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 Islands Information

Place: Santorini Greece

The beautiful greek island of Santorini   by George Nellas


Dramatic beauty characterizes the southernmost island in the Cyclades, the crescent shaped, volcanic island of Santorini, one of the most unique tourists destinations in the world, having taken it's present form from geological upheavals.

As a result of a cataclysmic eruption of the volcano ca. 1450 BC, a gap opened in the southwestern edge, pouring the sea into a crater left from prehistoric times, thus submerging the center of the island. A tidal wave followed, extending to Crete, and may have been the cause of the ultimate collapse of the Minoan civilization, for pumice and ash buried the palaces of Knossos and phaestos. On its heels came the lava, covering Akrotiri, a prosperous city atop a promontory. Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" was probably inspired by his expedition there to witness the volcano in action. According to Prof. S. Marinato's interpretation of Plato's "Kritias", Santorini may be the site of the fabled Atlantis.

Santorini is a chain of islets created by the erupton of Thirassia (the largest and only one inhabited), the black stone islets "Palea Kameni" and "Nea Kameni" (meaning "old burnt one" and "new burnt one") and "Aspronisi" (meaning "white island"), the only part of the original island. It was first named "Kallisti" (the most beautiful), then "Thira" after the Spartan King who colonized it in the 9th century BC and finally "Santorini" after St. Irini of Thessalonki who was exiled and died there in the 3rd c. AD. Since ancient times it has been inhabited by Phoenecians, Dorians, Egyptians, crusaders, pirates, Romans, and Byzantines. Archaeological finds include pottery from around 3000-2000 BC (Early Cycladic Civilization and Bronze Age).

Visitors to the island debark from the harbor at Skala and make the steep ascent of 587 steps to the capital, Fira, on foot, donkey, or flinicular railway. Thira, visually striking as it is positioned on a cliff which is actually the crater's rim charms visitors with its narrow, winding, cobbled alleyways, and typically cycladic white washed houses packed together and brillant under the strong sun. From there one has a superb view of the Kamenes which can be visited by boat. Tavernas and souvenirs shops now line the streets. The museum houses pre-historic pottery, vases from Thera dating from the 7th and 6th century BC, as well as Classic, Hellenistic, and Roman sculpture and portraits.

Several quaint villages dot the island, each distinctive. Ia, 11 km north of Fira is incomparably picturesque with its houses from hewn rock, whitewashed, or painted ochre or blue as well as neo-classical mansions and a magnificent view of the sea. The Monastery of Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah) is situated on the highest peak in Santorini; every year on July 20th it celebrates a religious festival where visitors are welcomed to join the traditional feasting and dancing.

Excavations at Akrotiri (the southeastern coast) have uncovered the remains of a sophisticated, prosperous civilization buried by lava and frozen in time, complete with city streets, two and three storeyed houses, squares, plumbing, utensils, and beautiful frescoes (on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens). Ancient Thira, another significant lost city on the east coast has revealed more finds: the Sacred Way running through the center of the city monuments from the Nolemys (300-145 BC, an agora, Roman baths, a theatre, tombs from the Archaeic and Classical periods, and surprisingly, ancient graffiti praising Apollo and even the dancing boys from the Gymnasium of Ephebes can be seen inscribed on rocks in the ancient alphabet of Thira.

Vast beaches of volcanic sand or pebbles line the eastern coast. The best beaches, Karnari and Perissa, near ancient sites above, pose a brillant contrast against the blue sea Others are Armeni, Amouda, Monolithos, Kokini, and Parajia. The local wines are distinctively grown on the fertile southeastern plains, through which roads lead to volcanic beaches.

Santorini, an island which is the tip of an actual underwater volcano, with western coasts of towering cliffs hauntingly rising from the depths of the sea and awe inspiring, breath-taking sunsets, leaves no question as to why it has recently become a mecca for tourists to Greece.

Getting there: by Ferry from Pireaus, Crete, and Cycladic islands or by air from Athens Spata airport).


About the Author

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