Santorini: Overlooking the breathtaking caldera


Santorini is one of the most southerly islands in Cyclades. It lies between Ios and Anafi, has an area of 96 sq. km and a permanent population of 11.381. It is situated 130 nautical miles from Crete and has a coastline 69 km long.

Τhe island complex of Santorini is comprised of the islands of Thera, the largest, Thirassia, the smallest and Aspronissi a small uninhabited island. These three islands are the remnants of the large prehistoric island called Strongyle due to its round shape and later, Kalliste due to its beauty, Philotera and finally Santorini. After an immense volcanic eruption around 1450 B.C. and the submersion of the central port of Strongyle , the Caldera (void) was formed, into which the sea flooded. After centuries, in its center emerged the volcano islets (Kamenes) Palea Kameni first and Nea Kameni after several centuries.

Santorini Map

Santorini has often been connected with Atlantis, the legendary state that sank to the bottom of the sea. The mystery surrounding the destruction of the one and the disappearance of the other has preoccupied scientists for generations.

The west coast of Santorini ends in a steep precipice and is lost in the caldera, the circular lagoon-like body of water that measure 32 sq. miles and is 300-400m deep. In the cliffs surrounding the caldera, the horizontal, parallel bands of red and black rock and lava that were formed during repeated eruptions, constitute a unique cross-section in the earth for those who wish to study the island’s distant past.

Perched on the rim of the cliffs are the island’s most famous settlements, Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, Ia, Messaria, Pyrgos, Emborio.

In Akrotiri covered by volcanic pumice, began the discovery in 1967 by Professor Spiros Marinatos of an entire seaside city with roads, squares, multi-storey buildings, workshops, etc. Wall paintings of significant art value decorated the rooms, hundreds of utensils and stone tools, clay and metal which show the peak and wealth of the city have been discovered.

Akrotiri was the center of a major Aegean civilization of the mid 16 th century B.C. This center, although influenced significantly by Crete, the dominant power in the region at the time, nevertheless managed to retain its own characteristic features. The wealth and quality of the houses which have been discovered to date demonstrate that Akrotiri was a flourishing city. The inhabitants led a comfortable and refined life, reminiscent of Minoan Crete, while the architecture of the city contains strong Cycladic elements.

The buildings were two – or three- storeys high with many rooms. The most luxurious were constructed of fitted stone (which is why the archaeologists call them “xestes” (scraped); the others were made of mud mixed with straw. The ground floor communicated with the upper floors by a wooden or stone interior staircase. To reinforce the buildings against earthquake tremors, wooden frames were used, as they were in Crete. The floors of the houses were usually of tamped earth, often paved with uncut slabs of slate. In other floors, the earth was inlaid with pieces of seashell, or covered with a kind of pebble mosaic.

The roofs must have been flat and strewn with earth for insulation, a technique prevalent in the Cyclades until a few years ago. The storerooms, workshops and grain mills were always located on the ground floor. The spaces on the upper floors were the residential rooms. Many of the walls were embellished with exquisite frescoes.

The roads of the town were narrow and paved with flagstones. The drainage network consisted of built-in channels laid under the surface of the pavement. The sewage was led to the channels by clay pipes, which were incorporated in the walls of the houses.

Santorini Locations

FIRA: The island capital of Santorini, Fira clings to the edge of a cliff, which is, in fact, the rim of the crater. It is built on the rim of the caldera thus offering an amazing view of the volcano.

The settlement dates from 1810, when the inhabitants of Skaros began to establish themselves in this tower flatter area, with access to the sea. It is a long, collection of buildings with steep, narrow, stepped alleyways.

One can reach the town by car or bus from Athinios, Fira’ s port and the island’ s only harbour or from Mesa Gialos, a spot usually chosen by the cruiseships. From there the ascent up the 566 steps to Fira may be made by funicular, walking or on donkey back.

Apart from the sights it has to offer, Fira is the center of life on Santorini. There are numerous hotels, apartments, restaurants, bars, cafes and night clubs to satisfy the visitor, as well as shops selling folk arts, crafts and pricey gold jewellery.

We suggest you to visit the churches of Agios Minas and Christos, both masterpieces of ecclesiastical architecture, the former with its typical Santorinian dome, the latter with its exquisitely carved iconostasis and bishop’s throne.

On the border between the Catholic and Orthodox quarters stands Fira’s Archaeological Museum which houses the finds from the excavations at Akrotiri and Mesa Vouno.

FIROSTEFANI: A long settlement, built alongside the rim of caldera, boasting a superb view of the volcano. Visit the church dedicated to Agios Gerasimos, the only one on the island surrounded by cypress trees. It also features the churches of Agios Charalambos and Catholic Panagia Agion Theodoron that celebrates on August 15 th.

Between Firostefani and Imerovigli, which is the next settlement on the caldera rim, stands the Old Orthodox Monastery of Agios Nikolaos.

IMEROVIGLI: The name of this village comes from the days of the pirates: ”vigla” means watch-tower, “imera” means day. Truly its position at the center and highest point along the caldera gave it visual command of the whole area, able to signal timely warnings to the population when pirates sailed into view.

The castle of Skaros, which was never defeated during the 600 years of its existence, is worth a visit. From Skaros you can follow the path that leads to the church of Theoskepasti, built on a rock and with a stunning view. Another church of Imerovigli is Panagia Malteza, taking its name from the icon said to have been found in the sea close to Malta. It has also a marvellous carved iconostasis with icons depicting scenes from the Old Testament.

Because of its proximity with Fira, it is connected with a public road or by the old path, offering a tremendous view as you walk along the rim. It’s only 20-minute walk and one that must be on your itinerary. Tavernas, restaurants, bars, hotels and apartments to rent are plentiful in Imerovigli.

IA: It is 10 kilometers far from Fira town. It is a collection of six villages: Ia, Perivola, Finikia, Tholos on the ridge and Ammoudi and Armeni at the base of caldera.

It is built at a lower altitude that Fira, nearer the sea, to which it is connected by two sets of cobbled steps. The one to Ammoudi has 214 steps; the other to Armeni has 286. Down at Armeni, stands the little church of Ai Nikolas, protector of seafarers, a short distance from the coast.

Ia hosts a Maritime Museum, a cultural center, a central art gallery and many popular Greek art galleries. Many shops sell handicrafts, souvenir, jewellery and other items to help you remember your visit. Ia is a perfect spot to enjoy a peaceful vacation.

Ia is one of the most magnificent villages on the island and is known for its magical sunset. In Ia with its cobbled streets and Cycladic architecture you will enjoy a panoramic view of Thirasia island, the volcano and the rest of Santorini.

MESSARIA: It lies 3.5 kilometers southeast of Fira, in the interior of the island and surrounded by gardens and vineyards.
The churches of Metamorphosis Sotiros and Agia Irini, both built between 1680 and 1700, are worth visiting, as is the Metropolis church.

Messaria has the typical Cycladic charm with its picturesque white washed houses and tiny winding street paths. One of the most impressive sites in the village is the Argiros mansion, built in 1888 by winemaker George E. Argiros . The mansion has recently been restored. It is a typical home of Santorini of the previous century with its outstanding architecture. Much of Santorini’s wonderful wine is produced here.

PYRGOS: Pyrgos is built at the foot of Prothitis Ilias close to Perissa and Kamari Beaches. It is an example of a settlement that was fortified in the Middle Ages; it is the only village in Santorini where medieval features and atmosphere have been so vividly preserved. The walls of the outermost houses were an integral part of the village fortifications. When the danger of pirate raids diminished, the inhabitants started to build homes outside the walls, giving the village its present form. There are many churches worth seeing in Pyrgos such as Theotokaki, Metamorphosis Sotiros, Agia Theodosia, Isodia tis Theotokou and others. Near Pyrgos, on the top of Prophitis Ilias, is a monastery dedicated to the prophet, which has an important collection of ecclesiastical objects, manuscripts, old and more recent books.

EMBORIO: Emborio is the largest village in the southern part of Santorini Island. A bit before the entrance to the village there is a small church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis, virtually attached to the ruins of an ancient temple, built in the 3 rd century B.C. Its name was taken from the grey chiselled marble of which the temple was made.

Santorini’s most popular beaches are Kamari, Red Beach, Perissa, Monolithos with pebbles or black sand.

KAMARI: The beautiful black sandy beach of Kamari stretches for five miles in length along the eastern coast of the island. You don’t have to walk far to find tavernas on the seafront as well as hotels, tourist shops and entertainment spots. A number of water sports are also available like water skiing, windsurfing and paddle boats. It is located close to Avis beach, another black-sand and quiet one with sports facilities.

AKROTIRI – RED BEACH: Not far from the ancient sites at Akrotiri, is the red beach. You couldn’t ask for a more breathtaking setting for a swim. Soaring red lava cliffs, which drop right to the black sandy shore and into the clear blue sea, compose a majestic setting. Boats leave from Akrotiri to other beaches further down the southwest coast.

PERISSA: An array of water sports is available at Perissa, a famous beach of the island. The unique black lava sand and clear deep blue sea are the main attractions. The beach is located on the southeastern tip of Santorini.

MONOLITHOS: North of Kamari and on the eastern coast is the beach of Monolithos. Here you will find more peace and quiet than other Santorini beaches, however with all the comforts of the other beaches as there are tavernas and cafes.

Santorini Regional Flavours & Products

Wine: The famous wine since antiquity is today bottled by 8 wineries. Nikteri (dry, white) and Visanto (sweet, white) are the best known types of Santorini wine.

Tomatoes: Before 1960 tomatoes where one of the island’s main products.

Fava: Cultivated traditionally, is the well known fava (yellow pea) of Santorini, Premature garden products (peas, beans and others) are cultivated in recent years on the island, mainly in the district of Exomiti.

How to get there

By ferryboat: Ferries leave Piraeus daily bound for Santorini (distance 130 nautical miles). For information about ferry schedules from Piraeus to Santorini, call the Piraeus port authority 0030 210 451 1311

By plane: Santorini is linked with Athens by daily flights. There are also direct flights between Mykonos, Heraklion, Rhodes and Santorini, while many charter flights connect the island with major European cities. Santorini’s airport is about 7 kilometers from Fira.

Aiport Telephone Number: 0030 22860 31525

Inter-island connections: Ferries connect Santorini regularly with the following islands: Ios, Naxos, Paros, Syros, Sikinos, Folegandros, Sifnos, Serifos, Kimolos, Milos, Mykonos, and Heraklion, Crete. You can also fly to Mykonos, Heraklion and Rhodes.

Santorini Useful Telephone Numbers (Calling code for Greece 0030)

Police Department
22860 22649
Association of Hotels & Apartments in Santorini “Atlantida Santorini”
22860 22854
Port Authority
22860 22239
Pireus Bank
22860 25441
22860 31525
National Bank
22860 22370
22860 22555
Alpha Bank
22860 23801
Cable car
22860 22977
Commercial (Emporiki) Bank
22860 24801
Post Office
22860 22698
Agricultural Bank
22860 22737
22860 22237
22860 25851

Photos Santorini