The construction of towers was one of the several defensive measures taken by the rulers of Crete (mainly Venetians and Ottomans) to strengthen their domination and protect them from the ongoing revolutionary movements of the Cretans. Towers were also built by the Byzantines (between 961AD-1204AD so as to protect the province of Crete from the raids of pirates.
A tower was a tall edifice built on a strong base, used mainly for defensive purposes. Its shape was circular, semicircular, square or polygonal. Towers were usually built in the exterior walls of a castle, near its gates and on the corners of the fortresses.
Here we will deal with independent towers that were built mainly in the mainland of Crete, aiming at the enforcement of the conquerors against the Cretan people, but also with some towers built near the shores to supervise the sea and to warn the residents for enemies. These coastal towers were called torrete di aviso (warning towers). The Venetians in 1573 planned to build many torrete di aviso at distances that would allow visual contact. These were multi-storey towers and someone could move from floor to floor with removable wooden ladders.
While the castles and fortresses were public buildings, as they were erected under public expenses or with the fatigues of the native population, the towers were smaller buildings which were built mostly by rich individuals or feudal families at their own expense. Thus, the towers usually bore a family crest above their main entrance, which was the identity of the tower. Initially, the systematic construction of the towers started by the Venetian feudal lords and later by the Turks.
Also, in this subsection we shall refer to some buildings which do not have the characteristics of defensive towers, but were actually luxurious mansions for rulers that lived in the villages. The towers, as they are called, were configured to meet the housing needs of the lords, but also offered various administrative and military services. They were known as villas, seray, konak and were playing the role of a chateau.
According to some historical records, the number of towers per province was: Sitia 22, Mirabello 16, Ierapetra 15, Pediada 24, Rizos 4, Kairourgio 9, Pirgiotisa 7. That number soared after 1869, when the Turks built many public towers across the island of Crete (called Koules), which are presented in separate section. Most of the towers are now gone, as they were destroyed by the Cretan rebels.
Etia is an deserted medieval village, located near Lithines of Sitia province, which in its heyday was the largest village of the area with more than 500 residents. It is worth strolling among the Venetian buildings of the village. Here in the late 15th century, the Venetian master Pietro Dei Mezzo, which was the feudal lord of the surrounding area, built the mansion De Mezzo, known as Villa De Mezzo or Seraglio.
The fort, according to a Turkish inscription on its outside walls, was built in 1740-1741. It was presumably founded by an Islamized Venetian nobleman who belonged to the family of Zeni, and was named Tsin Ali or Tzinalis. Tzinalis is a real historical person and was one of the toughest janissaries of Sitia.
At Kokkino Metochi, near Drapanias, or more specifically at the position Trevizana, the visitors can still see the ruins of the imposing Venetian mansion of Trevisan. It was a two-storey building with the ground floor being used as a warehouse and the upper floor as a residence.
At position Pyrgi of ancient Eleftherna town, located 24km east of Rethymnon, there are the ruins of a fortified tower. This tower was built before the Roman period so as to protect the unique entrance to the ancient town of Eleftherna.
The Tower of Kornaros is located at a lush green and quiet position northeast of Myrsine village, 24km west of Sitia. It is a small square stone-built tower probably of the 15th century that was used as a lookout during the period of the Venetian and the Ottoman rule, which has good views to the north coast.
Between the villages of Ano Varsamonero, Kaloniktis, Ano Malaki and Kato Malaki, at an area full of oaks and ancient olive trees, still stands the ruined Venetian Mansion of Syngelos. Apparently this building was used for controlling and overlooking the region by its owner during the Venetian period or later.
The village Kouses is located west of Pompia and 62km southwest of Heraklion. Here lived the crypto-Christian family of Kourmoulis, numbering around 100 families in 1821.
At Kenourgio Village of Pediada Province there have survived the ruins of a tower that belonged to the family of Markantonio Foscolo. The tower was known by the will of the Cretan comedian poet of "Fortunato".