Santorini is one of the most popular and beautiful destinations in Greece and the world. The island is famous for its stunning views, white-washed houses, blue-domed churches, and romantic sunsets. But Santorini is also rich in culture and history, with many fascinating facts and trivia that you should know before you visit. Here are some of them:
The volcanic origin of Santorini
Santorini is the result of a massive volcanic eruption that occurred around 1600 BC, which is considered to be one of the largest in recorded history. The eruption destroyed the original round island of Strongili, meaning “of round shape” in Greek, and created a large basin called a caldera. The caldera was filled with seawater, forming the current shape of Santorini, which consists of several islands: Thera (the main island), Thirasia, Aspronisi, Palea Kameni, and Nea Kameni. The eruption also caused a huge tsunami that reached the shores of Crete, 70 nautical miles away, and may have contributed to the collapse of the Minoan civilization there. Santorini is still an active volcano today, and you can visit the volcanic island of Nea Kameni in the center of the caldera and see the hot smoke and swim in the hot springs.
The legend of Atlantis
Some people believe that Santorini is the site of the lost city of Atlantis, a mythical island that was mentioned by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in two of his writings. According to Plato, Atlantis was a powerful and advanced civilization that existed 9,000 years before his time, but it was destroyed by a cataclysmic event and sank into the ocean. Many scholars have tried to locate Atlantis, but no conclusive evidence has been found. However, some similarities between the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri in Santorini and Atlantis have led some to speculate that they are one and the same. Akrotiri was a prosperous Minoan city that was buried under volcanic ash during the eruption of 1600 BC, preserving many buildings, artworks, and artifacts that can be seen today at an archaeological site. Akrotiri was also known for its naval power, trade relations, and advanced technology, such as indoor plumbing and multi-story buildings.
The name of Santorini
Santorini has had many names throughout its history. The official name of the island is Thera, which derives from Theras, a mythical ruler who colonized the island in ancient times. The name Santorini came about in the 13th century from the Venetians, who occupied the island for several centuries. It is a reference to Saint Irene (Santa Irini in Italian), a Christian martyr who was born on Thera and whose relics were kept in a church on the island. Another name for Santorini is Kallisti, meaning “the most beautiful one” in Greek, which was given by the ancient poet Callimachus.
The white-washed houses
The iconic white-washed houses of Santorini are instantly recognizable as Greek, but they have a practical and historical reason behind them. One reason is that white paint absorbs less heat than darker colors, making the houses cooler during the hot summer days. Another reason is that white paint contains limestone, which acts as a disinfectant and helps to prevent diseases. In fact, painting your house white was enforced by law in 1938 by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas, who wanted to curb a cholera outbreak that occurred in Greece.
The churches of Santorini
Santorini has over 600 churches, most of them small and private. The churches reflect the religious diversity and history of the island, as there are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and even Buddhist temples. Some of the most famous churches are: The Church of Panagia Episkopi (the oldest church on the island), The Church of Panagia Malteza (known for its impressive iconostasis), The Church of Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis (built with marble from Paros), The Church of Agios Efstathios (built on top of an ancient temple), The Church of Agios Ioannis Theologos (built on a rock overlooking Oia), The Church of Panagia Platsani (the main church of Oia), The Church of Agios Minas (the largest church in Fira), The Church of Agios Stylianos (built inside a cave), The Church of Panagia Theoskepasti (built on the edge of the caldera), and The Church of Agios Nikolaos Oia (the most photographed church on the island).
The wine of Santorini
Santorini produces unique wine varieties from grapes grown on volcanic soil, which gives them a distinctive taste and aroma. The most famous wine of Santorini is Assyrtiko, a dry white wine with high acidity and mineral notes. Other local wines are Athiri, Aidani, Mavrotragano, and Vinsanto. Vinsanto is a sweet dessert wine made from sun-dried grapes that have been aged for at least three years in oak barrels. The name Vinsanto comes from “vin santo”, meaning “holy wine” in Italian, as it was used for religious ceremonies by the Venetians. Santorini has a long tradition of winemaking, dating back to ancient times. You can visit many wineries on the island and taste the different wines, as well as learn about the history and culture of viticulture.
The cuisine of Santorini
Santorini offers a variety of delicious dishes that reflect its geography, climate, and history. Some of the typical ingredients are tomatoes, fava beans, capers, cheese, fish, and meat. Some of the traditional dishes are: Tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters), Fava (yellow split pea puree), Melitinia (cheese pastries with honey), Saganaki (fried cheese), Brantada (cod fish with garlic sauce), Moussaka (layered dish with eggplant, meat, and bechamel sauce), Souvlaki (grilled meat skewers), Baklava (filo pastry with nuts and syrup), and Loukoumades (fried dough balls with honey). Santorini also has some specialties that are unique to the island, such as: Chloro cheese (a soft goat cheese made only in Santorini), White eggplant (a sweeter and less bitter variety of eggplant), Katsouni (a type of cucumber that grows only in Santorini), and Domato cherry (a small and sweet tomato that grows only in Santorini).
The festivals of Santorini
Santorini celebrates many festivals throughout the year, which showcase its culture, music, art, and religion. Some of the most important festivals are: The Feast of Agia Irini (May 5th), which honors the patron saint of the island and features a procession, a fair, and fireworks. The Feast of Agios Averkios (May 22nd), which commemorates the protector of wine and vineyards and includes wine tasting and dancing. The Feast of Agia Marina (July 17th), which celebrates the patron saint of sailors and fishermen and involves a boat parade and a blessing of the sea. The Feast of Panagia Episkopi (August 15th), which marks the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and attracts thousands of pilgrims to the oldest church on the island. The Feast of Agios Ioannis Theologos (September 26th), which honors the saint who wrote the Book of Revelation and features a pilgrimage to his church on a rock. The International Music Festival (September-October), which hosts concerts by renowned musicians from Greece and abroad at various venues on the island. The Ifestia Festival (September-October), which recreates the volcanic eruption of Santorini with fireworks, lights, and sound effects.