Santorini is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Greece’s mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera.
It forms the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km2 (28 sq mi) and a 2011 census population of 15,550.
The municipality of Santorini includes the inhabited islands of Santorini and Therasia and the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana. The total land area is 90.623 km2 (34.990 sq mi). Santorini is part of the Thira regional unit.
Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera. A giant central, rectangular lagoon, which measures about 12 by 7 km (7.5 by 4.3 mi), is surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high, steep cliffs on three sides.
The main island slopes downward to the Aegean Sea. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the sea by another much smaller island called Therasia; the lagoon is connected to the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest.
The depth of the caldera, at 400m, makes it impossible for any but the largest ships to anchor anywhere in the protected bay; there is also a fisherman’s harbour at Vlychada, on the southwestern coast.
The island’s principal port is Athinios. The capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon. The volcanic rocks present from the prior eruptions feature olivine, and have a small presence of hornblende.
It is the most active volcanic centre in the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, though what remains today is chiefly a water-filled caldera. The volcanic arc is approximately 500 km (310 mi) long and 20 to 40 km (12 to 25 mi) wide. The region first became volcanically active around 3–4 million years ago, though volcanism on Thera began around 2 million years ago with the extrusion of dacitic lavas from vents around the Akrotiri.
The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization.
The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of metres deep and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, through a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.
Santorini was named by the Latin Empire in the thirteenth century, and is a reference to Saint Irene, from the name of the old cathedral in the village of Perissa – the name Santorini is a contraction of the name Santa Irini.
Before then, it was known as Kallístē (“the most beautiful one”) , Strongýlē (“the circular one”), or Thēra.
The name Thera was revived in the nineteenth century as the official name of the island and its main city, but the colloquial name Santorini is still in popular use. During the Ottoman Empire’s domination of the Aegean Sea, the Turkish exonym for the island was “Santurin” or “Santoron”.
Santorini’s primary industry is tourism. The two main sources of wealth in Santorini are agriculture and tourism. In recent years, Santorini has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful islands.
Santorini remains the home of a small, but flourishing wine industry, based on the indigenous Assyrtiko grape variety. White varieties also include Athiri and Aidani, whereas red varieties include mavrotragano and mandilaria.
Excavations starting in 1967 at the Akrotiri site under the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos have made Thera the best-known Minoan site outside of Crete, homeland of the culture. The island was not known as Thera at this time.
Only the southern tip of a large town has been uncovered, yet it has revealed complexes of multi-level buildings, streets, and squares with remains of walls standing as high as eight metres, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera.
The site was not a palace-complex as found in Crete, but neither was it a conglomeration of merchants’ warehousing, as its excellent masonry and fine wall-paintings show.
A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export. This Bronze Age civilization thrived between 3000 and 2000 BC, reaching its peak in the period between 2000 and 1580 BC.
Many of the houses in Akrotiri are major structures, some of them three storeys high.
Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight metres, indicating this was a major town. In many houses stone staircases are still intact, and they contain huge ceramic storage jars (pithoi), mills, and pottery.
Noted archaeological remains found in Akrotiri are wall paintings or frescoes, which have kept their original colour well, as they were preserved under many metres of volcanic ash. The town also had a highly developed drainage system and, judging from the fine artwork, its citizens were clearly sophisticated and relatively wealthy people.
Pipes with running water and water closets found at Akrotiri are the oldest such utilities discovered. The pipes run in twin systems, indicating that Therans used both hot and cold water supplies; the origin of the hot water probably was geothermic, given the volcano’s proximity.
The dual pipe system, the advanced architecture, and the apparent layout of the Akrotiri find resemble Plato’s description of the legendary lost city of Atlantis, further indicating the Minoans as the culture which primarily inspired the Atlantis legend.
The oldest signs of human settlement are Late Neolithic (4th millennium BC or earlier).
Santorini became independent of Ottoman rule in 1821, during the Greek War of Independence, and was united with Greece in 1830 under the Treaty of London.
During the Second World War, Santorini was occupied in 1941 by Italian forces, and in 1943 by those of the Germans. In 1944, the German and Italian garrison on Santorini was raided by a group of British Special Boat Service Commandos, killing most of its men. Five locals were shot in reprisal, including the mayor.
The 1956 Amorgos earthquake resulted in the demolishing of many buildings in the north of Santorini, leading to the desertion of many of its villages. The expansion of tourism has resulted in the growth of the economy and population. The major settlements include Fira (Phira), Oia, Emporio, Kamari, Perissa, Imerovigli, Pyrgos, and Therasia. Akrotiri is a major archaeological site, with ruins from the Minoan era. Santorini’s primary industry is tourism, particularly in the summer months.
Santorini has no rivers, and water is scarce. Until the early 1990s locals filled water cisterns from the rain that fell on roofs and courts, from small springs, and with imported assistance from other areas of Greece. In recent years a desalination plant has provided running, yet non-potable, water to most houses. Since rain is rare on the island from mid-spring till mid-autumn, many plants depend on the scant moisture provided by the common, early morning fog condensing on the ground as dew.
Because of its unique ecology and climate, and especially its volcanic ash soil, Santorini is home to unique and prized produce. Santorini tomatoes are renowned; they are cherry tomatoes that are extremely tasty and sweet, and with an intensely red, staining colour.
Santorini “fava” is a purée made of the hulled, then sun-dried, then boiled legume Lathyrus clymenum – not from the yellow split pea as in the rest of Greece. The white eggplants of Santorini are very sweet, with very few seeds, and can be eaten raw. The katsoúni is a unique local variety of large cucumber which, if left unpicked when green, turn yellow and acquire a sweet taste almost indistinguishable from that of melon.
Capers with their unique flavor are used in Greek salads and other local dishes.
The island remains the home of a small, but flourishing, wine industry, based on the indigenous grape variety, Assyrtiko, with auxiliary cultivations of two other Aegean varietals, Athiri and Aidani.
The vines are extremely old and resistant to phylloxera (attributed by local winemakers to the well-drained volcanic soil and its chemistry), so the vines needed no replacement during the great phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century.
In their adaptation to their habitat, such vines are planted far apart, as their principal source of moisture is dew, and they often are trained in the shape of low-spiralling baskets, with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds.
The traditional architecture of Santorini is similar to that of the other Cyclades, with low-lying cubical houses, made of local stone and whitewashed or limewashed with various volcanic ashes used as colours.
The unique characteristic is the common utilisation of the hypóskapha: extensions of houses dug sideways or downwards into the surrounding pumice. These rooms are prized because of the high insulation provided by the air-filled pumice, and are used as living quarters of unique coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter. These are premium storage space for produce, especially for wine cellaring: the Kánava wineries of Santorini.
When strong earthquakes struck the island in 1956, half the buildings were completely destroyed and a large number suffered repairable damage. The underground dwellings along the ridge overlooking the caldera, where the instability of the soil was responsible for the great extent of the damage, needed to be evacuated. Most of the population of Santorini had to emigrate to Piraeus and Athens.
Bus services depart from Fira to most parts of the island.
Santorini has two ports: Athinios (Ferry Port) and Skala (Old Port). Cruise ships anchor off Skala and passengers are transferred by local boatmen to shore at Skala where Fira is accessed by cable car, on foot or by donkey. Tour boats depart from Skala for Nea Kameni and other Santorini destinations.
Santorini is one of the few Cyclades Islands with a major airport, which lies about 6 km (4 mi) southeast of downtown Thera. The main asphalt runway (16L-34R) is 2,125 metres (6,972 feet) in length, and the parallel taxiway was built to runway specification (16R-34L).
It can accommodate Boeing 757, Boeing 737, Airbus 320 series, Avro RJ, Fokker 70, and ATR 72 aircraft. Scheduled airlines include the new Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines, Ryanair and Athens Airways, with chartered flights from other airlines during the summer, and with transportation to and from the air terminal available through buses, taxis, hotel car-pickups and rental cars.
Walking on the Caldera edge with the view around Fira is spectacular. Fira, together with Oia, Imerovilgi and FiroStefani located above on a cliff, offers an amazing view of the volcano.
Santorini offers various types of wines and it’s a pleasure to drink some of them .White wines from the island are extremely dry with a strong, citrus scent and mineral and iodide salt aromas contributed by the ashy volcanic soil, whereas barrel aging gives to some of the white wines a slight frankincense aroma, much like Vinsanto.
Cruises / Sea Tours
You can enjoy the coast of Santorini, the rim of the caldera and the volcano aboard one of the catamarans, sailing boats or traditional schooners.
If you think of Santorini as your next destination for vacation, view the pictures below to enjoy a little bit more before you go there.