A fascinating history of an island that sprang out of the sea – an island cut in the middle, on the piece of the lost world of Atlantis, a unique archaeological wealth, an impressive traditional architecture and magic that no camera can capture, make Santorini an island-surprise, that reveals itself when the summer visitors have left, leaving it to breath the sea air.
The island was created eighty thousands years before the volcano exploded and created Strongili.
The view that the traveller sees, when the ferry reaches the island, is breathtaking. When it enters the harbour and the visitor finds himself among Santorini and Thirasia, he is suddenly confronted with the grand beauty, that the steep rocks and the intense colour of the sky create.That comes in contrast with the particular earth colour of the volcanic rock that we rarely meet elsewhere. An abrupt red and black rock of 300 metres – the walls of the caldera- stands threatening there. While the boat approaches, high on the verge of the precipice, human presence starts being visible – small lodges and light blue church domes, an impressive picture!
In Hora – Fira- we reach from the harbour, going up (on foot or by donkey) the old path, carved in the rock and, alternatively, with cable car or with car from Athinio. The settlement of Fira, with whitewashed houses and the vaulted churches, constitutes a masterpiece of architectural perfection that in addition with the view to caldera creates unique impressions for the visitor. The picturesque Firostefani, and Imerovigli, settlements of genuine Cycladic architecture, built on the highest point of the caldera offer magical views to the caldera.
The Apano Meria, in northern Santorini, includes the settlements of Oia, Tholos, Perivolos and Foinikia. The entire settlement of Oia-hanging from the caldera above the sea, is built according to particular local architecture: Small houses, built one next to the other, in a chromatic harmony that enchants any visitor. Walking in streets of Oia, one believes that time has turned him back centuries, while in the “brow” of the caldera one feels ready to take off. Oia is famous in the whole world for its sunsets. In the western end of the settlement, each afternoon, sky, sea and sun come together, in order to paint the horizon with fairytale colours. Two hundred steps lead under the castle to the old harbour, Ammoudi with its picturesque fish taverns.
Vothonas, with its two vaulted churches, Mesaria, with the Argyrou Mansion, and Megalochori, are beautiful picturesque villages built among vineyards.
The picturesque capital of Thira, built in a impressive locaton on the top of an abrupt rocks in an altitude of 260 m. It was founded in the dues of the 18th century and has been built according to traditional Cycladic architecture. Fira is 10 km away from the harbour of the island. A tour in the city reveals picturesque neighbourhoods, whitewashed houses and churches with light blue domes, which characterize the enchanting capital. In the busy streets you will meet a lot of commercial shops, cafeterias and restaurants. Firostefani is built on the highest point of the capital. It is the last and most picturesque settlement of the town and has indeed amazing views. Here you will enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets of Santorini.
A settlement built in a preferential place, on the highest point of the caldera, in an altitude of 300 m. between Fira and Oia. This settlement has been characterized as preserved. The authentic Cycladic architecture with which houses of the village are built and the amazing views, do not leave any of its visitors untouched. In Imerovilgi we find ruins of the Venetian castle “Skaros” that Markos Sanoudos built and was used as an observatory at the period of Venetian domination. The path that starts from Skaros, leads to the chapel of Theoskepasti, which is built in the end of a rock and has a unique view to the volcanic islets of Palea and Nea Kameni.
Oia is the first settlement of Greece that was characterized as preserved. It is found in the northern side of the island. The name of Oia has been connected with the sunset. Each afternoon at the moment of sundown, when the horizon is dyed in colours of fire, a crowd of people “hangs” at the end of the caldera in order to enjoy the amazing spectacle. One more characteristic of Oia is its vaulted settlement, that is to say its houses – caves, that are dug in the rock. Such settlements are unique in Greece and can be found only in Santorini because of the ground’s particular constitution.
Fifteen kilometres south of Fira, near the village Akrotiri, we find one of the most important archaeological sites of Greece. A real “revelation”. The explosion of the volcano buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash the city that was here at the 2nd millennium B.C. The city has a structure that reminds of the Minoan palaces of Crete and two-storied and three-storied residences where the worldwide astonishing murals – the ladies, the fisherman, the boxers, the light blue apes and the spring, were discovered.
At the Mesa Vouno we find an archaeological site of the ancient city of Thira. The visitor can walk around the holy road, the sacred precinct of Artemidoros, the royal arcade, the temple of Dionusus, the region of temples,the market, the theatre,the temple of Apollonos Karneiou, the adolescent gymnasium, the cemetery and the roman hot springs.
The village Mesaria is found in the centre of the island and is located 3,5 km to the south-east from Fira and it is famous for its vineyards, where the greatest quantity of the island’s wine is produced. At a close distance we meet Vothonas, one more village of Santorini that will impress you with its traditional architecture and mainly with its settlement which is dug in the rock.Finally it also worths visiting the appreciable churches of Agia Triada, Agia Anna and Panagia that is dated from 1700.
It is found four km south of Pirgos, on the highest top of the island (566 m.), on the Mesa Vouno. The monastery of Profitis Ilias is of the 18th century. The view from this monastery is panoramic. The Ecclesiastical and Folklore Museum, with rare exhibits such as the handwritten codes of the 8th century, pictures of the Cretan School of the 15th century and the hat of the Patriarch Grigorios E’, function in the monastery.
Nea and Palea Kameni
The tour of caldera with a fishing boat and the visit to the islands Nea and Palea Kameni and Thirasia are one of the most fascinating experiences. In Nea Kameni, after a walk of 30min. in a particularly hot ground , you will come to the crater of the volcano. The intense smell near the crater is due to sulphur, as are the green waters of the coasts. Palea Kameni has hot sources and yellow-blue waters from the sulphur.
One may also have the opportunity for a digital view to the volcano from the site www.santorini.net where there is access to a camera situated at the Mati Art Gallery of Giorgios Kipris at Fira while there are 2000 more on the hotel Hliotopos in Imerobigli that offer unique views af the caldera and the volcano.
It is found in Fira. The discoveries from the Geometric and Roman years are exhibited here. Among others, you must pay attention to the amphora from the 7th century B.C. from the ancient cemetery of Thira, the embossed pithos (jar) from a children’s burial from the 7th century B.C., the earthen figurine from the 7th century B.C., the part of an ancient tomb Kouros, the Attic crater from the 6th century B.C.) and an oversized volcanic stone. On the second floor of the 600sq.m modern museum we find four thematic units of the findings from Akrotiri and other localities of Santorini. In the first unit we are given information on the excavations in Akrotiri. In the second unit we get information on the geology of Thira and its volcanic activity. The third unit includes samples of the culture that was developed on the island by the 3rd millennium B.C. until the destruction of the biggest settlement in the region of Megalochori. The fourth unit that occupies the biggest part of the museum includes brilliant samples from Akrotiri.
Folklore museum of Lignos
In Kontochori you will admire the Folklore Museum of Lignos, that includes an entire “vaulted” house (characteristic type of a Santorini house, which is dug in the compact volcanic material – horizontal tunnel and with the addition of a front wall is changing into a residence). There we will see the wine factory with gear of the wine industry, as well as workshops of old professions like those of coopers, carpenters and shoemakers.
Ecclesiastical and Folklore museum
It belongs in the monastery of Profitis Ilias. In the ecclesiastical department of the museum, precious heirlooms, among which Cretan icons of the15th century, handwritten codes of the 8th century B.C., Patriarch “sigilia”, Turkish “firmania” etc. are exhibited. The museum has also an important ecclesiastical library. The folklore department accommodates traditional furniture and tools from the 19th century. In a particular department of the monastery, the private collection of P. Nomikos, with objects from old mansions of the island is kept.
Mansion of Argyros
It is found in Messaria. It is a renovated mansion with appreciable furnishing and painted roofs that presents life of the urban class and of ship owners of the island.
Museum of Wine
It is found in Vothonas. It includes all the wine making history of Santorini with interesting exhibits.
Oia not only has a big naval tradition but is also the base of the Naval Museum of Thira, one of the richest in material in the whole of Greece.
In the historical years the city the ancient Thira was developed with continuous habitation from the Geometric up to the later Roman years (9th – 3rd cent B.C.). Thira makes its own currency on the 6th cent B.C. and becomes an ally of Sparta, in the Peloponnesian war. In the Hellenistic years the island was developed and was used as a naval and military base of the Ptolemy’s, while at the Roman period it did not present any particular activity.
After the 9th cent. A.D. Thira is included in the subject of the Aegean. Alexios A΄ Komninos (1081-1118) founded the temple of Panagia Episkopi at Gonia, in the centre of the island. After the fall of Constantinople from the Franks (1204), Thira becomes the seat of one of the four Latin Bishops of the duchy of the Aegean and it is granted along with Thirasia to the baron Iakobo Varotsi until 1335, when it is placed under the hegemony of Nikolaos Sanoudos, duke of Naxos, capital of the small Latin State.Latins gave to the island the name Santorini from the church of Agia Irini (Santa Irene), which was the first thing they saw when they approached the island. The next years and until 1487, the island changes hands among the Frankish families of Sanoudos, Krispi and Pizani. In 1487 it became a part of the duchy of the Aegean in Venice. In 1537, Santorini suffered the raids of Chairentin Barbarosa, and in 1566 it finally passed to the hands of the Ottomans.
In 1941 Santorini was initially included in the Italian administration, in the frames of possession of Greek territories from Forces of Axis. After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, the island came under German possession up to its release.
An important happening of newer history is the explosion of the volcano in 1956, which led to the abandonment of the island from a big part of its population.
Did you know that a visit to Santorini would still be a unique experience even if the island wasn’t as breathtakingly beautiful as it is? Did you know that visitors here enjoy a feast not just for their eyes but also for their taste buds? The dazzling light and the Aegean breeze combined with the island’s fertile volcanic soil nurture the local agricultural products, endowing them with top quality and a unique taste. The most renowned products from Santorini are:
It was in the 18th century that the locals first cultivated this variety of tomatoes, which owe their unique taste to the arid soil of the island.
Fava (Split Peas)
Used in many recipes, ranging from freshly boiled plain fava to fava with pork or with tomato puree, or as a soup, with rice or in an omelette, these peas are popular with visitors to Santorini thanks to their fine taste.
Both the flowers and the leaves are used in local cuisine for their spicy sharp aroma.
The magic thing about this variety of aubergine is not just that it has been coloured white by the volcanic soil. It is also that the bitterness sometimes found in aubergines is completely absent and instead the flesh is sweet and juicy.
If there was ever an island worthy of the nickname “the wine island”, then it is undoubtedly Santorini. The excavations at the site of Akrotiri have proved that wine making and trading used to be among the most important activities for prehistoric locals. Several eruptions of the volcano over the centuries caused consecutive layers of volcanic matter, including ash, lava, and pumice to cover the limestone and slate subsoil, forming what the locals call “aspa”, i.e. hard, solid ground. Over the years, grape growers have built terraces using petrified lava stones in order to prevent the soil being eroded by the strong winds, and to help retain what little rain falls. Thanks to geographical factors here, the vines are very healthy: the hot sun and strong winds dry up any dampness on the fruit and prevent diseases and other problems such as mildew and botrytis. In other words, the principles of organic cultivation are automatically applied here, as the growers are left only with the tasks of sulphuration and pruning. The latter involves the use of a special technique to form a “basket” within which the grapes are protected from the sand carried in the wind.
Which are the best known varieties?
Some forty grape varieties produce an average yield of 350 kilos per 1000sqm on the 3,706 acres of Santorini’s vineyard. Given the bad weather conditions, the production is rather low. But the quality is extremely high. Here are some of the best known varieties:
• Accounting for 80% of the island’s production, Assirtiko is widely cultivated throughout Greece due to its high adaptability to different bioclimatic conditions. High acidity and freshness are characteristics of the wines made using this variety.
• Mainly used for mixing with Assyrtiko, the white variety of Athiri produces wine with a high alcohol content.
• Aidani, with its sharp aroma, is used along with assyrtiko in order to add aromas to vinsanto.
• Full of phenolic elements and an amazing aging ability, Mavrotragano is a red variety which is indigenous to the Cyclades.
In the 70’s, wines produced using the varieties Assirtiko, Athiri and Aidani gained the right to be lawfully acknowledged as VQPRD (Vin de Qualité Produit Dans Une Région Déterminée). Three types of wine which can be marked “VQPRD” are produced on the island:
• A cool, exuberant dry white wine with a metallic character.
• A white wine named Nykteri, which ages in the barrel for several months and has a high alcohol content. It owes its name (Nykteri comes from “nykta” = night) to the fact that, in the past, the vinification procedure would take place at night to eliminate the risk of oxidisation.
• Vinsanto, a wine with a rich gold colour and an exceptional aroma achieved thanks to many years of maturation and aging in the bottle and the extra-mature sun-dried white grapes with which it is made.
Many wineries on Santorini, one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world, have now been opened up to visitors or turned into museums. Don’t miss out on the chance to visit them and do a little wine tasting for yourself.
On Easter, the housewives make melitinia, sweet cheese pies from fresh mizithra. And in weddings they serve the traditional sugarplum, from almonds boiled in local honey – a selected tasty luxury!
Melitinia of Santorini
Materials: 2 kilos of unsalted mizithra (good quality), 2 kilos sugar, 1/2 kilo semolina, 8 eggs (only the yolks), A bit of mastic
For the filo: Hard flour, 2 spoonfuls of butter, 1 small glass of water, 1 small glass of milk
Implementation: We put flour with all other materials in a basin in order to mix them so that we make dough suitable for filo. We leave it to stand covered with a towel for a while. We grind the mizithra. We add eggs, and mix. We then throw little by little the sugar and the semolina so much so that it becomes a tight custard. We then add mastic for flavour. We roll the dough into a medium in thickness filo and cut it in disks. We take some custard with a teaspoon and put it in the centre of each disk. We stretch it carefully with our fingers, so that shapes a surface of thickness of 1cm on the filo, leaving some free space around. We close the custard around with our fingers. We place melitinia in a buttered baking pan and cook in a medium prepared oven until our custard roasts.
After you’ve said “I will”, preparations for the wedding ceremony can begin. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? A dreamy wedding hideaway. Santorini in the Cyclades has always been an absolute favourite for overseas couples who want to celebrate in a wonderful setting. The island offers its own comprehensive wedding industry directory: exquisite beach sites, luxurious hotels, boutique guest houses, rural churches and breathtaking views over a volcano make Santorini one of the most sought after wedding and honeymoon locations in Greece. A Travel Channel “Wedding Special” will help you discover the reason why.
Start dreaming about your nuptials, chose your bridal gown and costume, and don’t worry about a thing. Here you will find detailed answers to your questions.
Who can help me with the arrangements?
Local wedding coordinators can work with you to offer comprehensive, tailor-made wedding packages to fit any budget. These on-site experienced planners can help you with: all legal arrangements for your wedding, booking for the officiant/venue/priest/church, recommendations about locations, live Internet video broadcasting so relatives and friends can watch the event as it happens, videoconferencing, flowers and decorations, wedding dinner, reception, cakes, menus, catering, live music, professional dancers, fireworks, professional photographer and videographer, beauty care, accommodation arrangements for you and your guests, ground transportation, excursions and tours; they can even arrange for the bride to travel to the church on the back of a donkey. So, all you have to worry about is booking your wedding date as soon as possible!
What kind of wedding ceremonies take place on Santorini?
Civil ceremonies are held in almost any location you choose. Greek Orthodox ceremonies take place in Cathedrals and chapels; Catholic ones at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in the town of Firá, and Jewish weddings can be conducted as well as a rabbi is also available. If you are already married but want to relive the romantic atmosphere of your marriage ceremony, wedding planners can also create the perfect setting for you to renew your wedding vows. Due to the fact that couples come from all over the world, civil weddings are bilingual, in Greek and English. When necessary, interpreters for other languages as well as sign language interpreters are available.
So, which are these locations we have been talking about?
The island of Santorini loves weddings and many sites are geared up to ensuring that all that is required of you is to arrive and enjoy the big day. Restaurants and hotels with sprawling patios, and beachside tavernas host fabulous weddings, wedding meals, and receptions, which you can ride to on one of the island’s resident donkeys. For a smaller, more intimate affair, there’s no better place to celebrate than at one of the small hotels set along the rim of the Caldera. Here, couples can marry on one of the several terraces or inside a vaulted cave with the sunset, the volcano, the sea and the surrounding islets as a backdrop. On Santorini you can even choose to tie the knot at remote locations, away from the confines of a banqueting hall: volcanic beaches, vineyards, or even boats provide the ideal scenery for those who wish to put their own, distinctive signature on their nuptial ceremony. If you want to carry on celebrating after the event you can dance the night away at one of the island’s clubs.
But “excellence is in the details”, as the saying goes.
For your wedding bouquet and the groom’s buttonhole choose from a selection of local flowers. (Some tips: try an exuberantly colourful floral arrangement of stargazer lilies and red roses; colourful Euphorbia flowers, yellow roses, lilium pink and blue liatris, etc.). The wedding coordinators will cater for the reception menu, as well as the cake (the Serrano mousse flavour covered with white whipped cream and adorned with flowers that are made of edible wafers is a pure delight). The ring: purchase it from one of the island’s jewellery stores. For your reception ceremony, if you have specific music in mind, you can bring in your own musicians.
How can I please my guests and family?
Use hotels to house all of your guests. People here will go out of their way to help you with wedding preparations and offer a warm hospitable welcome to guests. Days will be filled with seaside activities, exploring the island, or just lazing on a sun lounger. If you are more interested in exploring Santorini’s archaeological sites, you will find our itinerary extremely helpful.
Legal information: There are a number of legal requirements and any couples intending to marry on Santorini must have the right documents before leaving their own country. Due to the fact that the documents required vary significantly according to the country of origin, contact the on-site wedding planners, who will help you throughout the whole process of preparing for the event.
Start your journey in the northern part of the island at the sun-drenched beaches around Oia; they have a wild untamed beauty and most of them cannot easily be spotted from the main road. , on the harbour of Oia, is a picturesque beach lined with charming cafes and restaurants. You can reach Ammoúdi either by car, or the traditional way – with mules from Oia! The small beach of Arméni with its azure waters and magnificent view of the island of Thirassia can either be reached by boat from Ammoúdi or on foot. There is a small footpath connecting Oia with Arméni, but if you find it hard to climb up and down 286 steps, riding a donkey is the alternative solution! A diving centre is also available for adventure-seeking beachgoers. Looking for a little seclusion and serenity? Baxédes (or Paradisos), a quiet beach with black sand and chiselled rocks or the black-grey sandy beach of Kolúmbo (mostly frequented by nudists) are the ideal choice…According to volcanologists, the largest active underwater crater of Santorini is located in Kolúmbo! Kátharοs beach will impress you with its wild landscape whereas Porí is a quiet family beach!
The wild black beauty of the beaches on the eastern side of the island will prove irresistible to sunseekers looking for peace and seclusion since they are neither organised nor much frequented. Impressive sculptured rocks, black sand, volcanic pebbles, small ports with fishing boats casting colourful reflections on azure waters and a few beech trees are the trademarks of Xiropígado, Vourvoúlos and Éxo Gialós.
On the south-eastern side of Santorini, sun-loving tourists will encounter magnificent black sandy or pebbly beaches. Monólithos is strongly recommended for families, as the water is very swallow compared to other Santorini beaches and there are facilities, like playgrounds, to keep the children entertained. Young people can have fun in a beach bar or at a beach volley playground. Soak up the atmosphere along the lively waterfront at one of the charming beach bars or bask in the turquoise blue waters of the cosmopolitan beach of Kamári, one of the island’s most crowded and organised beaches! Amongst Santorini’s most sought after beaches, especially among young people, are Períssa, Perívolos and Áyios Geórgios, which actually stretch out one after another to create the longest black sandy beach on the island; bustling beach bars, diving and water sport centres (including jet ski, parasailing, wind surfing and canoe-kayak) and beautiful-people-watching! Could you ask for more?
Let’s go south, where the (semi-organised) beach of Vlycháda with its grey sand, its huge rock formations sculpted over the years by the wind and its unique lunar landscape awaits us! Recently a large modern marina which is home to the Sailing and Yacht Club of Santorini has been constructed here. Nearby lies the beach of Almýra, where sun worshippers can enjoy a beautiful quiet beach with impressive sea-sculpted rocks in the background. The Akrotíri area is famous for its ruins of an ancient town but tan-seeking sunbathers will also discover some marvellous beaches there. Caldera is a small and very quiet beach with black sand and deep crystal clear waters which enjoys an unrivalled view of the volcano, while Gialós is a secluded beach accessible only by jeep.
Close to the excavation site of Akrotíri you will find what is probably the most famous beach on the island, the Red Beach! What makes the beach absolutely irresistible is its impressive red rock formations, which form a breathtaking unique volcanic landscape. Access is not that easy and involves a trip either on foot from the harbour of Akrotíri (around 10 minutes) or by boat from Kamári, Akrotíri and Períssa, but the all-red landscape is certainly worth the trek! The nearby White Beach is another stunning seascape that you simply must not miss! Black sand, big grey and white pebbles and gigantic white rocks form a bizarre setting like you’ve never seen before.
Note: Unless you are a professional climber getting there is only possible by boat (from Akrotíri)!
While you are on Santorini you can also take part in an exciting sea excursion departing from the old port of Firá or from Athiniós port, depending on which trip you choose. Visit the two small islands at the centre of Caldera, Palea and Nea Kaméni, the “volcano” according to the locals, or combine your excursion with a visit to Thirassiá and Oia. And of course…could you think of anything more romantic than watching the famous Santorini sunset onboard?
Last but not least, some tips for action lovers:
• Best spots for scuba diving: cape of Tripití at Thirassiá, Paliá Kaméni (the shipwreck), Mésa Pigádia, Ammoúdi, Arménis (wall dive), Asproníssi
• Diving centres are located at: Ammoúdi, Kamári, Períssa and Oia
• Windsurfing/jet ski equipment at the following beaches: Kamari, Períssa, Avis
• Santorini Sailing Centre telephone number: 0030 22860 22895/23891
Other festivals are: In June, the mobile feast of Analipsis Sotiros (40 days after Easter) in the village Karterados,Profitis Elias on the 20th of July in Fira, on the 24th of July (Agios Yannis Afotaridas) in the village Monolithos, the festival of Agioi Anargyroi in Megalochori, Agios Pagkratios in Kamari, Profitis Ilias in Pirgos, Agia Paraskevi in Monolithos etc.
On the 4th of August the festival of the Agia Epta Paidia (holy seven children) takes place, in a small vaulted chapel in Foinikia, precisely above the caldera, that is approached only by boats. On the 6th of August there is a feast at the Metamorfosis of Sotiros in Akrotiri.In addition, Agios Ioanis celebrates on the 29th of August in Perissa and there is the feast of Panagia Mirtidiotissa in Kamari on the 24th of September.Finally on the 22th of October the island honours the protector of wine Agios Averkios where after the mass, a feast with local wine follows with getting drunk being allmost obligatory.
How to Arrive?
Santorini is connected by plane with Athens, Thessalonica, Mykonos, Rhodes and Heraklion in Crete. Piraeus, Rafina and Thessalonica are connected with ferry boat or speedboats, as well as with many islands of the Aegean, Heraklion and Volos.
For more information:
Port Authority of Thira: Tel. 22860-22239
Port Authority of Piraeus: Tel. 210 4226000-4, 210 4593140, 210 4593150
Port Authority of Rafina: Tel. 22940 22300
Port Authority of Thessalonica: Tel. 2310 531505.
Greek Telecome: 1440
Olympic Airlines: Tel. 210 966666, 22860 22493,22793
Aegean Airlines: Tel. 210 9988300, 22860 28500
Airport of Santorini: Tel. 22860 31525
International Airport: www.aia.gr
Useful Telephone Numbers
Police: 22860 22649
Tourist Police: 22860 22649
Port Authority: 22860 22239
Municipal Authority: 22860 22231
Health centres: 22860 22237
Tourist information office: 22860 25940
COMMUNITY OF OIA – THIRASIA: 22860 71228
SERVICE OF CIVIL AVIATION: 22860 28400
All text and photos by www.visitgreece.gr & www.cyclades-tour.gr