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Santorini is the southernmost island of Cyclades and is located between Ios and Anafi.
It is 128 nautical miles away from the port of Piraeus and 63 nautical miles away from Crete.
Its size is 76 square km and the length of its shores is 69 km. The perimeter is approximately 36 nautical miles.
Thera, Therassia, Aspronisi and the volcanoes (Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni where the crater of the volcano exists) form the cluster of islands which iscalled Santorini.
It is included, together with Methana, Nisiros and Milos, in the most active of volcanoes in Greece.
The three main islands form a"ring" around the Caldera, the bay which was created when the central part of ancient Strongyli sank to the seabed. Itsdimensions are 8x5 km and its depth is as low as 370 m.
The great crater formed by the volcanic eruption of around 1600 BC, adds to its distinct atmosphere: settlements are built on the edge of the crater's innerwalls and not on the sea level, as in other islands. In addition, Santorini is one of the few places worldwide where architectural complexes of undergroundrock-hewn houses still survive inside the volcanic soil.
The Caldera and the whole cluster of the Santorini islands have been characterized as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The name Thera is taken after the legendary settler Theras of Sparta, who settled in the island and founded the homonymous town in Mesa Vouno approximatelythe 10th century B.C.
The name Santorini was given in 1153 by the Venetians and is referred to Arab geographer Edrisi. It is a pronunciation of both words Santa and Irene (SaintIrene), taken after either from the name of the church in the valley of Therassia, or from the name of the early Christian basilica in Perissa, which is not preserved.
The main island, Thera, has a shape of a half moon and is located in the easternmost position of the cluster. The west side consists of the walls of the Caldera which preserve the picture of its geological history and illustrate the different phases of the volcanic activity.
There are 13 villages in Thera and 3 villages in Therassia.
The capital of the island is Fira. The name derived from corruption of the word Thera, which is the official one.
It is estimated that 600 churches and country churches were built on the island -most of them after the 1956 earthquake. 50 of these churches are consecrated to Virgin Mary!
Most of them are characterized by folk architecture of a unique style. Big all-white surfaces in the form of cubes, parallelograms, octagonal prisms, spheres, and cylinders dominate. There are no architectural ornaments, while openings are few and small. However, there are also several big churches built in the end of the 19th century. Typical examples include Panagia (Virgin Mary) of Bellonias in Fira and Aghios Georgios (Saint George) in Oia, before the earthquake. They are based on Byzantine and Classical Greek architectural standards.
Rock hewn underground and built are the most common types of temples. Rock hewn is one fourth of the island's churches and have been built as the respective houses. They are small and simple, their spaces are cavernous and dark, they have no decoration but nevertheless excite the visitor as works of faith of the poor*. Built churches compared to Cyclades' have the distinctiveness of totally adapting to the volcanic environment by craftsmen who maintained the tradition using strictly local materials. The simplest architectural type is the Basilica, single aisled, marble roofed or with a dome, two aisled (more rare type with Saint Irene of Perissa built before the 12th century as a typical example). Three aisled Basilica is Aghios (St) Nikolaos o Kissiras in Pyrgos. There are also Crossdomed and Crosstyped recorded temples.
It is worth visiting the monastery of Prophet Εlias near Pyrgos and the monastery of Saint Nicholas in Imerovigli.
There are churches to be admired in the settlements as well as around them or on the slopes of the mountains. The most important byzantine monument in Santorini is the temple of Panagia Episkopi (Mary's Bishopric) in the village Episkopi (or Mesa) Gonia.
You will find many remarkable churches in the Kasteli of Pyrgos, in the settlement and around it. Interesting are also the temples of Megalochori, Birth of Mary, Aghii (St) Anargiri and Zoodochos Pigi.
A very impressive chapel that is built on a wonderful spot in the volcanic rock is Panagia Sergena near Vothonas.
In Karterados there is the church of the Ascension of Christ. Inside the castle of Emporios rises the old church of Evangelism or Panagia Mesiani.
In Fira you will admire the Orthodox Cathedral, the temple of Saint Ioannis the Theologian (Aghios Ioannis Theologos), Aghios (st) Minas at Kato Fira and the Catholic Cathedral.
In Imerovigli it is worth noticing the churches of Anastasis (resurrection), Aghios Georgios, Panagia Malteza, Aghios Ioannis Katiforis on the road to Skaros, and Panagia Theoskepasti on its west side.
In the centre of Oia there is the temple of Panagia Platsani and towards the Goulas you will find the church of the Birth of Mary, and Aghios Nikolaos (St Nicholas). In the settlement and in the broader area of Oia there are a lot more smaller and larger churches some of which are the old temple of Aghia (St) Matrona in Finikia and Ai Lias (Saint Elias), Aghios (St) Ioannis Thalassinos (seaman) beside the lighthouse, Kira-Panagia.
Most have indigo cupolas and ornate steeples. Inside there are pictures, silver offerings hanging from chandeliers, Russian ecclesiastic relics and elaborately carved walls from local artisans. They are all equipped with an auxiliary edifice containing benches and tables, ("panigirospito"), which is used during a celebration and when a feast ("panigiri") is cited (meat with potatoes, beans, cod with potatoes etc.).
Those who love trekking will come across some very beautiful country churches. In the path of Fira-Imerovigli-Oia you will come upon Aghios (St) Antonios, Prophet Elias above Imerovigli, the small church of the Cross, on the top of Mavro Vouno. Panagia Katefiani stands out in the path leading from ancient Thera to Perissa.
The most prominent archaeological site in Santorini -and one of the most important archaeological sites in the Aegean– is Akrotiri and the findings of the excavations that began in 1967.
Akrotiri (Promontory) is located at the southwestern tip of the island, 15 km from Fira. It is a real promontory, with sheer cliff shores stretching three miles west of the southernmost part of Santorini.
After several years, the archaeological site re-opened for the visitors since April 2012, after the new roof was in place.
The big excavation
First signs of habitation in Akrotiri date back to the Late Neolithic Period (at least from the 4th millennium BC). By the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC), there was a settlement in Akrotiri that was expanded in the Middle and Late Bronze Age (20th-17th centuries BC) becoming one of the main urban centres of the Aegean.
Covering about 50 acres, the settlement had a very well-planed infrastructure and an elaborate sewage system. Imported products found inside the buildings prove that Akrotiri was well developed, held strong ties with Minoan Crete and conducted business with the Greek mainland, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt.
The growth of the town ended abruptly at the end of the 17th century BC, when its inhabitants left due to powerful seismic foreshocks. Then, the volcano erupted, and volcanic material covered the town and the rest of the island, preserving the buildings and their contents to this day.
Professor Spyros Marinatos began systematic excavations in Akrotiri, in 1967. He had decided to excavate there in order to prove an old theory of his, i.e. that the eruption of the volcano caused the collapse of the Minoan civilization in Crete (see also Attractions-Volcano).
After Marinatos died, in 1974, excavations continued under the direction of professor Christos Doumas.
Ancient Thera stands on Mesa Vouno, at an altitude of 396 m. It was founded in the 9th century BC by Dorian settlers, led by Theras; habitation continued until the early Byzantine era. Excavations have mainly brought to light the areas built during 2007. Routes are well-planned and marked with signs.
The position is naturally fortified because the steep slopes of the mountain made the city inaccessible from land or sea and also a great observatory to the SE Aegean Sea. Public and private buildings are built along the main axis of the city in direction from the NE to the SE corner of the rock. Smaller cobbled streets adapted to the terrain, intersected the main road.
Building remnants belong to the Hellenistic era, which is the last period of the city's prosperity. The residential development is amphitheatrical due to the inclination of the terrain and to the building in such way so there was a view of the sea.
Few private houses have been excavated organized in neighborhoods, mainly in the eastern part of town. The habitation sites were built around a closed courtyard and beneath it was a tank collecting rain water. Homes had more or less spaces, or were developed vertically with a second floor depending on the social and financial status of the residents. (Data taken from the text of archeologist Angeliki Birtacha in the book "Santorini: And the sea brought forth the earth"/ Topio Publications).
Of prehistoric Thera
The museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira is considered as one of the most important museums in Greece.
Its special contents are masterpieces of art in the prehistoric Aegean, such as the famous wall paintings and the unique gold ibex figurine. The museum houses finds from the excavations at Akrtotiri, conducted under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens, the earlier excavations at Potamos, made by members of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens, and rescue excavations at various other sites on the island, carried out by the 21st Ephorate of Antiquities.
The exhibition endeavours to sketch the course of Thera in prehistoric times, through selected finds from the thousands in the storerooms. This was a dynamic and creative course which established the city at Akrotiri as one of the most important Aegean centres during the 18th and 17th centuries B.C.
N. Kameni-Therassia: day trip
You can take a day trip to the volcano by boat from Gialos (the οld port), Athinios (the new port) or Ammoudi, near Oia.
From the port the boat takes you first to Nea Kameni (the volcano) where you can walk to the rim of the volcanic crater; it is not an easy hike, especially in the hot summer days and if you are not physically fit.
The path goes uphill all the way, and there is nothing but grey and black rocks all around. However, the magnificent view towards the Caldera and the villages is definitely worth it all!
Palaia Kameni and Therassia
The boat will then take you to Palia Kameni and the Thermal Springs. The captain will drop anchor in the shallows, where you can take a swim. The waters are yellowish and five degrees hotter than the rest of the sea, and the smell of sulphur is overpowering. Soon after that, you will arrive at the picturesque islet of Therassia.
In the afternoon, the boat will sail along the impressive Caldera passing below Oia, and then will go back.
Great diving spots in Santorini include the promontory of Trypiti in Therasia, and the shipwreck in Taxiarhis, Palia Kameni. The reef in the area of Adiavati (inside the Caldera to the south, near Akrotiri) is also ideal for a dive. If you like cave exploration, try Mesa Pigadia and the so-called "Indian's'" rock. Other excellent locations are Armeni near Oia (for wall dives), Ammoudi and Aspronisi.
This is the classic hiking trail many people take every day. It will take you 3 hours to cover the 9 km distance from Fira to Oia. Altitude differences are not significant. The Caldera rim will keep you on the right track.
Follow the signs from Fira to the cable car. From there, continue uphill towards the Petros Nomikos Conference Centre. Within 20', you will have reached Aghios Gerasimos, between Fira and Firostefani. Follow the inland road, cross the picturesque Firostefani village and on your way to Imerovigli you will see the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos (St Nicholas), built in 1916.
After walking on the Caldera for about 10', crossing Imerovigli, you will see the church of Aghios Georgios: it is worth making a stop here to admire the breathtaking view to the volcano. Your next stop will be by the small church called Aghios Ioannis Katiforis, facing the rock of Skaros. If you wish, go down the wide steps to walk the peninsula of Skaros where you will see few ruins of the medieval capital. From a path you can also reach the country church of Panagia Theoskepasti, west of Skaros.
Return to Aghios Ioannis and follow the alley next to the church. You will pass by a line of newly built hotels and the first part of clear trail on the outskirts of Imerovigli will seem magical, awakening all your senses.
On the Caldera side, one of the shortcuts worth taking will lead you to Aghios Antonios (St Anthony), near the end of the lined-up hotels. After a 5-to 10-minute walk downhill, the stone-paved path will lead you to the sparkling white church.
Return to the main road and go up to the right of Aghios Markos until you reach Prophet Elias above Imerovigli (a place easily accessible by car as well). The view is breathtaking, especially if you come at sunset.
For many people, the most beautiful part of the trail starts from Prophet Elias. There is a road sign showing the way to Oia, and you should go downhill until you reach the asphalt road on the crossroads to Pori beach. Follow the asphalt road for about 300 metres and you will see the trail starting again near the col.
From here on, take all your strength to climb the famous Mavro Vouno (Black Mountain), also well-known for its dazzling sunset. At the top, you will find the small church of Stavros (Cross): From here you can enjoy the wonderful view of Oia, and then start downhill towards Prophet Elias of Oia. You will be there in 10' and in another 5' you will have reached the desalination plant. From there you can either follow the asphalt road to get to the village, or the small path.