Welcome to Santorini.
Santorini, officially Thira, is a volcanic island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast from the Greek mainland. It is the largest island of a small circular archipelago, which bears the same name and is the remnant of a caldera. The island was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred about 3,600 years ago.
Excavations starting in 1967 at the Akrotiri site under the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos have made Thera the best-known Minoan site outside Crete, 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 metres, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export. This Bronze Age civilization thrived between 3000 and 2000 BC, reaching its peak in the period between 2000 and 1630 BC.
Many of the houses in Akrotiri are major structures, some of them three storeys high. Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight metres, 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 metres 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 Therans used both hot and cold water supplies; the origin of the hot water probably was geothermic, given the volcano’s proximity.
Fragmentary wall-paintings at Akrotiri lack the insistent religious or mythological content familiar in Classical Greek décor. 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 confident calligraphic line, a fisherman holding fish strung by their gills, and a 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 are often 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 was closed for almost seven years while a new canopy was built. The site was re-opened in April 2012.
Beaches in Santorini Greece stand out for their unique natural beauty and gorgeous water. The magnificent colors and the interesting rock formations of Santorini beaches provide great places to spend a day at the sea. In brief, the most famous beach is Red Beach. At the same time, Perissa Beach, Kamari Beach, and Perivolos Beach are also particularly popular.
Note that some beaches are not easily accessible by road but can be reached by sea! Also, the black and red sand of the beaches can become very hot due to their dark color.
Note: Santorini is a cosmopolitan and busy island, so it is not always easy to find a free sunbed on the numerous organized beaches.
The capital of Santorini, Firá (Thíra) is made up of whitewashed cubic houses and terraces, winding lanes, little squares, and blue-domed churches perched on the cliffs 300 meters above the caldera. From the small port of Skala, Firá can be reached either by walking or riding (mules are for hire) up the steep and winding stepped path (587 steps) or by taking the cable-car. It can also be reached from neighboring towns via the Fira to Oia scenic trail that takes you along the caldera cliff.
Oia is known for its famed sunsets that attract tourists from around the world. Located on the northern tip of Santorini, 12 kilometers up the coast from Fira, Ia (Oia) is a picture-perfect village of whitewashed houses, several of which have been converted into chic little boutique hotels with infinity pools, overlooking the caldera. Like Fira, it lives from tourism, but caters to a more upmarket clientele.
From Ammoúdi Bay, steep paths zigzag up to the town where you’ll find a row of waterfront seafood eateries, many with alfresco dining. Oia can be reached by local KTEL bus or by walking the trail along the cliffs high above the caldera (allow three hours from Fira).
Formed by the massive volcanic explosion that blew the center out of the island some 3,600 years ago, the caldera is the sea-filled volcanic crater that remained. Measuring 12 kilometers by seven kilometers, it is still home to volcanic activity – in its center rise the two Kaiméni islets with hot springs and gas emissions.
Various agencies offer one-day excursions of the caldera by boat, including time to bathe in the hot springs and then have lunch on Thirassia, a tiny island on the west side of the caldera affording amazing views back to Santorini across the water.
Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Near the village of modern Akrotíri, 12 kilometers southwest of Firá, the ancient Minoan settlement of Akrotíri was buried below lava following the 16th-century BC volcanic explosion that created the caldera. At the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, visitors can walk on pathways through the debris of the town to see remains of the clay buildings of this once thriving town. It is so well preserved that it’s often compared to Pompeii. The site has remnants of multi-level buildings, pottery, and drainage systems, proving that Santorini was a flourishing and prosperous island before the eruption and probably lived from shipping and trading.
Santorini’s connections with North Africa can be deduced from the outstanding frescoes (most of which are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) that decorated its houses. The site of the Akrotiri ruins reopened to the public in 2012, following several years of closure.
See the ruins of Hellenistic temples and foundations of Roman and early-Byzantine buildings at ancient Thira, located on the southeast coast of Santorini. Ancient Thira dates back to the ninth century BC. Among the ruins, you’ll find religious sites, a theater, a gym for military trainees, and old administrative buildings. Finds from the site are also displayed in the archaeology museum of Fira.
Archeological Museum, Fira
Lying close to the upper station of the cable-car in Firá, the small archaeological museum displays finds from Ancient Thira, ranging from the Dorian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. Inscriptions dating from the Archaic to the Roman period, clay figurines of animals, and beautiful ceramic pottery are some of the finds exhibited at this museum.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira
The Museum of Prehistoric Thira displays finds from Akrotiri archaeological site in a modern white building located close to the 1950s Mitrópolis church in Firá. One of the top tourist attractions is the Blue Monkeys wall fresco. Other ancient artworks on display include marble figurines, painted ceramics, tools, and weapons.
Pyrgos was Santorini’s capital before Fira took over in 1800. The tiny village of Pyrgos, located in the middle of Santorini, is made up of whitewashed Cycladic cottages built around the ruins of a medieval hilltop castle. Previously a sleepy, all-but-forgotten town, Pyrgos has, since 2004, started to cater to upmarket tourism with the opening of several small, chic restaurants and boutique hotels.
From Pyrgos, a road runs to the summit of Mt. Profítis Ilías (584 meters), Santorini’s highest point, affording panoramic views of the island and out across the sea. Here stands the mighty Profitis Ilias Monastery, an 18th-century sanctuary that is open to the public.
Inside, you can see the church, with a richly carved iconostasis. Visit the museum displaying the miter and crozier of Patriarch Gregory V, who was hanged in Constantinople by the Turks in 1821. Also of interest are the library, the monastic archives, and the kitchen. The monastery ran one of the many “secret schools,” operated during the Turkish period.
Beach at Perissa
Santorini’s best known and most popular beach lies on the southeast coast, between the villages of Perissa and Perivolos. A six-kilometer-long stretch of fine, black volcanic sand, it is backed by tamarisk trees and overlooked by a string of seafood tavernas and cafés. There are sunbeds and umbrellas to rent, plus water sports facilities. It is approximately 12 kilometers from Firá.
At the base of the cliffs rising to the town of Oia, the port of Ammoudi Bay glistens above sparkling turquoise waters. Descend the 200 or so steps down from Oia, and you are in the picture-perfect setting that is Ammoudi, known for quaint Greek tavernas serving the catch of the day just inches from the waves, and isolated coves ideal for swimming. Another popular activity is cliff diving if that’s what gets your adrenaline pumping.
For a less adventurous and still exhilarating experience, hire a sailboat to bring you to the volcano for a swim in the hot springs.
Nearby the Akrotiri site, you will find the famous Red Beach below a spectacular red cliff wall. The beach is accessible along a path from the town of Akrotiri. You can also take a bus from Fira or drive and park nearby before venturing down a rocky path to reach the beach. The beach is also accessible by boat from Akrotiri, Kamari, and Perissa ports.
The small beach gets crowded during the summer, so be sure to get there early to snag a prime spot for great contrasting views of the red rocks against the aquamarine water. Also note that the beach is prone to landslides, and sections have been roped off from visitors