Santorini is the most extraordinary island in the Aegean. You sail into a strange, enclosed sea, shut off by the Burnt Islands. The volcanic cliffs of Santorini are red, brown or greenish, surmounted by a string of white villages. It is rather like a model of a monster's jaw made by some infernal dentist; a sinister and alarming place, like nowhere else.
Jetting out from the deep blue sea its volcanic sheer cliffs topped with gleaming white village homes and churches, resemble snowcapped mountains. The thunderous fury of nature left its mark on the island, the home of Greece's last active volcano which still smolders today. Layer upon layer of red volcanic rock interspersed with white buildings and specks of greenery form a visual demonstration found nowhere else.
The entire center of the circular island sank into the sea during the tremendous volcanic explosion of 3.500 years ago. The eruption caused tidal waves which virtually wiped out the advanced Minoan civilization of Crete 70 miles to the south. Some scholars believe that the island is part of the legendary lost continent of Atlantis which supposedly slipped underwater during the disaster.
What remains today of Santorini is a large cresent-shaped island enclosing a vast bay, the largest caldera on earth (7X14 miles). There are also four much smaller islands called Therasia, Nea Kameni, Palia Kameni and Aspronisi.
From the sheer cliff-top, where the villages are built, you look down on the gentle, green outer slopes of the mountain: the sea has filled the crater of the volcano. The contrast between these two faces of Santorini is dramatic and extraordinary.
The beauty of Santorini must depend on light and line; there is hardly any vegetation apart from vines, and the volcanic earth has no charm of color, unlike the earth and rock of the limestone islands. Yet it has a strange and uncanny fascination of its own. It has rightly been called the black pearl of the Aegean.
The sunsets of Santorini, with the Burnt Islands in the foreground, the islet of Therasia behind, Sikinos and Folegandros farther off, and the great rock of Christiana, are among the most exciting aesthetic experiences that the Aegean can provide.
The official name of the island is Thira, but foreigners refer to it by the name given in honor of the island's patron saint, St. Irene of Thessaloniki, who died here while in exile in 304 A.D.
Santorini, which covers 132 square kilometers and is located 127 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus, has an important wine trade. In September visitors may tread the grapes and taste the wines. The rich volcanic soil also produces popular small sweet tomatoes. The island also exports pumice stone, china clay and pistacchio nuts. Two million tons of volcanic soil is exported every year for use in the cement industry. A member of the Cyclades group of Aegean islands, Santorini has a permanent population of aapproxiimately 10.500 but during the tourist season this number swells dramatically.
Santorini has 13 villages. Fira, also known as Thira or Hora, is the island's capital. It is situated 27,5 m. above the sea and may be reached from the port of Skala climbing the steep, 566 broad steps. This should only be attempted by the untiring while the traditional way up the zigzag path is by renting pack mules or donkeys. For those who prefer modern conveniences, a funicular lift is available.
The cable car lifts 800 persons per hour. The duration is only two minutes and offers unforgettable views of the volcanic island.
Details of the villages on the island will be presented separately on other pages of SANTORINI TODAY.
There is a story thousands of years old about a "lost island" in the Atlantic Ocean. The story was told by the ancient Greeks, and had been handed down from father to son for many generations before the Greek philosopher Plato wrote a famous story about it, about 375 BC.
The island of Atlantis, according to Plato's story, was really a series of islands. Imagine in the center a hill, surrounded by a ring of water; the ring of water surrounded by a circle of land, then another ring of water and one of land, until there were nine rings of water and nine of land. The islands had been created by Neptune, god of the sea, for Cleito, his beloved. From their children the king and people of Atlantis were descended. The island was very rich, and the people content. The city was built of black and red stone; the roofs of the houses were of red copper and flashed in the sun; and there were two beautiful temples, one surrounded by a golden wall and the other with silver walls, golden pinnacles, and a roof of ivory.
In 1967, a city buried by a volcanic eruption in 1500 BC., was found on Santorini. Archaeologists say this might be Atlantis.