One of the more southerly islands in the Cyclades, Santorini (also known as Thira/Thera and, in Minoan times as Strongili) is, perhaps the most enigmatic and fascinating. Although part of an island group, and sharing that group’s general history, Santorini is unique in many ways. Although mainland Greece and the islands have suffered volcanic eruptions and earthquakes throughout their recognised existence, none has been more violent and catastrophic than those endured by Santorini. The exact date
Much myth and mystery surrounds the ancient inhabitants of the island we now know as Santorini and it has even been associated, tentatively, with the drowned civilisation of Atlantis. True or false as regards Atlantis, the island enjoys a well authenticated history of strategic importance and power dating from Neolithic and Bronze Age times with archaeological evidence that Akrotiri was an important Bronze Age port. Excavations at Akrotiri, started in the late 1960s, have uncovered a site from Minoan times that has become recognised as one of the best outside Crete. Preserved under layers of volcanic ash a prosperous, sophisticated city has emerged of buildings in streets and squares with walls and staircases still largely intact. Storage jars, Minoan frescoes, everyday artefacts and evidence of hot and cold running water systems have all been found pointing to the wealthy existence of the inhabitants. However, few transportable items of value, and no bodies have yet been found during the excavations so it is generally believed that there had been indications that the volcano was about to erupt and the citizens had taken their valuables and evacuated the island.
Over hundreds of thousands of years the island had seen volcanic eruptions and the formation of a drowned caldera which gradually filled again as the volcano re-established itself and erupted again. Before the catastrophic eruption of the Minoan times the outer ring of the caldera, small islands almost touching each other, was almost complete, with just one entrance between Thera and the tiny island of Aspronisi. The exact date of the eruption is still uncertain as carbon dating and similar tests seem to contradict some of the archaeological evidence that has been uncovered. It is, however, considered to have taken place some time between 1650 BC and 1500 BC. After this devastating eruption, thought to be 4 times the size of the Krakatoa eruption of the 19th century, the centre of the volcano collapsed completely taken with it the major part of the caldera above the water-line. Covered in volcanic residue and ash to a depth of 60m. the island remained uninhabited for generations until the Phoenicians established a base on the island and, reputedly, called it Callista. About 300 years later, around the 9th century BC, Dorians followed and founded a city high on the mountain Mesa Vouno and subsequently naming the island and city after one of their leaders, Theras, and only becoming known as Santorini (after St. Irene) in the 13th century when the island came under the jurisdiction of the Venetians.
Adjectives to describe this island have to be superlatives! Everything about the island is extreme …….. the steepness of the cliffs and mountainsides to which the gleaming villages cling, the depth of the water in the lagoon within the caldera, the stunning beauty of its famed sunsets, the taste of its wines, the drama of its beaches of black sand, the absence of rivers and the evidence of its ancient history at every turn. Add to this the tingle of excitement at the thought of all this perched precariously on the edge of a far from extinct volcano, which periodically rumbles and stirs to remind man that it does still hold power to destroy, and you understand the unique attraction of Santorini.
The main villages for visitors to the island and all with the instantly recognisable architectural styles of the island, include Emporio with views of the old windmills; Fira (Phira), the island’s capital with nearby beach, Gialos; Imerovigli, a traditional village near to Fira but higher up the cliffs with nearby beach, Paradise Beach ; Oia, a beautiful village from which the most marvellous sunsets can see with nearby beach, Cape Columbus; Karterados, Pyrgos, with nearby beach, Gialos; and Perissa, a traditional wine producing village.
Perhaps only one word can describe the Santorini mustique experience …………. unforgettable!