The official name of the island is Thera, but the name Santorini has prevailed. The visitor of the island lives a rare experience when the ship, sailing slowly, passes and leaves Aspronisi behind, and enters the deep blue waters of the caldera. Tall reddish-back cliffs and granite rocks, of imposing appearance, frighten and cause awe as they rise vertically from the surface of the sea. Barely seen is the road
which, like a snake, unfolds on the cliff and joins the town with the harbour. The deep blue colour of the sea, the reddish-black of the cliffs, and the smoke that is seen in the background from the crater of Nea Kameni, compose a unique picture of wild beauty. On the edge of the cliff, literally hanging over the sea, a long white ribbon is discernible. It is the town of Fira, the capital of the island and the district of the same name. As the ship approaches, the beaches of black sand begim to be discernible, the red-black stones of the coasts, the cable railway, and the road which leads from the coast to the top of the cliff, where the white town spreads. Narrow streets which seem to be -but are not- cul-de-sacs, bring the visitor to some beautiful crossroads on a roof, which is not only a roof but the courtyard of the house above, or even a road, or bring you in front of the door of some picturesque Santorinian house.
If you happen to be in Oia, the other big village of the island, one of these streets may bring you, where it ends, to the edge of the cliff. If you are lucky and evening approaches, and the sun is getting ready to dive into the vastness of the sea, don’t turn back, do not commit the crime of turning your back to it. Stay, even if you are not a romantic. If you leave, it will be your loss; so stay and enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets that your eyes may ever see. The beaches of Santorini, if we compare them with the beaches of the other Cyclades, have their own beauty, that makes them special. The black sand, the black gravel, and the pumice-stone give the beaches of the island their own colour.
In the south and east, in contrast to the awesome landscape of the west part of the island, lie shores many kilometers long, with wide sandy beaches, some organized and some free, which offer the visitor the joys of sun and sea. The means of transportation in the interior of the island are extremely good. A dense road network joins the villages, the archaeological sites, and the beaches of the island with the town of Fira. Buses leave Fira on a regular time-table, about every half-hour, for the villages and archaeological sites. There are taxis not only in Fira but in all large villages of the island. Moreover, there are boats for hire, either speedboats or rowboats.
The possibilities for recreation are not limited. There is great choice in the kind of entertainment offered on the island, from discos to local folk music and dances. You still may, if you like, attend the local fairs, which honor the memory of various Saints. Some take place in the summer, as, for example, the fair of Aghios Ioannis on 24/7 at Monolithos, or the Stavros fair, or the Profitis Ilias fair on 20/7, or the Panaghia fair on August 15, etc.
The possibilities of one occupying himself with sports other than swimming or fishing, with a boat you own or rent, are limited. Only in Kamari you may find places which rent surfboards. There is only one tennis-court on the whole island, in the Karterados area.
If you want to buy the famous Santorinian fava, be careful and don’t buy it from a store; there is great possibility of it being imported. You should buy it directly from a producer. Also, if you buy wine, prefer bottled wine, or, again, buy it from a producer. For any emergency that may occur, the visitor should refer to the Police in Fira, or to the Port Authority, also in Fira. In the summer season, before one arrives on the island, he should have made certain he has a place to stay. Otherwise, it is very probable that he will not be able to find shelter. In such cases, he should ask the Police or the Port Autority for help.
In cases of sickness or accident, there is a Health Station in Fira, as well as country doctors in Oia, Emporio, Pyrgos and Therasia. There is a Post Office, an office of O.T.E. (Greek telephone and telegraph company), and an office of E.O.T. (National Tourist Organization of Greece) at Fira. Oia also has offices of E.O.T. and O.T.E. A bank is also located at Fira. The great number of churches is impressive. The churches and chapels reach the amazing number of 352.
The town of Fira stands out like a white eagles’-nest, hanging between sea and sky. The climb from the bay to the town can be made on foot for those who want to try their strength, climbing the 600 steps of the road, or with the cable railroad. There also are good-natured donkeys, who offer their backs to those who want to enjoy the experience of donkey-riding. Their pack-saddles are decorated with blankets of many colours, “kilimia”, and the coloured beads on their harnesses give a unique and joyful colour, which is still maintained on an island which is fighting to keep its local colour and its folk personality.
The capital of the island was moved to Fira from Pyrgos Kal- listis in the beginning of the 19th century. Now Fira is a growing town with a population of about 1500 people, which lives in the present but tries to retain the local traditions of the past.
In the summer, a loud and good-natured crowd of people strolls, carefree, on the roads which are parallel to the cliff and the small streets that cross them.
The central part of the town, the market, is here. Numerous shops offer a great variety of merchandice, satisfying even the most demanding customers. Also, the offered merchandice, from the cheapest (cotton shirts and blouses) to the most expensive (furs and jewelry) give it a particular accent which is quite interesting to the visitor. The visit to the picturesque market of Fira is a pleasant walk. Small houses, dug in the land, one -or two- storied, have a view of either the sea or the land. Lit and crowded against each other, as they are, on the top of the cliff, they seem to be wanting to support each other, so they can reach outward, over the abyss. Terraces of houses which are not terraces but balconies or passages, vaults and archways, and small, white, decorated facades. Straight lines are unknown, everything is in curves, giving a unique architectural characteristic to the houses of Fira which are sunk inside the earth. “Skafta” (dug) as the locals call them, they are built from stone and the earth of the island.
Do not wonder if, when passing through the door of a building which is, at first glance, one-storied, you walk many steps down and yet do not end in some dank and dark basement, but, when you open your window, you see the sea reflecting the sun, although you have descended two or three storeys inside the earth. At Fira, buildings do not have height, they have depth.
The ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM of the town of Fira features collections from the excavations of Mesa Vouno, where Ancient Thera and the Sellada cemetery are, from Akrotiri, and various utensils from other areas. Amphoras, pottery, earthen casks, marble Kouroi, female statuettes, coins, etc. are sheltered in the halls of the museum. These collections cover a long period, which starts in the third millenium B.C. and ends in the Roman years.
Fira is the seat for both an Orthodox and a Catholic bishop. The Metropolitan church of Ypapanti was built 01 1827 by Marko Belonias, and tha is why it is called “Panaghia o Belonia”. The original building was destroyed by the earthqua kes of 1956 (July 9). In its place s new church, Metamorphosis, was built. There also are the Catholic church and the Convent of the Dominican Order.
The visit to the old mansions and houses of the town is interesting. Among the mansions, Gyzi’s, an authentic building of the Venetian years, stands out. Today it belongs to the Catholic church of the island. It has been restored and is used for various cultural meetings. The building houses an impressive collection of antiques, furniture, engravings, and other art objects from centuries past.
It’s a small, elongated village, very near Fira, which seems more like a neighborhood of Fira than a separate village. Among the sights of the village are the churches of Aghios Minas and Aghios Georgios. The view of the volcano and the caldera are panoramic. The most picturesque part of the village is its rebuilt part, which is next to the edge of the cliff. The Catholic church is also interesting. The Catholic’s area, the “Frangika”, is located between Fira and Firostefani. The convents of the Dominicans and the Sisters of Mercy are there. Also, the Lazarists founded there the Greco-French school of St. Joseph.
IMEROVIGLI OR MEROVIGLI, as the locals call it, is very near, about 1km. N.W. of the village of Firostefani. Its location near the edge of the cliff, its name, of the day-Vigla, as well as the time when it was built, show that during the years of the pirates’ attacks it had been a daily observatory. The Viglator -guard- watched the sea, and, if pirates appeared, apprised the population of the approaching danger. Most old buildings are ruined. The church of Panaghia Malteza is interesting. It is called Malteza (Maltese) because the icon of the Virgin was found on the port of Malta by a Santorinian captain and carried to Imerovigli, where the captain built a church for it.
THE CONVENT OF ST. NICHOLAS is the oldest convent of the island. It was built in its present position on 1815-20. Originally, the convent had been built in inaccesible Skaros, but the nuns moved it from the ruined castle of Skaros to its present position. The Gyzis family had a private temple in impassable Skaros, dedicated to the memory of St. Nicholas. On 1651, the family got permission from the Bishop to convert the small church to a convent. The girls of the Gyzis family became the first nuns. The convent became property of the Greek state on 1849.
In the center of the convent’s courtyard, there is the handsome triune church of St. Nicholas. The 32 cells of the nuns are in the buildings around the church. The attention of the visitor is drawn to the temple screen and the old icons.
Majestic Skaros rises perpendicularly to the coast, on the most northern end of the area. The medieval capital of Santorini was built in an inaccesible and unapproachable area. The castle was built by a Roman noble named Scaurus, who was governor of the island when it was possessed by the Romans. The castle, built on top of a steep, dark, and dreadful crag, was one of the five medieval castles of the island, seat of the Venetian Archons and of the Catholic bishops. The remains of the castle and the ruins of the Venetian buildings are discernible. Ancient ruins and graves have been found in the area.
The church of Theoskepasti (“God-covered”) is interesting. The church was built by a seaman who believed that he was saved from a great storm with the Virgin’s help.
Most of the 352 churches of Santorini have been built by seamen whose patron Saint saved them from storms or other great dangers.
The village Vourvoulos, the village of the mule-guides of Santorini, is located east of Imerovigli. Most Santorinian mule-guides are descended from this village. In the area Kato Vourvoulos we find the wonderful church of St. Panteleimon.
Lies about 9km. from Fira. Good roads and regular transportation connect this village with the capital of the island. Foinikia, Oia, and Tholos, with its few houses, are the villages of north Santorini, the Upper Side, as the locals call it. Foinikia is a representative traditional Santorinian village. Houses built with the traditional ways, harmoniously attached to each other, present a wonderful totality of traditional architecture. A black stone wall rises like a fence near the entrance of the village. In the Gonia region there is an archaeological site.
The distance that separates Oia from Fira is not over 10km. of paved road. The small houses, carved into the rock, the mansions with their stairways and their neoclassical architecture, with white and ochra as their dominant colours, the walls decorated with small stones, the roads paved with flagstones, and the flowers, form a harmonious total of the impressive picture of the village. The village square is a balcony looking at the caldera. The view of the volcano and the infinity of the sea take a different dimension when seen from here. The wealth of the villagers of the last century is exhibited in the Nautical museum of Oia. Oia’s inhabitants were sailors, and became rich in the last century by working in the sea. They decorated their village with neoclassical buildings which today bear witness to an age that has passed. The church of Aghiou Sozonto (Saviour) was built before 1680. The sunset will be not forgotten by those who enjoy it.
There are two beaches in the Oia area. The access is difficult though, as they cannot be reached by car. One can only go on foot. If someone wants to go to the “Armeni” beach, where the harbour is, he should descend about 300 steps. The road to “Ammoudi” beach has about 200 steps. A good road is the one that goes to the huge beach of the “Baxedes” area. This area is about 3km. away from Oia. Near the back side of the village is “Katharos” beach. There is a country infirmary in Oia.
The other volcano of Santorini, the crater of which is underwater. Its distance from Fira is about 20km. The volcano’s eruption on 1650 A.D. was quite strong. It was accompainied by earthquakes, tidal waves, and poisonous gases. Areas near Perissa and Kamari were flooded, and ancient ruins came to the surface when the waters receded. The sound of the explosion was heard at Chios, and the coasts of Asia Minor were covered by a thin layer of ash. The tidal wave reached Crete. The explosion period was called the “Bad Time” by the inhabitants. When peace and quiet were reestablished, the locals built the church of Panaghia tou Kalou (“Virgin of the Good”)on the Koloumba site. In the cape area there are images carved on the rocks, They are the so-called “cells”. These images, carved on the rocks, ars inscriptions with the names of gods and heroes, and are characteristic of Santorini. An extended beach, perfect for enjoying the sea, starts from Cape Kolumbo and continues till Cape Exomytis. As an indication we’ll mention the Pori, Kanakari, and Exo Yalou beaches and other areas.
This typical village of Santorini is near the island’s airport. It lies about 7km. from Fira. An organized beach is in operation there.
The village is east of Fira, at a distance of less than 2km. The architecture of the village’s houses is interesting. The church of Analipsis is worth seeing.
The village is about 4km. distant from Fira, to the S.E. This beautiful village of Santorini is surrounded by vineyards and gardens. Mesaria is a production center of the famous Santorinian wine. The village churches of Metamorphosis tou Soteros and Aghia Irini were built between 1680 and 1700.
A village near Fira. The “dug” houses of the village are interesting, as well as the churches of Aghia Triada, Aghia Anna, and Panaghia, which was built on 1700. The church is “dug” at a height of about 20 meters from the ground, on a raised parapet called “tra-fos”. It was used as a shelter by the people of Vothonas during attacks by pirates. After the people had climbed on the parapet, they pulled the wooden ladder. The twenty meters that separated them from the ground provided ample protection. The church is also known under the name Panaghia i Trypa (Virgin of the Crypt).
A modern tourist village, continually evolving. About 10km. distant from Fira in a S.W. direction. A sight of the village is the church of Myrtidiotissa. Many ancient artifacts have been found in the area. Ancient Oia, the port of the ancient capital of Thera, was here. A road connects Kamari with the archaeological site of ancient Thera. The area has a beach many kilometers long. It is made of black sand and pebbles. The enjoyment of sun and sea has no limits.
In the area of the village Mesa Gonia, which is about 6km. distant from Fira and very near Kamari, Epis- kopi Gonias, a church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, is located. The church is of the Byzantine style, cross-shaped, with a cupola and ante-temple. It was built in the end of the 11th century, with all expenses paid by the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. Large tracts of land were given to the church by imperial warrant.
Today, the building we see is altered by additions. Certain ex-amples of Byzantine hagiography of the 11th century have been preserved on the arches of the church. The marble screen of the temple is intact. The church was the seat of the bishop of Thera. After the island was occupied by the Venetians on 1207, the Orthodox bishop was driven out, and the expulsion was followed by the installation of a Catholic bishop. When Santorini was occupied by the Turks on 1537, a new dispute started between Catholics and Orthodox. The long clash between the two docrines caused the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Orthodox Patriarch, with the Turkish Sultan concurring, ceded the possession of the temple to the Orthodox, and divided the property of the church equally among the two docrines. The Patriarchal decision of 1614 ended the clash and restored peace among the two Christian communities and the clergy that represented them.
Located 8km. south of the town of Fira. The castle is built on the top of a round hill. The imposing settlement with its white picturesque buildings was the capital of the island till 1800. Tradition says that Pyrgos was one of the settlements of ancient Thera. Ruins of the medieval Venetian castle are preserved in the middle of the village. On top of the hill is the so-called Kasteli, which, with its beautiful view and its formation, is recommended for relaxation. The church of Theotokos, also called Theotokaki, a 10th century building, is also at Pyrgos. The chapel is the oldest medieval building of the area. The churches of the area are many, and all are of some interest, especially those built before 1650, as Aghia Theodosia, Taxiarchis Michael, and other saints of the Orthodox Church. A country infirmary is also there.
PROFITIS ILIAS MONASTERY
The monastery of Profitis Ilias is located on the peak of the mountain of the same name, at a height of 550 meters. The monastery’s construction was started on 1771 by the monks Joacchin and Gabriel. The two monks with the permission and the help of the bishop of Thera, Zacharias, managed to obtain the sanCtion of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril, to build the monastery. So, the newly founded monastery came under the spiritual protection of the Patriarchate and was titled a “Patriarchal Monastery”. The building we see today is larger than the original. The monastery took its present form in the middle of the 19th century, when the King of Greece, Othon, visited Santorini. Othon was charmed by the landscape and urged that the monastery be expanded. The museum of the monastery is rich in ecclesiastical articles of inestimable value. Excepting the holy relics there, there are icons of the 15-18 centuries, gold-adorned vestments, the diamond-adorned mitre of the Patriarch Gregory E’, silver- bound Scriptures, an iron cross of the 12th century (it is said that this cross was used by the Crusaders) and wood-carved ecclesiastical asterpieces.
The library of the monastery is impressive. It contains leatherbound books, hand-written Codexes, and various other ecclesiastical documents in many languages, as the five tomes of the New and Old Testament written by a son of Philip B’ of Spain in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The leather-bound books alone number over 1200. The wood-carved temple screen of the church is impressive, as is the bell of the monastery. The monastery also contains a Folk Museum. This museum exhibits the tools of the various trades that the monks and the people of the island practiced. Complete workshops of the past century, fully equipped, seem to be waiting for the candle-maker, the barrel-builder, the blacksmith and the cobbler to start sweating in front of the bellows or the bench with the leather skins. The private Nomikos collection, which is housed in the Monastery, includes embroidery, woven articles, and porcelain. The spiritual contribution of the monastery was limited, though, and cannot be compared to the activities of other monasteries. The only spiritual institution established by this monastery was son e school in Pyrgos.
A seaside settlement with a magnificent and interminable beach. The dark sea and the surrounding green make it one of the most beautiful on the island. The rocky bulk of Mesa Vouno, the remainder of ancient Aigiis, rises east of the village. One of the island’s larges churches, if not the largest Timios Stavros (“Holy Cross”) is located in Perissa. On the S.E coast, not far from the village, is the monastery of Perissa. It is a 19th century building and has five-domed church, the monastery was built on the ruins of the old church of Aghia Irini, which, it is believed, had given the island its name. But Aghia Irini itself had been built on the ruins of another, older church.
The ancient capital of Thera. It is located on the S.W. part of the island, 15km. S.E. from Fira or 10km. S.E. from Kamari, built on a rocky slope of Mesa Vouno, at an elevation of 350 meters. The length of the ancient city (archaeological site) is not more than 800m., while its width approaches 200m. The archaeological site, the way it is shape is now, is an oblong area traversed by a central road and its branches.
The German archaeologist Hiller V. Gaertingen excavated the area during 1895-1903, on his own expense, and brought to light the ancient capital of Thera, the city of the mythical King Theras. The city of Thera was the center of the island for a whole millenium. The buildings, the temples, the vases, the pottery, and the coins that have been found, record accurately the thousand-year long history of the island, from the age of the Dorians to the age of the Roman Empire. The choice of location must have not been random. It may be connected to the defensive needs of the inhabitants of the island during the first millenium B.C. This interpretation is supported by the partly preserved strong walls that surrounded the city.
A road paved with flagstones led from the capital to its port, ancient Oia (today’s Kamari). A visit to the archaeological site may start from Fira, Kamari, or Perissa. The excavations that took place along the road between ancient Thera and Kamari brought to light tombs of the Hellenistic and Palaeochristianic periods, which were hewn into the rock. The various artifacts found there, including clay vases, pottery, and gravestones, are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Fira.
If we enter the ancient city from the left side, we see the small Byzantine church of Aghios Stephanos. This small church was built in the place where the palaeochristianic church of the Archangel Michael stood, as a marble inscription on the left wall informs us. Following the ancient road south, we meet the temple of the hero Ar- temidoros, an admiral of the Ptolemies. Engraved on the rocks are inscriptions, holy animals, the Ptolemaean eagle, the lion of Apollo, and Neptune’s dolphins. Above and to the right of the dolphins, the head of Artemidoros is discernible. The symbols of the Dioscuri, Hecate, and Priapos are also distinguishable.
Following the road to the edge of the city, we reach the church of Evangelismos tis Theotokou (“Annunciation of the Virgin”). The tomb of some hero is next to the church. From here, following the uphill road, we reach the archaic temple of Apollo Karneios. A temple of the Doric style, without an external collonade, with a court and a room for the priest, a portico, a sanctuary, and two small shrines. An external doorway is preserved. On the walls and rocks a large number of names of gods is discernible, written in the ancient Theran alphabet of the 7th century B.C. Next to the temple there is something resem bling a raised court or terrace (“doma”), where the “orcheiseis (dances) took place when the Dorians honored the god Apolo on his 9 day long festival, the “Karneia”. S.E. of the temple we find the Gymnasium of the Epheboi, a building of the 2nd century B.C. Here we also find inscriptions praising the manners and the customs of the Dorians. The holy cavern of Hermes and Heracles is located here. There are the remains of a bath near the west side of the Gymnasium. Following the mail road of the city towards its center, we see the remains of private residences right and left. The Agora is located on the center of the city. On its west side we find the Vasiliki Stoa (Roya Portico), a Roman building, very probably of the reign of Augustus. It had an internal collonade of 12 columns which supported the roof of the building, and a separate space for the statues of the imperial family. Next to the portico is a small temple of the Hellenistic period dedicated to the worship of Dionysos. At this temple, during the reign of Augustus, the emperor was worshipped. To the south of the Agora the ruins of the city’s theater, of the Hellenistic period, are preserved. The theater was also used for assemblies. During the reign of Caligula, statues of his mother Agrippina, as Hestia Voulaia, and of his father Germanicus, as Zeus Voulaios, had been erected there.
West of the theater a Hellenistic building with a column- supported court may have been used as a place of assembly for the religious cult of the “Valis-tes”, who worshipped the King. The temple of Pythios Appolo, which was later converted to a Christian church, is behind the house of the Valistes. Also the temples of the Egyptian deities Isis, Serapis, and Anubis. To the N.W. side of the city are the “barracks” and the “Gymnasium” of the Ptolemies. Among others, private residences, hot baths, and a temple of Ptolemy III have been uncovered.
A little to the north there is an ancient temple which was converted to a Christian church, the Sotiras tou Christou (“Christ Saviour”). It is also called Christoulaki (Little Christ). Next to the church, in a natural cavern, there are the temples of Demetra and Persephone. The cemetery of the ancient city is found in the Sellada area, a pass of Mesa Vouno. In the location Plagiades, on the N.E. side of the pass, 7th century B.C. tombs have come to light, with important funeral gifts. Another cemetery has been uncovered on the S.W. side of Mesa Vouno. The excavations, which started on 1895 and are still continuing, keep bringing to the surface artifacts from an age that was considered all but mythological a few years ago.
The village is about 9km. distant from Fira. Except for the churches of the Eisodiatis Theotokou and Aghioi Anargyroi, on the road to Emporio we find the church of Aghios Nicolaos Marmaritis. It is called Marmaritis because the whole building is made of marble (“marmaro”). This church was a pagan temple of the Doric style before the 4th century A.D. Its conversion to a Christian church left the original building of the 3rd century A.D. intact.
EMPORIO or NIMPORIO
A large village with a population of about 1000 people. It is built almost on the center of the plain, on a point which has a view towards both sides of the island. Small, picturesque streets and old mansions compose the beauty of the old village. It was one of the five areas of the island fortified with a castle during the Venetian years. Vestiges of the medieval castle (Mesana), which was equal to Pyrgos, remain till this day. North of the village, a bulky, square building, “Goulas”, is located. It is a strong tower in which the people of the village found shelter and protection from the pirates. Tradition claims that this tower was built by monks from the Monastery of St.John in Patmos to protect the land and wealth of the monastery. The imposing church of Evangelismos is a modern building, built in the 1980′s.
To the right of the village, lining the hill, we see the picturesque windmills of Gavrilos. AKROTIRI A village in the S.W. part of the island, about 12km. distant from Fira. It is built on the most remote part of the island. The excavations in the area brought to light the settlement known as the City of Akrotiri. It was one of the fortified castles of the island during the medieval years. After Santorini was occupied by the Turks, the strong Venetian castle was torn down. The remains of its towers are easily discernible. The old churches of Aghia Triada and Ypapanti tou Soteros are found in the area. From here, a road leads to the southern part of the island, where Faros is.
The sole harbour of the island. The village has very old domed houses, dug in the volcanic rock, and these are the only sights worth seeing there.
A small beach, covered with pebbles, is good for swimming.
Small island op-posite Oia. About one hour distant from Santorini. One can visit this small and barren island, with the few inhabitants, with an excursion boat. Its only sight is the wood-carved temple screen in the monastery Koimisis tis Theotokou. The screen was made in Russia and placed in the church on 1872. The coasts of the island are out of the way and the beaches very few. A road with 150 steps leads from the harbour to the village Manola, the largest settlement on the island. Other villages on the island are Pota-mos and Agrilia. On the south end of the island there is a submarine cave, called Trypiti, that has two entrances. On the north side of the island is the church of Aghia Irini, which lays claim to the honor of having changed Thera’s name to Santorini together with Aghia Irini of Perissa.
PALAIA and NEA KAMENI
The two volcanic islands, where the crater of the volcano is. The visit to the volcano is made by boat. The whole area smells heavily of sulphur, while on many points the stones and earth are hot. The trip and the climb to the crater take about 1 1/2 hours.