View across collapsed caldera
|Area:||73 km² (28 sq.mi.)|
|Population:||13,402 (as of 2001)|
|Density:||184 /km² (475 /sq.mi.)|
|Postal code:||847 00, 847 02|
Santorini (Greek: Σαντορίνη, pronounced [ˌsa(n)do̞ˈrini]) is a small, circular archipelago of volcanic islands located in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast from Greece's mainland. The largest island is known as Thēra (or Thira, Greek Θήρα [ˈθira]), forming the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km2 (28 sq mi) and a 2001 census population of 13,670. It is composed of the Municipality of Thira (pop. 12,440) and the Community of Oía (Οία, pop. 1,230, which includes 268 inhabitants resident on the offshore island of Therasia, lying to the west). These have a total land area of 90.623 km2 (34.990 sq mi), which also includes the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana (all part of the Municipality of Thira).
Santorini is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current geological caldera.
A giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular, and measuring 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 island slopes downward from the cliffs to the surrounding Aegean Sea. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the sea by another much smaller island called Therasia; the lagoon merges with the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest. The water in the centre of the lagoon is nearly 400 m (1,300 ft) deep, thus making it a safe harbour for all kinds of shipping. The island's harbours all lie in the lagoon and there are no ports on the outer perimeter of the island; 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 notably 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 long and 20-40 km 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 region of 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 feet 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 the creation of a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.
The name Santorini was given to it by the Latin empire in the thirteenth century, and is a reference to Saint Irene. Before then it was known as Kallístē (Καλλίστη, "the most beautiful one"), Strongýlē (Στρογγύλη, "the circular one"), or Thēra.
The Cyclades are part of a metamorphic complex area known as the Cycladic Massif, which formed in Triassic to Tertiary time and were folded and metamorphosed during the Alpine Orogeny around 60 million years ago. Thera itself is built upon a small, non-volcanic basement that represents the former non-volcanic island which was approximately 9 by 6 km in size. The basement rock consists primarily of metamorphosed limestone and schist dating from the Alpine Orogeny. These non-volcanic rocks are exposed at the Profitis Ilias Mountains, Mesa Vouno, the Gavrillos ridge, Pyrgos, Monolithos, and the inner side of the caldera wall between Cape Plaka and Athinios.
The metamorphic grade consists of a blueschist facies resulting from tectonic deformation by the subduction of the African Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate between the Oligocene and the Miocene and represents the southernmost extent of the Cycladic blueschist belt.
The island is the remnant of a volcanic cone whose top was blown off. The inner coast around the caldera is a sheer precipice of more than 300 m drop at its highest, and exhibits the various layers of solidified lava on top of each other, and the main towns perched on the crest. The ground then slopes outwards and downwards towards the outer perimeter, and the outer beaches are smooth and shallow. Beach sand color depends on which geologic layer is exposed; there are beaches with sand or pebbles made of solidified lava of various colors: the Red Beach, the Black Beach, the White Beach, etc. The water at the darker colored beaches is significantly warmer because the lava acts as a heat absorber.
Excavations starting in 1967 at the site called Akrotiri under the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos have made Thera the best-known "Minoan" site outside of Crete, the 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 meters, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. The site was not a palace-complex such as are found in Crete, but its excellent masonry and fine wall-paintings show that this was certainly no conglomeration of merchants' warehousing either. A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export. This Bronze Age civilization throve between 3000 to 2000 BC, and reached its peak in the period 2000 to 1580 BC.
Some of the houses in Akrotiri are major structures, some amongst them three stories high. Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight meters, and 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 meters 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 the 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 suggesting hot and cold running water, 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 decor. 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 often are 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 remains closed while a new canopy is built.
The oldest signs of human settlement are Late Neolithic (4th millennium BC or earlier), but ca. 2000–1650 BC Akrotiri developed into one of the Aegean's major Bronze Age ports, with recovered objects that had come, not just from Crete, but also from Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt as well as from the Dodecanese and the Greek mainland.
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.
The exact date of the eruption, however, is unknown. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the eruption occurred about 1645—1600 BC. These dates, however, conflict with the usual date range from archaeological evidence, which is between about 1550 and 1500 BC. For more discussion, see the article on the Minoan eruption.
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 ethnikonic suffix, then this means "The One From Qeras[os]". If aspirated, *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 of one another. If qe-ra-si-ja was an ethnikon first, then in following him/her/it the Cretans also feared whence it came.
Over the centuries after the general catastrophes of 1200 BC, Phoenicians founded a site on Thera. Herodotus reports that the Phoenicians called the island Callista and lived on it for eight generations. Then, in the 9th century BC, Dorians founded the main Hellenic city - on Mesa Vouno, 396 m 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.
Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica, written in Hellenistic Egypt in the 3rd century BC, 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 eromenoi. These inscriptions, found by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen, have been thought by some archaeologists to be of a ritual, celebratory nature, due to their large size, careful construction and - in some cases - execution by craftsmen other than the authors.
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 Crusades, the Franks settled it, while in the 13th century AD, the Venetians annexed the isle to the Duchy of Naxos and renamed it "Santorini", that is "Saint Irene". Santorini came under Ottoman rule in 1579.
Santorini became independent from Ottoman rule in 1821, during the Greek War of Independence and was united with Greece in 1830 under the Treaty of London. In 1956 a major earthquake and a volcanic eruption resulted in the demolishing of many buildings on the island, leading to the desertation of many of its villages. Nowadays due to the expansion of tourism, the island has gained great wealth and population. Its 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. The island's pumice quarries have been closed since 1986, in order to preserve the caldera.
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.
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 early 20th 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.
Due to its unique ecology and climate, and especially its volcanic ash soil, Santorini is home to unique and prized produce. The Santorini tomatoes are renowned; they are cherry tomatoes that are extremely flavorful and sweet, and with an intensely red, staining color. Santorini "fava" (a purée made of the hulled, then sun-dried, then boiled legume Lathyrus sativus - not from the yellow split pea as in the rest of Greece) is considered the best in the world. The white eggplants of Santorini are very sweet, with very few seeds, and can be eaten raw, as though they were fruit. The katsoúni is a unique local variety of large cucumbers which, if left unpicked when green, turn yellow and acquire a sweet taste almost indistinguishable from that of melon.
In 1707 an undersea volcano breached the sea surface, forming the current centre of activity at Nea Kameni in the centre of the lagoon, and eruptions centred on it continue — the twentieth century saw three such, the last in 1950. At some time in the future, it will almost certainly erupt violently again. Santorini was also struck by a devastating earthquake in 1956. Although the volcano is quiescent at the present time, at the current active crater (there are several former craters on Nea Kameni), steam and sulphur dioxide are given off.
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 colors. 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, and also as premium storage space for produce and especially for wine cellaring: the Kánava wineries of Santorini.
Santorini is one of the few Cyclades Islands with a major airport. It is about 6 km southeast of downtown Thira. The main asphalt runway (16L-34R) is 2,125 meters (6,972 feet) in length. 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. Scheduled airlines include the new Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines and Athens Airways, with chartered flights from other airlines during the summer. Transportation to and from the air terminal is through buses, taxis, hotel car-pickups and rental cars. See also Santorini (Thira) National Airport.
The devastating volcanic eruption of Thera has become the most famous single event in the Aegean before the fall of Troy. This may have been one of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth in the last few thousand years with an estimated 7 on the VEI (volcanic explosivity index).
The violent eruption was centered on a small island just north of the existing island of Nea Kameni in the centre of the caldera; the caldera itself was formed several hundred thousand years ago by the collapse of the centre of a circular island, caused by the emptying of the magma chamber during an eruption. It has been filled several times by ignimbrite since then, and the process repeated itself, most recently 21,000 years ago. The northern part of the caldera was refilled by the volcano, then collapsing once more during the Minoan eruption. Before the Minoan eruption, the caldera formed a nearly continuous ring with the only entrance between the tiny island of Aspronisi and Thera; the eruption destroyed the sections of the ring between Aspronisi and Therasia, and between Therasia and Thera, creating two new channels.
On Santorini, a deposit of white tephra thrown from the eruption is to be found, lying up to 60 metres thick overlying the soil marking the ground level before the eruption, and forming a layer divided into three fairly distinct bands indicating different phases of the eruption. New archaeological discoveries by a team of international scientists, in 2006, have revealed that the Santorini event was much more massive than previously thought; it expelled 61 km³ of magma and rock into Earth's atmosphere, compared to previous estimates of only 39 cubic kilometres in 1991, producing an estimated 100 cubic kilometres of tephra. Only the Mount Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, the 181 AD eruption of Lake Taupo, and possibly Baekdu Mountain's 969 AD eruption released more material into the atmosphere during the past 5,000 years.
In The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Exodus Story, geologist Barbara J. Sivertsen seeks to establish a link between the eruption of Santorini ca. 1628 BC and the Exodus from Egypt in the Bible.
A 2006 documentary film by Simcha Jacobovici, The Exodus Decoded, suggests that the eruption of the Santorini Island volcano (c. 1623 BC, +/-25) caused all the biblical plagues described against Egypt, re-dating the eruption to c. 1500 BC. The film claims that the Hyksos were the Israelites and that some of them may have originally been from Mycenae. The film also claims that these original Mycenaean Israelites fled Egypt (which they had in fact ruled for some time) after the eruption, back to Mycenae. The pharaoh with whom they identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus is Ahmose I. Rather than crossing the Red Sea, Jacobovici argued a marshy area in northern Egypt known as the "Reed Sea" would have been alternately drained and flooded by tsunamis caused by the caldera collapse, and could have been crossed during the Exodus.
Archaeological, seismological, and vulcanological evidence has been presented linking the Atlantis myth to Santorini. Speculation connecting Crete, Santorini, and the description of Atlantis from Plato was popularized on The History Channel programme Lost Worlds (episode "Atlantis"), and on the Discovery Channel's Solving History with Olly Steeds.
On April 6, 2007, the 469-foot cruise ship MS Sea Diamond struck a volcanic reef within the crater and sank the following day, resulting in the loss of two passengers. The Sea Diamond was operated by Louis Cruise Lines, part of a Cyprus-based tourism group. The Merchant Marine Ministry said 1,195 passengers and 391 crew members were on board. The ship settled to the bottom near the port of Athenios. The wreck contains 200 tons of fuel oil and poses a serious threat to the waters of the caldera. Plans are currently being made to salvage the ship, which is resting precariously on an undersea ledge.
Typical Blue Dome at Oia
Santorini's famous Red Beach.
Thira, taken from a ship in the harbor
Sunset at Fira
Beautiful Sunset at Oia
Fira from Nea Kameni Volcanic Island
Prehistoric Site of Akrotiri
Linear A script etched on a vase found in Akrotiri
Volcanic craters at Santorini today
Stairway in Imerovigli, Santorini
The Santorini windmills
Thira at night
Oia at night
The city of Fira.
The town of Oia
white caved dome
Santorini is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. It is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the strange white aubergine, the town of Thira and naturally its very own active volcano. There are naturally fantastic beaches such as the beach of Perissa, maybe the best beach in Santorini, 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 1990's, it was necessary for water to be delivered to the island via tanker from Crete. However, most hotels and homes now have access to non-potable running water for washing and cleaning that is provided by a local desalination plant. So it is important to remember that one should always drink 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 the 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 on March 1 -- recommended by locals, as it's not too hot and not crowded at all. The period from December through February is very much the off-season. Over half of the businesses, including hotels and guest houses, may be closed. For those that are visiting for the cultural experience rather than to experience the beaches, this can be a great time to arrive. The weather may be cool but bargains are available and crowds non-existant.
There are several villages on Santorini Island.
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.
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, ICAO: LGSR), located north of the village of Kamari. With regular flights from Athens by Olympic Airways , Aegean Airlines  and AirSea Lines  (a seaplane airline), as well as charters from many European cities. Flight duration from Athens to Santorini is about 30 minutes. During summer, Sky Express  connects Santorini with other popular islands such as Crete, Rhodes and Mykonos; check with the airline for current schedules. Seasonal domestic flights are also operated from/to Thessaloniki. 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.
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 city of Crete and Santorini during high season.
If you prefer sea, most popular and recommended transport are high-speed catamarans, like Hellenic Seaways Highspeed (bright-red Vodaphone-logo boats). The Pireaus-to-Santorini trip takes only 4.5hrs, comparable in duration to air, and more stress-free.
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 up a very steep, winding road (it makes seven 180 degree turns) to get anywhere from Athinios.
If you travel by cruise ship, the experience will surely leave you with lasting memories. Cruise ships that reach the island of Santorini do not anchor at Athinios port, but one or two miles away from the old port of the island. Locals with fishing boats transfer cruisers to the old port, which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years. From there you can either use the cable car to reach the town of Fira, which will take no more than 5 minutes, or if you like small adventures you can ride a donkey, which climbs up a small path on the cliff to Fira. The latter option will last longer, but is definitely a unique experience.
Transport by sea always depent to the weather. Especially in winter or raining monson, the ferry may postpone the departure time.
The island has a public bus service, with buses costing 1.4,1.7 and 2 Euros. Buses run between every 30 minutes to every other hour. Timetables are available at website . The buses occasionally miss trips, and some drivers are less than friendly. In addition, there are "hop on hop off" private bus services, where one pays by the day for unlimited bus use . Boats also run between major coastal towns on the island.
Cars can be rented from about 30 Euros 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 Euros per day. You must have a motorcycle license to rent a scooter in Santorini. 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 a must.
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.
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. I was very satisfied with Motor Inn Rental Systems in Kamari (tel. 30 2286031165). It is about 100 meters from the third and last bus stop in Kamari, in the direction of the sea. Rates range from 7 Euro for a basic bicycle, to 12 Euro for a modern suspension bike with LX/XT-grade parts. Bike rentals come with locks, maps, and possibly, helmet. The maps are designed for hikers, however, so the recommended routes are impassible by bicycle. I found two other rental places -- Free Ride Santorini in Kamari, at 30 2286033788. In addition, my hotel gave me the number 30 22860 24044 for another bicycle rental location. Be aware that 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), 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.
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, vinyards, 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 noone seems to live for a long time -- even in western Oia where every inch seems to be occupied by some villa. And this doesn't seem to change for years, judging by 2001-2005.
Public beaches do not seem to have showers or places for changing.
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 is closed to the public in the whole season of 2006 and is expected to be opened again in early summer of 2010.
Ancient Thera, the Classical city of the island is located 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.
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.
Santorini has 5 dive shops. Prices are typically around 80 Euro 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@example.com). 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, ), and Aegean Divers (+30 22860 33210, firstname.lastname@example.org, ).
Diving, visibility is amazing, but there are not as many fish as more popular SCUBA and snorkling 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 of the dive shops. If you want to go to a specific location, 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 snorkeling 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 snorkeling. Caldera Beach, near Akrotiri, has a few amazing snorkeling 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 snorkling.
Virtually all beach-side shops will sell cheap, low-quality snorkling gear (mask for around 10EU, fins for around 20EU).
Santorini specials include: the white aubergine; fava caper ; a variety of ntomatokeftedes, with whole slices of tomatoes fried in batter. 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 prices to be higher 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 dernishes can be found at several moderately priced restaurants (average $50 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 here are reported to be 10 times better than in the US and half the price.
Don't miss the traditional fried tomato balls of ntomatokeftedes and be sure to ask for local tomatoes in your salad. They may be the best tasting you have ever had. Santorinia is particularly well known for its cherry tomatoes.
Best eateries in Fira: A very good restaurant called Akropolis is found on the main road to the town of Oia (the road's name is: odos 25 martiou). The price of the dishes is lower than elsewhere in town, and that for outstanding food! The lady in charge is a superb cook and very friendly. Yet tourists didn't find the way to this lovely place, the locals know about the quality of this great restaurant. Good Greek restaurant is Nicolas in one of the main alleys. Good local food and price accordingly. Breakfast is excellent at Mama's house, next to the bus station, but pricy!
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.
Santorini island could be divided into two parts, the western side of the island 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 of Santorini 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. The 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 them do not accept children under 13, because they do not offer any childrens' 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 located in town.
The eastern side of Santorini resembles the rest of the Greek islands. 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 fixed, by many hoteliers, according to the view of the room, which makes the hotels on eastern side of Santorini 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.
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.
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:
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.
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Santorini is a Greek island. The capital is Thira. Santorini is 63 miles from the island of Crete. The total population is 13,600. Santorini is a caldera. Human presences on the island seem to have existed since the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. The excavations at Akrotiri have confirmed that human activity on the island continued until the eruption of the volcano around 1500 B.C, which entirely buried the island beneath very thick layers of pozzuolona, At that point, all traces of human activity vanished from the island until the end of the 13th century B.C.
According to Herodotus, the island was initially called Strongyle (the Round One). Then later, because of its beauty, it was named Kalliste (the Fairest One). The Phoenicians settled in Kalliste, and after the Phoenicians, the Lacedaemonians arrived and renamed the island after their leader, Theras. In the 9th century B.C. Thera, became an important stopping point of that era in the travel routes between the East and the West. The Phoenician alphabet was adopted at this time for writing in the Greek language. Interestingly though, the conservative Therans, did not follow the cultural development of their counterparts in the other Cycladic islands. At about 630 B.C the Therans reached the north coast of the African continent where they founded Cyrene, the only Theran colony. From as early on as the 6th century B.C. Thera had its own coinage. During the Classical period in Greece [5th and 4th century B.C.] Thera did not play any significant role in the events of that Hellenic time. During the Peloponesian War Thera sided with Sparta, as expected. In Hellenistic times the island's strategic position made Thera an important base for the war campaigns in the Aegean of the successors to Alexander the Great.
During the Roman Empire, Thera was little more than a small, insignificant island. However, when Christianity reached the island early, an organized church was established by the 4th century A.D. The island had neither political nor military significance in Byzantine times, although Alexius I Comnenus [1081 - 1118] founded the church of the Panagia Episkopi at Gonia. After the fall of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade , the Duchy of Naxos was founded and Thera became the seat of one of the four Catholic Bishops of the Duchy. The name Santorini was given at that time by the Crusaders, named after a small chapel of Agia Irini [Santa Irene] which some say was located at Perissa and others say it was at Riva on Therasia.
In the years under Frankish rule [1207 - 1579], Santorini experienced the development of a thriving cotton cultivation and viticulture, but the island suffered as much from piratical raids as it did from the rivalries between the local Latin rulers as well as the Duke and the Sultan.
The Turkish dominion [1579 - 1821] resulted in the abolition of piracy and the development of international trade. The Santorinians created close contacts with the great harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean (Alexandria, Constantinople, Odessa) where they founded important communities.
In 1821, Santorini with its shipping power, took part in the fight for independence from the Turks, and in 1830, the island became part of the independent Greek state. Up until the beginning of the 20th century shipping, textiles, tomato production and viticulture were all flourishing markets, but the change from sail to steam-driven ships and the relocation of the island's factories to mainland Greece had a negative effect on the island's economy. After the 1956 earthquake there was a huge decrease in the population resulting in an economic catastrophe. Towards the end of the 1970s however, tourism began to develop, bringing economic relief to the island. The present-day crescent shape of the island is a consequence of the activity of the volcano in prehistoric times. The island itself owes its very existence to the volcano.
The last huge eruption of the volcano dates back 3,600 years, to the late Bronze Age. Thirty million cubic meters of magma in the form of pumice and ash were blown to a height of up to 36 kilometers above the island. Pumice deposits, dozens of meters thick, buried one of the most prosperous pre-historic settlements of that period, feeding the myth of the lost Atlantis.
The mild activity of the volcano after this major eruption continues into the present (the most recent eruption occurred in 1950) building up two small islands within the caldera, Palea and Nea Kameni. These islands represent the volcano's most recent activity.
The marvelous dry climate and continuous sunshine create year around conditions which are perfect for observation, photographs and videos under an extraordinary variety of natural lights and colours that give the visitor the exceptional advantage of reaching the interior of the volcano by boat.
Currency Since the 1st of January 2002, the Euro (EUR) is the currency of Greece. Notes in circulation are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euro while coins are in denominations of 1 euro, 2 euro, 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents and 20 cents. A currency converter is available here.
Banks The banks on Santorini are open 8.00 am-2.30 pm Monday to Thursday and 8.00 am-2.00 pm on Friday. ATMs are available in almost all villages on Santorini. Most accept Visa and MasterCards as well as debit cards of internationally recognised networks.
Electrical Appliances The electricity supply in Greece is alternating current, 220-250 volts, 50 cycles. Appliances for 110 or 120 volts may be operated by using step down transformers of 220 - 250/110 volts connected to each outlet.
Water Bottled water is recommended for drinking. Tap water can be used for washing, bathing and cleaning your teeth. In the area of Oia the tap water that comes from the local desalination plant is drinkable.
Transportation There is a taxi stand in the square of Fira. With just a phone call you can be picked up from any point. The price of your journey is based on a catalogue issued by the Ministry of Transport and not based on the taxi's meter. KTEL buses carry out daily bus routes to almost all destinations. The KTEL terminal is also located in the square of Fira next to the taxis.
Postal services ELTA is the official name of the postal service and their colours are blue and yellow. The main postal offices on Santorini are located in Fira, Emporio and Oia. Postal agencies are located in Pyrgos, Kamari and Perissa. Mailboxes are available in all the villages of Santorini. A standard letter or postcard less than 20 grams sent anywhere in Europe or abroad costs €0.65 (as per April 2007). Courier services are also available.
Internet Most hotels provide Internet access for their guests. Internet cafés are available mostly in Fira.