Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus
The Lion of St. Mark over the entrance to the Venetian castle Frangokastello, on the south coast of Crete, about 12 km east of Sfakia.
The castle was built by the Venetians in 1371-74 as a garrison to impose order on the rebellious Sfakiá region, to deter pirates, and to protect Venetian nobles and their properties. The Venetians named it the Castle of St Nikitas, after the nearby church. The locals, however, who never saw it in a positive light, contemptuously dubbed it Frangokastello, meaning the Castle of the Franks (i.e. Catholic foreigners), Castelfranco or Franco Castello. The name eventually stuck and was adopted by the Venetians as well.
Frangokastello was built according to the principles of fortification in the days before gunpowder and the “bastion system” that followed. It was never brought up to date because the area was of secondary importance to the Venetians.
The castle consists of four square towers linked by sheer curtain walls topped by serried battlements, forming a rectangular building. There is a small, arched entrance on the east side, while the main gateway, on the south, is decorated by carved coats of arms of noble families set into the walls. Above the entrance stands the winged lion of St Mark, the emblem of the Republic of Venice.
The southwest tower is larger than the other three and therefore more important, because it was the last place of defence if the castle was overrun, and protected the south main gate.
In 1770, the Cretan rebel Ioannis Vlachos, otherwise known as Daskalogiannis, was captured at Frangokastello by Turkish forces. He was later tortured and executed at Heraklion.
On 17 May 1828 a celebrated battle was fought at Frangokastello. Hundreds of Sfakiots led by Hadzi Michali Daliani, a Greek adventurer attempting to spread the War of Independence from the mainland to Crete, occupied the castle, but were besieged by the Turks and massacred. However, many of the Turks were then themselves killed by rebel ambushes launched from the local gorges. According to tradition, around the anniversary of the battle each May, shadows of the armed Cretan soldiers who lost their lives there seem to march towards the fortress around dawn. These are called drosoulites, or dew-men, and have been explained as a meteorological phenomenon.