Santorini volcano the Caldera the island of Santorini is probably the most intriguing island of Greece. Simply its name is more than enough to unfold in mind stunning sunsets and scenery, white, red and black sand beaches, impresive traditional houses, balconies with vew to the Volcano and and lively night life.
All the above, allong with the remains of the antiquity and the myth of the Lost Atlantis justify the words which the tourists determine this wonderful island.
The active volcano of Santorini erupted in the 50’s and ruined many towns of the island. Santorini is also called Thira and its capital is the town of Fira. It is a very touristy island and therefore rather expensive.
The locals live mainly off agriculture and tourism. The islands largest export product is soil; 2.000.000 tons a year are used all over the world, mainly to make concrete. The Suez channel was built with this concrete for example.
Most holidaymakers stay where the beaches are, Kamari and Perissa, but these places really do not represent the island’s amazing distinctiveness.
If you can, you should try to stay in Fira, Imerovigli or Oia, the towns on the cliffs, which are very beautiful and full of little cafes, shops and places of interest. There is a bus that goes to the beaches everyday, and it is much better to be in the towns in the evening and on the beaches during the day. If you stay in Monolithos you will have more peace and quiet.
Approaching the island by boat the immediate impression obtained is this is a Greek island unlike any other. The island of Santorini was formed out of the lava from the volcanic eruption in 1660 BC. The central part of the volcano sank into the sea leading to the emergence of Santorini itself and the tiny neighbouring islands of Thirasia, Palaia and Nea Kameni close by.
Today, Santorini is the only inhabited Caldera (volcano cauldron) in the world. Unlike other islands in Greece, the towns and villages sit densely on top of the massive cliffs of the Caldera and from a distance appear like snow capping the towering mountain tops. The coloured strata of the volcanic rock of these cliffs are spectacular in themselves: chocolate brown, rust red, yellow ochre, white and cream. The geological uniqueness however is not the only thing that makes Santorini a special holiday destination.
Sunset in Santorini
Everyone has read about the spectacular sunsets that occur on this island and the sceptic may question whether the setting sun can really appear differently here than from the neighbouring islands of Naxos or Ios. Nevertheless, the sunsets at Santorini, viewed from the Caldera, really are breathtakingly beautiful when seen as a backdrop to the volcano. The colours that streak the sky change from lilac to deep purple, from yellow to orange to red, as the golden sun sinks and becomes blood red reflecting its light on to the sea and the surrounding little islands, an amazing scene for photography. The eastern slopes of the island are green and fertile, even in October. This is due to the copious vineyards that grow so well in the fertile volcanic soil. The terraced slopes of the mountains use every available part of this fertile land. The island suffer from water scarcity, because it has few natural water reserves, but the nature of the dry soil of Santorini produces grapes that make up one of the best wines of Greece. The climate, though damp is healthy and perfect for producing the famous wine (vinsando), fava beans and tomatoes. There are many wineries and a a local factory for canning tomato paste, tomatoes and vegetables. Santorini used to export a lot of pumice that finally stopped due to the destruction the old pumice mines did to the island. The old mines now are used for the burial of waste.
Today the island’s economy relies on tourism, where tens of thousands tourists from Greece and around the world visit the island for unforgettable holidays
History Santorini used to be a round island, but during an earthquake and volcano-outbreak in the 15th century BC the middle of the island sunk and gave it the shape it has today. The underwater volcano, which is one of the rare examples of volcanoes in the world created from a circular island that was there before the explosion, a group of islands namely Thera, Thirassia, New and Old Kameni and Aspronisi. This is one of the reasons why many believe Santorini really is where Atlantis once was. The Minoan civilization on theisland was razed after this, but apparently, most people managed to flee.
The island has changed names through history. Originally it was called Stroggyli (“round”) since that was the shape of the island. When the Phoenicians came they named it Kallisti (“the very best”), and finally it got the name Thira after its first ruler.
Theras was the son of the Theban hero Autesion who was a descendant of Cadmus. He was the vice king of Sparta and responsible for his twin nephews Procles and Eurysthenes. When they were old enough to rule by themselves, Theras left Sparta with a company of aristocrats and settled on Santorini.
The Romans originally used the island as a place for exiles, but later helped in building up the island. The Christianization of Santorini took place between the 2nd and 5th century. The island was often ravaged and even destroyed by pirates and in 1204 it was conquered by the Venetians. It was about then the island got its current name. The islands patron saint was Agia Irini (St Eirene) and the foreign sailors called her St Irini – thus Santorini.
The island was destroyed by the Venetians in 1354, and once again in 1397, this time by the conquering Turks. In 1821 Santorini joined forces with the Greek revolutionists and the island was subsequently freed from Turkish rule. In 1956 there was a terrible earthquake which caused many buildings to be ruined. The people in Kamari are almost all from a village that was totally destroyed back then.
The island has been reconstructed after the terrible earthquake that destroyed it on 9 July 1956.
Places to see in Satorini : Fira the capital of Santorini is built on the edge of the caldera at the west side of the island, at an altitude of 250 meters and was founded in the late 18th century. It was the time when the inhabitants of the old capital of the island, the castle of Skaros which was just underneath the village of Imerovigli, began to abandon it because it was heavily damaged by the earthquakes. In the early 19th century, Fira became the capital of the island, and had access to the sea through the port of Fira that is used until today mainly for cruise ships. Fira is the seat of both the Orthodox, and the Catholic Diocese of Santorini.
santorini fira What impresses at first glance in Fira is the typical architecture of the houses and the stunning views. In the town are based the public offices of the island, most of the shops, restaurants and hotels and the town itself is the most populated of the island. In Fira you can visit also the the art exhibition in the famous mansion Gizi . The Archaeological museum and the Prehistoric museum where you can see items from the excavations in Akrotiri, as well as many artefacts and sculpture from the rich historical past of Santorini from the Prehistoric times, the Neolithic and Minoan era, the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
The main square Theotokopoulou is the centre of the town. There you will find most of the banks, the buses and taxi terminals and many shops.
During the evening all the terraces of the privileged cafes at the edge of the caldera filled with tourists that are coming to enjoy a drink as the sun sets over the deep blue Aegean.
At night the small streets along the east side of the town over the caldera are bursting with crowds of holiday makers that walking up and down the steps and narrow labyrinthine stone streets in a colourful environment among numerous shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. During the summer the city never sleeps, numerous cafes and snack bars are open for the clubbers until the early morning hours. In Fira there is also a folklore museum, a citadel from the Middle Ages, two Cathedrals, a Catholic and an Orthodox. In Fira you can go to the church of Ag Mina, which is the church that most postcards of Santorini portray . If you come to Fira in September, there is a renowned classical music festival every year.
oia santoriniAt Oia you you get the best sunsets, and both Oia and Fira are excellent towns for just strolling around and shopping. The main street of Oia bursts of tourists, especially when cruise ships are arrived, strolling around the numerous tourist and souvenir shops. Be sure to find a table at one of the cafes at the edge of the caldera before the sunset. Oia is a surprisingly large town with just one street running along the entire length of the town with two sets of cliff-side stairways descending all the way down to the bays of Ammouda and Armeni as well as a cliff path which runs down to the tiny port of Armenaki. Armeni harbour is smaller and quieter than Ammoudi with one taverna and a small pebbly beach. Similarly, it too, was used for trading wine during the days when Oia was at its maritime peak. It can be reached by walking down the 291 steps from the Skala restaurant close to the main Caldera Square. There are also donkeys or mules to hire to bring you up or down. Alternatively, boats leave from Ammoudi bay to Armeni. The main street of Oia is divided into two parts, one for cars and the second is pedestrian only. Many little lanes and alleys come off of this street. You can experience practically the whole of the village by walking along the pedestrian street, with fantastic views all the way. The magnificent sunsets can be seen from here but the best places to view are from either end of the main street. At the eastern end is the main square with the bus station and the Church of Panagia of Platsani and, at the western end, are the ruins of the Venetian castle, the windmills and the 300 steps leading down to Ammoudi Bay. This latter seems to be the most popular spot for viewing the sunsetsunsets but can get very crowded at sunset. Traditional Cycladic windmills are an integral part of the landscape of Oia. They are scattered across the town, hugging the side of the cliffs like molluscs. Some of them are now used as private homes or are let out as holiday homes, whereas others are incorporated into restaurants or simply cling there with no other purpose than to add to the unique charm of this town. The most charming are those located at the western end of the island, especially when they are bathed in the rays of the setting sun. Oia is one of the most photogenic island villages in Santorini and walking around its winding cobbled streets is an absolute delight. Although in high season it can get very busy, it is still possible to find yourself alone in a secluded little passageway where you can quietly admire the original old mansions, the windmills, the churches and the spectacular views of the volcano, the caldera and the small island of Aspro and out to the larger craggy island of Thirassia. The central square, Nicolaou Nomikou, lies not at the centre of the town but a bit further towards its eastern side. It is a popular place to take photographs as it borders the caldera and has magnificent sea views. One of the most important buildings of the village is located on this square, the large Church of Panagia of Platsani. This beautiful church can be visited in the evenings throughout the summer season. This square also is the site for the occasional concert during the summer months as well as being a place where locals meet and children play. Close to the square there are steps which lead down to Armeni Bay.
Imerovigli It is located about 2 miles north of Fira and south of Oia. The village of Imerovigli is buid on the top of the Caldera at 300 metres over the sea level. It has a few hundred inhabitants and is a national heritage village with many chapels and churches. The most famous landmark of Imerovigli is the castle of Skaros on the top of the rock beneath the village that use to be the capital of the island of Santorini until the 18th century. There are many hotels but more quite as Fira and Oia. You can walk there from Fira going through Firostefani.
Akrotiri is an ancient town that was buried when the volcano erupted 3500 years ago. Archaeologists are still excavating it, but you can walk around in the little street quarters and see the buildings almost like they were back then. You’ll be impressed by the modernity: the houses were two or three storey high, and they even had running water. The excavations have also revealed beautiful frescoes, tools and everyday life objects.
In Pyrgos a few kilometres from the capital you can see the medieval fortress Kasteli and admire a 10th century church and a monastery both with beautiful Byzantine icons and relics. The village of Messaria is also located close to Fira (about 3,5 km) and is surrounded by vineyards, you should visit the two small churches that are built in caves. In Megalochori 5 km southeast of Fira interesting is the unique way that this village combines the Cycladic architecture with neoclassical mansions, there are some interesting churches to visit like the church of the Virgin Mary, decorated with Icons from Russia and a totally original calendar with miniature pictures. There are many places to stay, while from here you have the opportunity to reach the southern coasts of the island.
Perissa Located approximately 14km away from Fira town, Perissa is easily reached in around 10-15 minutes by bus or road. Buses leave regularly from Fira market square and stop at pickup points all along the beach road of Perissa. The beach of Perissa is the longest in Santorini: a very impressive length of 7km that stretches to the next beach of Perivolos. In addition to the beautiful black sand beach with all kinds of shops, accommodations and water sports facilities worth visiting is the ancient site with buildings and ruins from different time periods. There is an ancient theatre, the ancient market, the ruins of a temple of Apollo, a shrine of Egyptian deities and many buildings from the Hellenistic period.
Kamari in addition to the well organised beach you can visit a church of the 11th century with significant Byzantine frescos and sculptures from an earlier church. From Kamari, a winding switchback road takes you up to to the ancient settlement of Thira on Mesa Vouno mountain. If you have rented your own motor transport, it is possible to drive up this road until you reach the parking area where you must continue on foot. If you prefer, you can take one of the many coach tours which leave from Kamari to the parking area of Thira. Either way, if you wish to see the ancient archaeological site, it will involve the final stage being completed on foot. The path is uneven and rocky so ensure that you are wearing sensible shoes and, if necessary, have a walking stick to assist you for the final part of your journey. The archaeological site is not fully excavated and, although interesting, it has to be said that the site is more scenic than archaeological. So, if you think you can’t manage the final walk to the top, don’t leave a trip up Mt. Mesa Vouna off your itinerary. The views are absolutely spectacular!
Emporio the traditional old market village of the island located 12 km away from Fira. The village impresses with its unique layout and its very narrow streets.
Here you will see the tower built during the era of Ottoman rule in order to protect the inhabitants from pirate raids, another interesting place to see is the monastery of St. John the Divine.
Don’t miss to visit Finikia a small traditional village with beautiful churches in the vicinity of Oia and the beach Baxedes . The villages of Mesochori and Karterados are worth visiting as well as the village of Vourvoulos, which is located in the northeast of the island 2.5 km from Fira.
From the balconies of the houses, visitors can enjoy the tranquillity of the island , overlooking the plains and the sea which is 1.2 km away.
Through the tranquil countryside , visitors can enjoy the moon rise at the evening and the wonderful sunrise in the morning. In the village there are taverns and mini markets. Monolithos village situated 9 km from Fira and gather many visitors, thanks to its stunning beach.
It is very nice to go on one of the boat excursions offered. There are sunset trips in the evenings, and daily trips to the volcano and the opposite islands Palia Kammeni, with warm natural wells, and Thirasia, where there is a tiny picturesque village.
Ancient Thira: is situated on top of high cliff just above Kamari, and there is also and old church there from 1100 . This was the Roman head quarters. Right at the top of the southeast peak of the highest mountain of Santorini in Profitis Helias is the ancient settlement of Thira. The winding road that leads to this settlement begins at the south end of Kamari at the foot of the mountain. The physically fit can walk up the winding mountain road. which takes around 45 minutes, but the easiest way is to drive up or take a bus and reserve your energy for the final climb to the settlement itself as this last part is only accessible by foot. The road is carefully constructed from hard stones and ends at the beginning of the archaeological area of ancient Thira. Here you will find a refreshment hut, seating and car parking space. Buses also go to this point. From the top of the Ancient Thira there are breathtaking views over the eastern coast of Santorini, with the coastal villages of Kamari and Perissa as tiny toy towns far below. If you intend to walk or take your car it is advisable to go before 11am, in this way you will avoid trying to negotiate passing oncoming traffic on the narrow mountain road. If you are intending to walk it is recommended to wear suitable footwear because the climb from the car park to the settlement itself is not dangerous or difficult but it does not have a properly constructed road to walk on. The other most historic area of Santorini located in Akrotiri where the excavations brought to the light the remains of the Minoan town.
What to Do In Kamari and Karteradso there are tennis courts. In Perissa there is mini golf, water park, go cart and roller-skating. In Fira and Kamari there are fields for volleyball and basketball. There are also many places to go biking. Many people enjoy the two hour walk from Imerovigli to Fira- it is a very beautiful experience, but make sure you have water with you, though today the two towns with Firostefani in the middle are almost connected up. There are also opportunities to go horse riding. Most of the nightlife is in Kamari, Perissa and Fira. Do not forget the famous wineries of the island where you can visit and taste the local Santorini wine. If you are driving you will spot in many areas signs with the indication “wine roads”.
Cruising the Caldera: This is a slightly different but equally enjoyable way to visit the Caldera and enjoy the stunning sunsets of Oia. Many tour operators run these cruises and you will find many being advertised in Fira. The cruises last all day and leave from Fira around mid-morning. Typically, the ship visits Nea Kameni, the active volcano in the centre of the caldera and usually you will be able to stop off here and climb the volcano. The cost of this climb is approximately one euro and don’t forget that you will need to be wearing suitable footwear for this climb. Ships usually spend one hour at Nea Kameni before sailing on to Palia Kameni and its hot springs. After a refreshing dip into the water the ships continue on to Thirassia, or ‘Little Thira’. Here you will stop off for lunch, a swim and perhaps a donkey ride up to the town of Manolas. From Thirassia, the ship continues on to Oia where you can alight to explore the town and watch the sunset before returning to the ship for the cruise back to Fira.
Beaches Being a volcanic island, the beaches are not of the ubiquitous golden sand variety that you can expect to find on many Greek islands. The south-eastern side of the island gives the best santorini beachbeaches of wide black lava sand. Other beaches around the island consist of black sand strewn with pumice stones and black pebbles. Because the beaches of Santorini consist of black volcanic matter, the heat of the sun is absorbed rather than reflected. Consequently, the sand can get incredibly hot during the day so, to avoid burning the soles of your feet, wearing protective shoes is highly recommended. Kamari and Perissa are popular beaches on this southeast coast both with beautiful mountain surroundings and wide stretches of black sand. Santorini main beaches have water sports. In general, Santorini beaches are wide with mainly black sand. There are also lots of currents and the waves can get very high especially at the north east side of the island. Kamari and Perissa are popular beaches with their beautiful surroundings and black sand. If you seek calmer beaches, it is better to go to Monolithos, Vlichada or Agios Georgios. For snorkelling visit Amoudi. Read more about the beaches in Santorini
Nightlife Santorini has a varied nightlife, and most bars and discos are in Fira, Kamari and Perissa. Fira is probably the most popular place, and here you shouldn’t miss having a drink in one of the little cafes on the steep side. The amazing view, relaxed atmosphere and soft live Jazz music from The Zafora cafeteria, for example, will give you an unforgettable experience. Read more about the nightlife in Santorini
Food and restaurants: You can get almost everything on Santorini – from traditional Greeks food to international gourmet dinners. Try the local wine Visanto and see what you think!!! In Fira on the side of the Caldera there are numerous eateries and grill taverns where you can enjoy all kind of foods from cheap souvlaki, Giros with pita bread and hamburgers to expensive up market restaurants .The same setting of eateries can be found in Oia, Imerovigli and all the other resorts of the island.
Weather The weather in Santorini like in most of the Aegean islands consists of beautiful and dry Summers with temperatures reaching sometimes 35- 37 degrees but the Meletemia (north summer winds) decrease the high summer temperatures. The north east part of the islands is mostly windy while the west part is protected from the winds from the island of Thirasia. Winters can be cold and wet but never reaching bellow zero temperatures.
Shopping Santorini is a bit of a cosmopolitan island, just the number of luxury yachts that stop here is very high for such a small island, so it is quite expensive. Many artists live here, and you can buy a lot of original stuff – hand painted umbrellas, ceramics, jewellery, art etc. You can also get nice icons, but be careful, anything older than 1821 needs a special permit to be exported. There is also local wine worth trying and taking with you, the famous fava beans of Santorini (best in Greece) , local cheeses and caper. Of course if you stay longer in Santorini and would like to have your self catering, there are major international chain supermarkets like Lidle, mini markets, green grosser and all kind of shops you will find in a city.
Although Fira is considered to be the best town for shopping in Santorini, Oia comes a very close second. In fact, for clothing, handicrafts and artwork it definitely surpasses Fira. The narrow cobbled streets are bursting with tiny little shops selling all manner of beautiful fabrics, jewellery, artwork, antiques, Venetian mirrors and souvenirs. The general ambience too is preferable to the busy streets of Fira. In Oia you will find compact, jewel-like shops and art galleries with a much more sophisticated, ethnic quality to them. Furthermore, because of its stunning vantage point, Oia has inspired and attracted many artist. Consequently, it is not surprising that it is considered to be the artistic capital of Santorini and for this reason you will discover many small art galleries, often with work that is more imaginative and original than can be found in Fira.
Getting Around Santorini is quite a small island, and it is easy to get around. There are local buses to take you to most places, but of course you can also rent a car or a bike. There are also taxis on the island.
The harbour of Athinios where the ferryboats stop is connected to Fira and the rest of the island by a well made serpentine road. Driving up or down this road can be quite an experience for anyone afraid of heights. The old port of Fira under the town is used only for passengers from the cruise ships. You can also walk up or down that road (almost 900steps) or take a donkey ride all the way. There is also a cable car taking you straight to Fira. As you arrive at Athinios you can rent a car straight away from the spot. Santorini has a very good road network and a car or a bike will make your stay more convenient.
Bus routes: from Fira to Imerovigli, Oia, Mesaria,Pyrgos, Akrotiri.
From Fira to Mesaria, Pyrgos, Megalochori-Emporio, Perissa, Kamari, Monolithos. Check the timetables at the bus terminals.
In general, Santorini is a great place to start if you want to go island hopping, since it is connected to most Cycladic islands.