- Accommodation & Hotels
- Things to see
- Things to do
- Money & Shopping
- Stay safe
Santorini (officially Thira) is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. Thira is essentially what remained after an enormous volcanic explosion that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera. It is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the strange white aubergine (eggplant), the town of Thira, an active volcano, and its beautiful beaches (e.g., Perissa—possibly the best beach in Thira, the black pebble beach of Kamari, white beach, and red beach).
An alternative name for Santorini is Thira. Santorini is also a name for the family of islands surrounding Thira, once forming a single island prior to a major volcanic event in approximately 1500 B.C.E.
The small island cradles a rich variety of landscapes and villages. Visit traditional architecture in the small village of Mesa Gonia containing a mixture of ruins from the 1956 earthquake and restored villas as well as a winery at the foot of the settlement. Pyrgos is another notable village set inland with its grand old houses, remains of a Venetian castle and several Byzantine churches.
The island has no natural source of fresh water. Prior to the early 1990s, it was necessary for water to be delivered to the island via tanker from Crete. However, most hotels and homes now have access to water provided by a local desalination plant. While this water is potable, it is still rather salty, so most everyone drinks bottled water while visiting Santorini.
Fira is the fiery capital, a marriage of Venetian and Cycladic architecture, whose white cobblestone streets bustle with shops, tavernas, hotels and cafes, while clinging to the rim of the caldera nine hundred feet above its port. If arriving by sea you can take a cable car up from the port or alternatively take a trip on one of the hundreds of mules up the 588 zigzagging steps. You could also attempt to walk up the steps but be warned, they are winding, narrow in parts with only low walls, they are covered in donkey excrement and the donkeys themselves will make no attempt to avoid you.
Walking along a path for about twenty minutes will bring you to Imerovigli where you can take in the magnificent views of the island’s unique scenery from the tiny town.
Just above Fira at the highest point of the island is the quintessentially Santorininian town of Ia, also sometimes spelled Oia, with its whitewashed walls sunk into the volcanic rock and its blue domes rising above the sterling beauty of the stunning, russet Ammoudi Bay. At dusk, the town attracts crowds of people venturing to see the sunset. Santorini's sunsets, as viewed from Oia, are reputed to be among the world's most beautiful.
Due to the spectacular and unique natural beauty of Santorini, many Greek singers have chosen the island as the setting of their videos. Greek and Brazilian TV series have been shot of Santorini, as well as some Hollywood movies (e.g. Tomb Raider II). Generally Santorini is a pole of attraction for Greek and international celebrities.
The season starts April 1, or around Greek Easter. The period from December through March is very much the off-season and marked by colder temperatures, rain and winds. Although the temperature is rarely cold, the poor weather makes for a less than optimal experience on this beautiful island. Most of the businesses, including hotels and guest houses, may be closed. Ideal times to visit, for milder weather, prices and crowds, are April–June and September–October.
Climate data for Santorini
|Average high °C (°F)||14|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||12|
|Average low °C (°F)||10|
In 1956 a major earthquake near Amorgos island 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. In 2007, the cruise ship MS Sea Diamond ran aground and sank inside the caldera. The island's pumice quarries have been closed since 1986, in order to preserve the caldera. Santorini was ranked the world's top island for many magazines and travel sites, including the Travel+Leisure Magazine, the BBC, as well as the US News.
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.
- Brantada – A local Santorinian fish dish. Cod fillet coated in a mixture of flour, water, salt and sometimes beer, normally served with garlic salad. The best place to try it is in some less touristic villages, like Exo Gonia.
- Koskosela (local Strapatsada)
- Santorinio Sfougato – A traditional Santorini dish. Ingredients: small zucchini, onions, extra virgin olive oil, flour, eggs, rosemary leaves or spearmint tea leaves or dill, xinomyzithra or other sour milk cheese or soft feta, naxos sweet gruyère, salt and fresh ground pepper, sweet peppers, sesame seeds.
- Tsounisti (Manestra)
- Fava – A local Santorini dish, originally made with the broad bean. Later on, the broad bean was replaced with an easier version, the yellow shelled lentil. Its name originates from the word "favus" which is the Latin word for broad beans.
- Melitinia (dessert) – Melitinia are cookies that are made for weddings, engagements and festivals. They are made of unsalted mitzithra cheese and yogurt and they also have a beautiful smell of mastic. They can be found in the traditional bakeries of Santorini.
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 viticultural pride of the island is the sweet and strong Vinsanto (Italian: "holy wine"), a dessert wine made from the best sun-dried Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani grapes, and undergoing long barrel aging (up to twenty or twenty-five years for the top cuvées). It matures to a sweet, dark amber-orange, unctuous dessert wine that has achieved worldwide fame, possessing the standard Assyrtiko aromas of citrus and minerals, layered with overtones of nuts, raisins, figs, honey and tea.
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. It is not easy to be a winegrower in Santorini; the hot and dry conditions give the soil a very low productivity. The yield per acre is only 10 to 20% of the yields that are common in France or California. The island's wines are standardised and protected by the "Vinsanto" and "Santorini" OPAP designations of origin.
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.
There are some local radio stations in Santorini, mainly in Greek language. When in Santorini, turn your radio at: Volcano Radio at 106.4 MHz and Top Melody Fm Radio at 104.9 MHz.
You can find internet cafes in Kamari, Perissa, Thira (wireless access also available) and in Oia.
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 (2015 Travelers” Choice Awards Reader's Choice Awards, amongst others).
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.
Transportation - Get In
Getting in from Athens by air is faster and not prone to sea sickness, compared to ferries. However, in season air tickets sell out well before most of the ferries.
Santorini (Thira) National Airport is an airport in Santorini/Thira, Greece (IATA: JTR), located north of the village of Kamari. With regular flights from Athens by Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Flight duration from Athens to Santorini is about 30-45 minutes. During summer, Sky Express connects Santorini with other popular islands such as Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes and Mykonos. During the months of July and August Astra Airlines flies from Thessaloniki.
From May till October charter airlines fly directly to Santorini from many European airports.
- Air Berlin flies from Berlin Tegel (TXL), Düsseldorf (DUS), Hamburg (HAM), Nuremberg (NUE) and Vienna (VIE);
- Condor flies from Düsseldorf (DUS), Stuttgart (STR), Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC), Hamburg (HAM);
- EasyJet flies from London Gatwick (LGW) and Milan Malpensa (MXP);
- Edelweiss Air flies from Zurich (ZRH);
- Germanwings flies from Cologne/Bonn (CGN), Munich (MUC) and Stuttgart (STR);
- Jetairfly flies from Brussels (BRU);
- Meridiana flies from Milan Malpensa (MXP));
- Norwegian flies from Copenhagen (CPH), Oslo (OSL) and Stockholm (ARN);
- Ryanair flies from Athens (ATH);
- ThomasCook and ThomasCook (BE) flies from London Gatwick (LGW), Manchester (MAN) and Brussels (BRU);
- Thompson flies from Manchester (MAN)
- Transavia flies from Amsterdam (AMS).
From the airport there are buses to Fira, where you can change to buses for other towns. Taxis are also usually waiting at the airport, but competition for them can be keen. Many Santorini hotels offer airport transfers, usually for a fee that's more than a taxi would charge you, but some may find it worth it for the convenience. As the island is very small it's possible to walk from the airport if you are fit enough (cca 5.5km/90min to the centre of Fira)
Take the ferry from Piraeus past Paros and Naxos to the new port on Santorini. More details in the Cyclades article. There is also daily connection between Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini during high season.
If you prefer sea, your best bet is high-speed catamarans. The trip from Pireaus to Santorini takes 4.5hrs with a high speed ferry.
Ferries dock at the port of Athinios, where buses and taxis meet each arrival to transport passengers to Oia, Fira, and elsewhere. All vehicles climb a very steep, winding road (it makes seven 180 degree turns) to get anywhere from Athinios.
If you arrive by cruise ship, the experience will surely leave you with lasting memories. Cruise ships that reach the island do not anchor near Athinios port, but one or two miles north, also within the caldron, but below Thira (aka Fira). Locals with fishing boats occasionally transfer cruisers to the old port (which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years), and larger, decorated shuttle boats take large-ship cruisers to/from the nearby docks below Thira. From the "Thira docks", you can use the cable car to reach the town, taking perhaps 5 minutes for the ride. Or if you like small adventures you can ride a donkey, which climbs up a small path on the cliff (weight limits imposed).
- With one or more large cruise ships off-shore, long lines may queue at the bottom of the cable car. Casual Thira walkers/shoppers may meet many others at the top returning after a few hours, and other queues form somewhat before passengers are expected back aboard their ship(s). Plan accordingly.
- The donkey ride will last longer, may have no queues, and is definitely a unique experience for those meeting the weight limits.
- If weight proves a problem and you're fit, ask if you might walk up along the donkey path (no charge, but no mean feat).
Transport by sea is always dependent on weather. For safety, especially in winter or raining monsoon, cruise ships may delay or cancel shuttles to/from shore, and ferries their departure times to or from the island.
Transportation - Get Around
The island has a public bus service, KTEL Santorini, with buses costing €1.80–2.50, depending on the route. During peak season, buses run up to every 15 minutes on the three highest-volume routes, which are the ones from Fira to Oia, Kamari, and Perissa. Other buses may run anywhere from twice an hour to only a few times per day. Timetables are available at the KTEL website [www]. The buses occasionally miss trips, and some drivers are less than friendly. Boats also run between major coastal towns on the island.
Cars can be rented from about € 45 a day. An international driving permit is recommended. Without one, many car rental places will rent cars, but travel guides have mentioned tourists having insurance problems in case of accident. Scooters and 4-wheelers (quads or all-terrain-vehicles) are available to rent starting at about €15 or €30 per day, respectively. A drivers license is required to rent these 4-wheelers. Be aware that most of the people in Santorini are tourists. As a result, road conditions are extremely unsafe, with many people driving by the laws and conventions of nearly every country in the world.
A popular method of getting around is to rent ATVs, though the "all-terrain" part is a misnomer, as most ATV riders are tourists riding on the paved road. ATVs share the road with other drivers and are usually all over the island. The island is small enough to travel around on an ATV, and is a cost-effective way to self-explore the further reaches of Santorini. ATV rental shops are all around the island, so it's best to ask your hotel owner/concierge on the closest/most trusted vendor. You will need your local driver's license to ride one of these, and a helmet is recommended.
Some hotels advise booking a taxi in advance, as there are not enough available taxis on the island during high season. As is the rule in the Cyclades, taxi fares are typically shared between multiple passengers, so don't be surprised if your cabbie picks up more passengers during your trip.
It takes about 50 minutes to drive the island from end to end (from Vlichada to Ia).
The island is small enough that it can be thoroughly explored by bicycle, or with a few bus trips, by foot. Bicycle rentals are fairly hard to find—most places advertising bike rentals refer to motorbikes, rather than bicycles. The maps are designed for hikers, however, so the recommended routes are impassable by bicycle.
Santorini is not very bicycle-friendly—there are no dedicated bicycle routes, so you must share roads with vehicular traffic. In addition, the island is very hilly. The traffic was more friendly to bicycles than to pedestrians or other vehicular traffic, however.
Recommended routes by foot include the amazing walk from Fira to Oia (note that this walk is less nice in reverse, it can take less than three hours but can be difficult, for up and downhill climbs, the rocky surface at times, and the proximity to unprotected cliffs that drop sharply into the caldera) along the caldera, as well as the paths over Perissa Rock connecting Perissa, Kamari, and Pyrgos. The walk between Perissa and Kamari is fairly short (via Ancient Thira), while the walk to Pyrgos is somewhat longer, passing through the highest point on the island.
There are several villages on Santorini Island.
- Fira - the main stunning cliff-perched town, featuring all that Oia has, but much more overcrowded.
- Kamari - black pebble beach.
- Oia or Ia - for unforgettable sunsets, probably the most charming place on the island.
- Pyrgos - highest point on the island; picturesque monastery and streets, can compete with Oia.
- Perissa - Nice, well-organized beaches and good Greek fish taverns.
- Megalochori -Traditional village with a lot of old white cycladic churches.
- Akrotiri -Visit the archeological site of Aktotiri.
- Monolithos- Nice beach and a few good taverns. Very good for children, as the water is shallow.
- Vlichada - a small village and a beach.
- Vothonas - a small rock village, the church of St. Ann is here. Architecturally it is the strangest village on the island, as all the buildings were cut from the ravine that it is in.
Also there's Thirasia, a village on the nearby island with the same name—visited by fewer tourists. There are daily excurisions to the Kameni (volcano) Island which also reach Thirasia island.
Accommodation & Hotels
Santorini island could be divided into two parts, the western side and the eastern. Santorini mainly owes its popularity to the western side. This is where the caldera is, and the villages, like Fira and Oia, that are built on the cliff. On this side most hotels have terrific views of the caldera, volcano, the sea and sunsets. There is of course a drawback that you have to keep in mind before making your reservation: majority of the hotels built on the caldera have many stairs, which is usually annoying for tourists not willing to climb up and down all the time. Some of the hotels do not accept children under 13, because they do not offer any children's facilities, due to their dangerous location on the cliff. There are hotels that are specially oriented to couples and honeymooners. Most of Santorini luxury resorts can be found on the western side of the island. Note that not all hotels which are on the western side of the island offer views, as some of them are in town.
The eastern side of Santorini resembles the rest of the Greek islands in the Cyclades. There are many beach hotels, especially in Kamari, that also attract a lot of tourists, mainly youngsters and families. These hotels usually offer larger rooms and pools than those on the other side of the island.
Keep in mind that the room rates are often set according to the view of the room, which makes the hotels on eastern side much cheaper than those on the western side.
Moreover keep in mind that booking your accommodation in advance would be very helpful, as most hotels have few rooms (usually not more than 20) and quickly fill.
Most of the island's hotels are closed during winter. They open during or after Greek Orthodox Easter (April or May) and usually close by the end of October. As in other Greek Islands, July, August and September are considered high season.
Public beaches do not seem to have showers or places for changing.
- Black Beach
- Red Beach- it's worth taking the Red Beach/Akrotiri bus from Fira and then climbing over the very rocky trails to get here (though there are water taxis and various schooners that make their way here as well). Red Beach earns its name from the iron-rich sedimentary rocks in the cliff face towering above you, as well as the red sand. It's quite crowded; you can rent an umbrella and a pair of chaise lounges for € 8, though there is also some good free space nearby that gets packed by midday. The first few meters of the water near the shore are quite gravelly, so be prepared to step on some stones. Women are frequently topless. Many distant yachts can be seen from the beach—it looks really romantic at sunset time. Great snorkeling - an abundance of sea life is present, as with Perissa. The tavernas built into the caves on Red Beach seem to have no electricity or running water, so if you eat or use the washrooms there, bring along hand sanitizer!
- White Beach- available only from the sea; get there by boat from Red Beach or Akrotiri. There is no pier so the only way to get there is by getting of the boat and walking through water that starts at about you waist. It is very small with only a few beds.
- Vlichada- relatively uncrowded. An umbrella with 2 chaise longues cost € 10. (5€ (July, 2007) if you go to the left side of the beach).
- Amoudi- this is not really a beach with sand, but is a wonderfully secluded swimming area reachable from Oia. There is a road around the far side of Oia that leads down to a small parking lot. From there, you can reach the swimming area on foot past a few small restaurants. There is also a platform on a large rock that people can swim to and dive off.
- Perivolos- lighter sand than Perissa beach, and is very enjoyable when the North Wind is blowing. It has beach bars and restaurants that makes it feel like a "beach day club".
- Monolithos- quiet but well organized beach with all the comforts of the other beaches such as clubs, restaurants, and umbrellas.
- Baxedes- this is the main beach at the north side of the Island. Baxedes is a peaceful place with black sand, it is much more like how Santorini was like before tourists discovered the island. This is not the best beach when the north wind is blowing. It is easiest to get there by rented or private car or motorbike.
- Pori- this is an amazing beach on the east side of Santorini where the rocks have a very unique red color to them. This is an excellent beach for those who do not mind walking a bit to get there. No facilities, restaurants, or shopping is located here.
- Mesa pigadia- A beautiful rocky beach near the nature side of the island by the town Akrotiri. About 800 meters away from the Akrotiri main road there are restaurants on the beach itself. There are several ways to reach the beach which include driving, biking, or taking a small boat from Akrotiri. The price is about € 7 for the ride and another € 7 to rent an umbrella.
- Agios georgios- at the southern tip of the Santorini this beach has everything from water sports to beach bars. There are a few small taverns here and it is the perfect spot to have a quiet swim and avoid the massive crowds. You can reach this beach from Emporio and Perissa by rented or private car. Walking is also an option.
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.
Fragmentary wall-paintings at Akrotiri lack the insistent religious or mythological content familiar in Classical Greek décor. Instead, the Minoan frescoes depict "Saffron-Gatherers", who offer their crocus-stamens to a seated lady, perhaps a goddess. Crocus has been discovered to have many medicinal values including the relief of menstrual pain. This has led many archaeologists to believe that the fresco of the saffron/crocus gatherers is a coming of age fresco dealing with female pubescence. In another house are two antelopes, painted with a kind of confident, flowing, decorative, calligraphic line, the famous fresco of a fisherman with his double strings of fish strung by their gills, and the flotilla of pleasure boats, accompanied by leaping dolphins, where ladies take their ease in the shade of light canopies, among other frescoes.
The well preserved ruins of the ancient town are often compared to the spectacular ruins at Pompeii in Italy. The canopy covering the ruins collapsed in an accident in September 2005, killing one tourist and injuring seven more. The site was closed for almost seven years while a new canopy was built. The site was re-opened in April 2012.
The oldest signs of human settlement are Late Neolithic (4th millennium BC or earlier), but c. 2000–1650 BC Akrotiri developed into one of the Aegean's major Bronze Age ports, with recovered objects that came not just from Crete, but also from Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt, as well as from the Dodecanese and the Greek mainland.
Dating of the Bronze Age eruption
The Minoan eruption provides a fixed point for the chronology of the second millennium BC in the Aegean, because evidence of the eruption occurs throughout the region and the site itself contains material culture from outside. The eruption occurred during the "Late Minoan IA" period at Crete and the "Late Cycladic I" period in the surrounding islands.
Archaeological evidence, based on the established chronology of Bronze Age Mediterranean cultures, dates the eruption to around 1500 BC. These dates, however, conflict with radiocarbon dating which indicates that the eruption occurred at about 1645–1600 BC. Around the time of the radiocarbon-indicated date of the eruption, there is evidence for a significant climatic event in the Northern Hemisphere. The evidence includes failure of crops in China, as well as evidence from tree rings, and an ice core from Greenland. The tree rings date the climatic event to 1628 BC.
Ancient and Medieval Santorini
Santorini remained unoccupied throughout the rest of the Bronze Age, during which time the Greeks took over Crete. At Knossos, in a LMIIIA context (14th century BC), seven Linear B texts while calling upon "all the gods" make sure to grant primacy to an elsewhere-unattested entity called qe-ra-si-ja and, once, qe-ra-si-jo. If the endings -ia[s] and -ios represent an ethnic suffix, then this means "The One From Qeras[os]". If the initial consonant were aspirated, then *Qhera- would have become "Thera-" in later Greek. "Therasia" and its ethnikon "Therasios" are both attested in later Greek; and, since -sos was itself a genitive suffix in the Aegean Sprachbund, *Qeras[os] could also shrink to *Qera. An alternate view takes qe-ra-si-ja and qe-ra-si-jo as proof of androgyny, and applies this name by similar arguments to the legendary seer, Tiresias, but these views are not mutually exclusive. If qe-ra-si-ja was an ethnikon first, then in following him/her/it the Cretans also feared whence it came.
Probably after what is called the Bronze Age collapse, Phoenicians founded a site on Thera. Herodotus reports that they called the island Callista and lived on it for eight generations. In the 9th century BC, Dorians founded the main Hellenic city on Mesa Vouno, 396 m (1,299 ft) above sea level. This group later claimed that they had named the city and the island after their leader, Theras. Today, that city is referred to as Ancient Thera.
In his Argonautica, written in Hellenistic Egypt in the 3rd century BC, Apollonius Rhodius includes an origin and sovereignty myth of Thera being given by Triton in Libya to the Greek Argonaut Euphemus, son of Poseidon, in the form of a clod of dirt. After carrying the dirt next to his heart for several days, Euphemus dreamt that he nursed the dirt with milk from his breast, and that the dirt turned into a beautiful woman with whom he had sex. The woman then told him that she was a daughter of Triton named Kalliste, and that when he threw the dirt into the sea it would grow into an island for his descendants to live on. The poem goes on to claim that the island was named Thera after Euphemus' descendant Theras, son of Autesion, the leader of a group of refugee settlers from Lemnos.
The Dorians have left a number of inscriptions incised in stone, in the vicinity of the temple of Apollo, attesting to pederastic relations between the authors and their lovers (eromenoi). These inscriptions, found by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen, have been thought by some archaeologists to be of a ritual, celebratory nature, because of their large size, careful construction and – in some cases – execution by craftsmen other than the authors. According to Herodotus, following a drought of seven years, Thera sent out colonists who founded a number of cities in northern Africa, including Cyrene. In the 5th century BC, Dorian Thera did not join the Delian League with Athens; and during the Peloponnesian War, Thera sided with Dorian Sparta, against Athens. The Athenians took the island during the war, but lost it again after the Battle of Aegospotami. During the Hellenistic period, the island was a major naval base for Ptolemaic Egypt.
As with other Greek territories, Thera then was ruled by the Romans. When the Roman Empire was divided, the island passed to the eastern side of the Empire which today is known as the Byzantine Empire. According to George Cedrenus, the volcano erupted again in the summer of 727, the tenth year of the reign of Leo III the Isaurian. He writes: "In the same year, in the summer, a vapour like an oven's fire boiled up for days out of the middle of the islands of Thera and Therasia from the depths of the sea, and the whole place burned like fire, little by little thickening and turning to stone, and the air seemed to be a fiery torch."
After the Fourth Crusade, the "Franks" – i. e. Catholic Western Europeans – annexed the isle to the Duchy of Naxos and renamed it "Santorini", that is "Saint Irene". Santorini came under Ottoman rule in 1579. The island is still home to a Catholic community and the seat of a Catholic bishopric.
In the Greek State
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.
World War II
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.
Things to see
Santorini is one of the great natural wonders of the world, and its main attraction is the landscape and seascape of the island itself. The configuration of the present, roughly semicircular island is the result of an enormous volcanic explosion which occurred probably around 1630 bce, literally blowing the top off the island and changing what had been a typical half-submerged mountain of an Aegean island into a flooded crescent caldera, in the middle of which a few small smoking islands still bear witness to volcanic activity. Some have speculated that this event was the inspiration for the myth of Atlantis. The towns of Fira, Ia (also known as Oia) and Thirasis cling to the steep cliffs facing into the caldera bay. Tours to the central "smoking" islands are readily available and one can see and feel steam vents and recent (1950s) lava flows.
Another popular reason for coming to Santorini are the legendary sunsets, some of the most spectacular in the world. Ia is one of the few places on the island which is both close to a sea and offers a good view to a sunset over the sea: in other towns, the sun disappears behind the volcano.
Additionally the town of Fira is stunning.
Be sure to explore the areas outside of the towns. There is beautiful countryside where tradition still survives. Cave houses (both abandoned and occupied), gardens, vineyards, small family business, and tiny churches are there to be discovered.
Santorini ranks among top destinations for wedding celebrations for at least 4 years—primarily for sunset and peace, like those in Oia. Couples often arrive with few friends, stay in Ia (places like Fanari Villas). Groups often arrive in the beginning of the week—judging by demand for cabrios and number of corteges seen on Mondays compared to weekends.
While the island is full of medium- and top-cost hotels and villas, there are still lots of abandoned caves and modest private houses where no one seems to live for a long time—even in western Oia where every inch seems to be occupied by some villa.
- Thirassia: small island near Santorini; place with more authentic villages, buildings and even churches. Take a look at hymnasia: in the yard, pupil painted children on the walls.
- Boat excursions: volcano island (Nea Kameni) - hot springs (Palia Kameni) - Thirassia
- From Ia: departure from Ammoudi bay at 10:50AM (starting and end point); a bit later from Armeni bay. 1hr 30min at volcano island; 45min for hot springs; 2hrs for Thirassia (incl. time for lunch). Meals are not included, normally the guide advises you to visit Captain Jack's tavern, which is self service if you arrive with a big group or operates with waiters if you don't. This restaurant serves amazing fresh seafood at the cheapest prices. Testament to how good it is, is the fact you will notice that none of the adjacent restaurants are ever busy. Only this one.
- Faros. A lighthouse near Akrotiri, west of the southern part of the island. Rocky cliff, interesting for taking photos. Although you cannot enter the lighthouse, which is run by Greek Navy, it's a great and tranquil place for taking photos.
- a viewpoint behind Iris hotel (close to center of the island): great for taking sunset photos with a sea and palm trees.
Things to do
- Walk along the caldera from Fira to Oia
- Climb to see Ancient Thira, or more ambitiously, the monastery, for an amazing view of the ocean, beaches, and island from up high.
- Horseback riding in Exo Gonia
- Scuba diving and snorkeling. Even non-qualified divers can dive up to 14 metres down on a wreck next to the volcano.
- Caldera Cruise and Oia Sunset
- Plan your wedding in Santorini
Akrotiri, in the south, a roughly 3,500 year old Minoan town preserved in volcanic ash like Pompeii, is one of Santorini's "must-sees". The excavation site is covered by a roofing system, which makes it something that you can comfortably visit no matter what time of year. The ruins, are extremely well preserved. Streets, buildings, stairs and even second floors of buildings are still visible. Visitors can stand in the ruins and look at Minoan pottery and frescoes, and with a little imagination, feel what it would have been like to live in ancient Greece. Due to an accident in September 2005, the excavation site was temporarily closed to the public, but as of April 2012, the site is once again open.
Ancient Thera, the Classical city of the island is on Mesa Vouno, 396 m. above sea level. It was founded in the 9th century B.C. by Dorian colonists whose leader was Theras, and continued to be inhabited until the early Byzantine period. The preserved ruins belong to the Hellenistic and Roman phases of the city. The residential area and the larger part of the cemeteries were excavated by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902. The cemeteries on the NE and NW slopes of Sellada were excavated by N. Zapheiropoulos in the years 1961-1982.
Fira has the Museum of Prehistoric Thira that contains some of the artifacts, which were found in the ruins of Akrotiri. So first visit Akrotini, where the items came from and then Thira to understand what the items are. The museum has more pots, pottery and other household items than you can shake an antique stick at, but the highlight is the frescoes of the blue monkeys—a mystery since historians say there is no evidence that there were ever monkeys on Santorini.
Also in Fira, near the cable car station, is the Archeological Museum that contains artifacts from various eras. Most of the exhibits are dated from the Classic and Roman period from the ancient town of Thera and it's cemeteries.
The Cycladic Islands are world-famous for their picturesque towns of cubic white-washed homes and blue-domed churches. Santoríni is especially famous for the towns of Firá and Oía, whose white and pastel-colored homes and churches—seemingly stacked on top of each other—are perched on the cliffs of the caldera. Many of these traditional homes are built on cliff-side caves, thus having a much larger interior than their exterior would suggest. The architecture of Santoríni's picturesque towns is typically Cycladic, but with strong neoclassical and baroque influences visible in many of the island's churches and public buildings.
While Santorini cannot claim a prominent art collection, why not see some local and international artists work by visiting the Art Space Gallery and Winery in the small village of Exo Gonia, on the way between Fira and Kamari. Art Space is a winery built in 1830, an old canava. Also an museum with old installations for raki and tomato-juice. Owned by the same family (Argyros) for three generations.
Scenery and nature
The landscape here—the blue sky, the little white houses perched on gigantic rocks on hills that plummet to the sea, the lemon and orange groves, the pink and white churches that look like pastrycakes, the faces and warmth and expressiveness of the Greek people—little wonder this may be the most photographed scenery in the world.
Scuba and Snorkelling
Santorini has 5 dive shops. Prices are typically around € 80 for two dives, including equipment rental, transport, and usually, a light lunch. The offerings are otherwise quite similar. Prices are sometimes lower when booked directly through dive shop, rather than through a travel agency. Try the Mediterranean Dive Club divecenter.gr], [email protected]). Their dive station is on Caldera Beach near Akrotiri, but they also have an office on Perissa Beach. There are also two dive shops in Kamari: Navy's Waterworld Dive Center (+30 22860 28 190, [www] ), and Aegean Divers (+30 22860 33210, [email protected], [www]).
Diving, visibility is amazing, but there are not as many fish as more popular scuba and snorkelling locations. Dive sites include a wreck near the volcano, caverns, reefs, as well as wall diving. The wall dive is the most interesting. Octopus are not uncommon. To minimize environmental damage, all five dive shops go to the same locations (although not at the same time), with moorings shared by all the dive shops. If you want to go to a specific dive site, call ahead, and find out which dive shops are heading to which locations on which day (or ask to go to a specific location).
Recommended sites for snorkelling include Mesa Pigadia beach, somewhat out (some people recommended a diving buoy for boat safety), the beach South of Oia, as well as Perissa Rock (esp. somewhat further around the rock). There are supposed to be some nice spots between Perivolos and Vlichada Beach as well. The beach on Thirasia also has some reasonable snorkelling. Caldera Beach, near Akrotiri, has a few amazing snorkelling spots. When walking down to Caldera Beach (follow the signs to Santorini Dive Center), you will see some rock formations further out into the water. If you can find those once in the water, and swim to them, you will find wonderful snorkelling.
Virtually all beach-side shops will sell cheap, low-quality snorkelling gear (mask for around 10EU, fins for around 20EU).
Santorini specials include: the white aubergine (eggplant); fava caper ; a variety of tomato keftedes, with whole slices of tomatoes fried in batter; dolmades, stuffed vine leaves. Another must-try is fresh fish grilled in tavernas, esp. those close to a sea.
If you decide to eat or drink in a taverna overlooking the caldera or having a good view to a sunset, expect higher prices than a similar establishment in one of the many side-streets as you are charged extra for the view –- but what a view!
For those who enjoy the Mediterranean diet—fresh fish, vegetables, and meat dishes can be found at several moderately priced restaurants (average 40 Euros for two) in Imerovigli, Oia, and Fira. To save money, stay away from places that are overtly commercial and go to the family run fish taverns located nearby the smaller beaches and communities.
Gyros places are everywhere.
Don't miss the traditional fried tomato balls of tomato keftedes and be sure to ask for local tomatoes in your salad. They may be the best tasting you have ever had. Santorini is particularly well known for its cherry tomatoes which are very sweet.
Tour local wineries and enjoy the local wines, well thought of, if not world famous. A combination of climatic factors and the tastes of those who have occupied and lived on the island have formed an eclectic cuisine.
Money & Shopping
- Atlantis Books. The largest selection of English language books on the island. Also stocks Greek, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.
- Santoríni is one of Greece's most prominent wine regions, whose wines enjoy special designation of origin status from the European Union. The method of growing grapes (with vines close to the earth and individual vines spaced far apart from each other) is unique to the island, with its dry soil and windy climate. Wineries open to the public are located throughout the island.
- Buy Santorini wines on Iama Wine Store in Oia.Very nice shop with all Santorini wines and over 350 labels of other Greek and international wines.
Stay safe / healthy
Be aware of rental scams, especially with agencies working only with motorbikes and ATVs. Using these types of vehicles is very common on Santorini and there are a lot of rental agencies. Some of them are ready to cheat. They will offer faulty motorbikes or ATVs for a lower price, but in case of accident they will demand that the customer pay for the whole cost of damage. They are offering only basic insurance but will present it like full insurance. Also, there is a big possibility of serious injuries.
It is possible to recognize these rental agencies by observing them aggressively attracting tourists and offering lower prices than others. Employees in front of these type of agencies will be loud and ready to promise everything until the contract is signed. It is necessary to check the vehicle before making any decision. Their vehicles are in most of the cases dusty, dirty and look old.
Santoríni is relatively crime free: you are quite unlikely to be pickpocketed. On the other hand you may feel you have been ripped off by some restaurant or bar bills. In particular:
- Bring sunscreen. A bottle of SPF30 sunscreen will run about 20 Euro, with higher SPF sunscreen costing appropriately more.
- While this is obvious, remember not to shop at stores or order at restaurants without posted prices.
Physically the cliffs and low walls guarding large drops pose a danger to children while the elderly may encounter problems with the many steps. Cave exploring can be fun too but it is not recommended to deviate from the paths because of the unstable rocks made of tufa.