemetery outside the town.