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Santorini Island - Cyclades Islands

Typical white houses, beautiful sunsets and beaches with dark volcanic sand...

Greek island of Santorini, more precisely Thira, lies in the southern part of the Aegean Sea and belongs to the island group known as Cyclades. The uniqueness of this volcanic island is apparent at first sight. High steep rocks standing out of the sea and villages onto them made of small white-blue houses, built in traditional Cycladic style. On the east coast of the island we can find vast vineyards and also beautiful beaches covered by volcanic sand.

Island names Santorini vs. Thira

The island name Santorini comes from the Latin "„Santa Irini“, what translated means holy Irene, protector of the island in medieval period. This name is used mainly under the tourists, previously the island was known as Thera (or Thira) and the Greeks started to use this official name again in 19. century. The name Santorini usually refers to the whole archipelago, but very often we can see how also its biggest island is being called like that.


Archipelago Santorini

The island group Santorini is located in the Aegean Sea, 120km north of Crete and 220 km southeast of Athens. It belongs to the southernmost of the so-called Cyclades Islands and its capital city is Fira (Thira).

Santorini Island is of volcanic origin. In the past it had a circle shape, lying on an underwater super volcano called Strongyli. Around the year 1600 BC a strong eruption of the volcano occurred and gave the island its today´s shape, reminding of a horseshoe.

Santorini archipelago - mapIt is actually the crater of the volcano which was flooded by water after the eruption and today just a few small volcanic islets are rising out of it. The biggest of them is the inhabited stony island of Thirassia, then two smaller islets Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni and the last and smallest of them is Aspronisi (for better clarity look at the map of Santorini)

A cruise through the flooded caldera is one of the most favourite trips on Santorini. Nea Kameni is still an active volcano and it is possible to climb up to the crater. Close to the second volcanic islet Palea Kameni you can enjoy a relaxing bath in the hot sulphur springs. To get to the hill of the island of Thirassia (or Therasia) you are welcome to hire a donkey and sitting on its back enjoy an amazing view on Santorini and we also recommend to visit Manolas, a time resisting village or settlement Potamos with so-called cave houses. The islet Aspronisi is nicknamed as "White island", but as it is a private property of one family for several generations, it is not accessible for the public.

Santorini/Thira Island

Somebody it reminds a horseshoe, somebody an opened jaw prepared to swallow the little islets near to it. Anyway, the geography of the island is very interesting and colourful.

The inner side of the island is made of steep, up to 400 metres high rocks and on top of them, small traditional villages reminding white caps, are stretched. The wild beauty of this place is underlined by the amazing view onto the little volcanic islets down in the sea and of the golden setting sun. The fascinating sunset is one of the reasons, that tempt millions of people each year to visit Santorini.

Contrariwise on the outer side there is just a slight slope, descending down to the seacoast and offering much space to the fresh green valley, vast vineyards or beautiful beaches. Especially the local wine varieties are known as very tasty and generally the Santorini wines are quite famous the in the world.

Local architecture - Cycladic style

Traditional architecture of the Santorini is similar to all Greek islands of the Cyclades, that means lower white houses and blue-domed roofs. They are built of local stones and volcanic rocks.

Anastasi Church (Imerovigli)A peculiarity of this style are the so-called „hypóskapha“, what are houses dug sideways or downwards into the surrounding. Pumice stone is a good insulator of temperature - warm during winter and cold during summer. This use mainly the winemakers to store their grapes and wines.

Unfortunately, the big earthquake in 1956 caused soil instability, especially on the caldera ridge and the "underground houses" must have been evacuated. Several cities were damaged heavily, some were totally destroyed, but most of them were rebuilt in the original style, typical for the famous image of the island. However, many inhabitants left the island after this earthquake and moved mainly to Athens and Piraeus.

Most favourite resorts of Santorini

The most searched tourist resorts we can find in the western part of the island, on the edge of the volcanic crater and also along the southeastern coast. And so, while cities like Oia, Imerovigli, Firostefani or Fira entice their visitors into an amazing view of the flooded caldera irradiated by the golden sunset, resorts such as Kamari, Perissa, Perivolos or Vlychada became loved by the tourists because of their beautiful surroundings and volcanic beaches.

City of Oia (Ia)The capital city of the Santorini is Fira, a cultural and trade centre of the island with many beautiful sights, museums and galleries. Also, the city Oia is very famous, as it is presented in every advertising material about Santorini, primarily because of its nice architecture and perfect opportunities to watch the sunset. However, the city "pays for its fame" by overcrowded streets in the evening hours. Firostefani, what translated means "the crown of the city Fira", encourages the tourists to walk in the narrow and picturesque streets and due to its height above the sea level, your head may even be spinning when you look down on the wild beauty of the flooded caldera. Another places that are worth to visit is the city of Imerovigli, with the ruins of the Skaros Castle or the village of Megalochori, which is known for the local wine degustations.

The probably most visited vacation place is Kamari, a very lively and good organized beach resort located on the eastern side of the island. Really nice is its long beach promenade and the black-sand beach. Not far away from Kamari, you can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Thira, which is hidden on the mountain Mesa Vouno towering above the resort. Another favourite resort is Perissa with a beautiful beach, ideal for water sports lovers, where also a diving school is working. Above that, the beach of Perissa, together with the neighbouring beach of Perivolos, creates the longest beach on Santorini.

Mesa Gonia If you have enough time for visiting Santorini, you definitely should go to the inland of the island and see its hidden faces as well. Small traditional Greek villages will make you feel their calm atmosphere, perfect for those people who want to relax and muse far away from crowded tourist destinations. There are several nice and interesting places such as the biggest village of Santorini Emporio with ruins of the medieval venetian castle Kasteli, village Mesa Gonia and its famous byzantine church Episkopi Gonia or unique houses dug directly to the rocks in the village of Karterados.

Most favourite beaches of Santorini

The famous beaches of Santorini extend along the eastern and southern coast of the island and their uniqueness consists in that they are covered by volcanic material. Most of the beaches are made of fine volcanic sand, but we can also find many pebble beaches. And what more, the beaches will surprise you also with their colouring.

Red Beach Thanks to the volcanic activity the coast of the island is covered by a range of colours - from white, red to black. Touristically attractive is the so-called "Red Beach", nevertheless there is also "White Beach" or a good organized and lively beach of Perivolos, which is also called "Black Beach". Another Black Beach is on the southcoast of Santorini.

Kamari beach To the most favourite beaches of Santorini definitely belong Red Beach, Perissa, Monolithos, Kamari and Perivolos. All of them are good organized and offer their visitors everything they need for having a nice stay. (loungers, sun umbrellas, tavernas, bars, water sports, etc.)

If you rather desire to enjoy calmness and wild beauty of the surrounding nature, then try to go to the north and north-west coast of the island. We recommend to visit e.g. the empty beach of Cape Columbo or an isolated, but a bit windy Paradisi Beach. The beauty of local beaches is underlined by the crystal-clear water of the Aegean Sea, which is washing the coasts of Santorini.

Legends and history of Santorini

Mythological past of Santorini

According to Greek mythology Santorini was created out of a lump of land thrown into the sea by Euphemus, the son of the god of sea Poseidon and Europa, who was the mother of king Minos of Crete. To this act Euphemus was incited by a beautiful nymph and he named the island Kallisté ("the most beautiful one"). After the birth of his son Theras, the island has been called Thera.

Life on the island - despite the nature

The historical evolution of Santorini was fundamentally influenced by the eruption of the super volcano Strongyli around 1600 BC, that buried a big part of the island, together with its thriving civilization. The centre of the originally circular island was destroyed and just the perimeter part surrounding a big lagoon remained. The volcano spewed out a big amount of lava and volcanic ash, which covered the wide neighbourhoods. Also, even Crete and the coast of Asia Minor was hit by the eruption, reckoned as the largest natural disaster of the Ancient period.

Akrotiri (archaeological site) Unfortunately, this catastrophe brought an end to the existence of, then very significant and advanced civilization, so-called Minoans. Minoans came to Santorini from the neighbouring Crete around 2000 BC and settled down in the region, today known as Akrotiri. The Minoans built up an unusually developed city with public buildings (even multi-storey buildings), stone houses, streets, marketplace and even canalization. Beside trade and traditional handicrafts, art was supported as well. But after the volcano eruption, the city was covered and by a big amount of volcanic ash and dust, what conserved and preserved the city in the same shape until today. By that moment, the tracks of the advanced Minoans disappeared.

Thira (archaeological site) In the Ancient period, the Spartan colonists settled down on the island and established a new settlement called Thera in the difficult accessible mountainous terrain near Mesa Vouno. The city Thera has been growing quickly (for the construction of the houses the limestone of the mountain has been used) and became an important cultural centre and also a respected trade partner. Unfortunately, the eruption of the volcano in 726 A.D. damaged the city heavily, what made the inhabitants to move to the coast, where the life was much easier and more comfortable for them.

The two main archaeological sites - Akrotiri and Ancient Thera bear witness to the development of then local cultures. Both historical places are publicly accessible and each of them bring a different kind of experience. After uncovering of volcano dust, ash and loam deposits, you can walk today through the narrow streets of the famous Minoan city and even to take a look inside each building, where also preserved things of then everyday life are exposed (most of the discovered artefacts are exposed by the Prehistoric Thera Museum and a part of them also by the Archaeological Museum of Thera, both residing in the capital city of Fira). Contrariwise, the excavations of the Ancient Thera offer more imagination possibilities because, in contrast to Akrotiri, here we can find more likely just basements of buildings with some remains of walls. The area of the excavations is not roofed over, therefore your visit will be enhanced by an astonishing view of the wide surrounding sceneries.

Ruins of a Byzantine castle (Oia) In later times Santorini got under control of several powers. In 13th century, the Romans took over the reins of the island and started thus the era of Venetian dominance. Romans were great conquerors and one of the maritime powers of that time. They named the island Santorini, after its patron St. Irene. Many beautiful historical buildings, mostly of defence character, remained preserved from that time. In 16th century, the Ottoman Turks became the leading power of Santorini and remained it until 19th century, when Santorini became a part of Greece again.

In modern history of the 20th century, the volcano let the world know about itself loudly once again, namely in 1956. The eruption killed many people, damaged heavily several cities including historical sites and had a critical impact on the infrastructure of the island. It was a catastrophe for the whole island, which suddenly slumped into hardship and poverty. The redevelopment of Santorini occurred in the 1970s, as the local economy began to focus on tourism. Today, Santorini belongs to the world´s most favourite tourist destinations.

Legend of mythical Atlantis

In context of Santorini, we sometimes come across information about the mythical Atlantis, an extraordinarily developed culture whose existence came suddenly, without any clear explanation, to an end. There are many theories dealing with the hypothesis whether Atlantis has really existed or not and if yes, what would it look like and where its possible location could be. One of the theories (quite often mentioned and discussed) places Atlantis into the Eastern Mediterranean region, to the so-called Cyclades Islands.

The legend of mythical Atlantis is put into context with Santorini primarily because of the massive volcano eruption, that destroyed a big part of the island and affected the life in the adjacent areas. Is it also possible, that Atlantis has existed right on Santorini or on any of the close islands and that the eruption of the super volcano Strongyli caused its destruction?

Testimony of history

Overview of historical periods

  • Prehistoric period - Minoan city in Akrotiri (found artefacts are stored in the Prehistoric Thera Museum and also in the Archaeological Museum of Thera, in the capital city of Fira; you also can visit the conference centre Petros Nomikos with 3D illustrations of frescoes, originally coming from Akrotiri
  • Ancient and Roman period - ancient city Thera (located close to today´s city Kamari; the artefacts are shown in the Archaeological museum of Thera in Fira and also in National archaeological museum in Athens)
  • Byzantine period - church of Panagia Episkopi in the village of Mesa Gonia, church of Panagia Mesani in the village of Emporio, monastery of Profitis Ilias in the village of Pyrgos, castle of Agios Nikolaos in the city of Oia, monastery of Agios Nikolaos in the municipality of Firostefani and many others Monastery Profitis Ilias
  • History of wine – Museum of wine in Vothonas
  • History of folklore – Folklore art museum in Kontochori
  • Museum of minerals and fossils in Perissa

Museums on Santorini

On Santorini we can visit several fascinating museums, that proudly reflect the rich cultural heritage of the island:

  • Prehistoric Thera Museum - belongs to the most important museums of Greece; has collected many valuable exhibits, whose biggest part is made by the finds from the Minoan city of Akrotiri
  • Archaeological Museum of Thera - maps the human presence on the island, from Doric colonization until the Late Roman Period; a part of the collection are for example sculptures, inscriptions, clay figurines or painted vases
  • Folklore Art Museum - is located in Kontochori - dug into pumice rock; makes collections of manuscripts, lithographies and books available to the public and tries to revive old handicrafts as blacksmithing, shoemaking or carpentry by using exhibitions
  • Naval Maritime Museum - resides in the city of Oia and has as goal to emphasize the importance of Santorini for the whole Greek navy; except interesting maps and logbooks we can find here also storage trunks, various equipment and historic ship models
  • Wine Museum (Vothonas) Museum of Wine - is placed 8 metres underground; here you can get to know the history of wine production on Santorini and also the daily life of local winegrowers; wine tasting is a part of the exhibition as well

Trips, historical sites and tips for other activities

The Greek island of Santorini has prepared really a lot for its visitors. Beside many important historical sites, impressive castles and several interesting museums, you can explore also its other places and go for example into the nature or sea.

Mesa Vouno Mountains Except, already mentioned, the very favourite boat tours through the caldera, you can go to explore the most beautiful beaches of Santorini, enjoy the breathtaking sunset in the city of Oia - for example during a great dinner on a deck of a cruise boat or uncommonly, from a horseback. If you like challenging walking tours, we can recommend a walk to the top of the Mesa Vouno mountain.

You can also look forward to taste the spicy Mediterranean food. Santorini is famous for its traditional products, to which above all the local wine belongs. Therefore, wine tasting events are on daily basis on Santorini and there is also a museum of wine available to the public in the small village of Vothonas, near to the Kamari resort.

The visitors are also being attracted by the local festivals. The most popular are "Jazz Festival" in July and "Ephestia" in August. Ephestia (Volcano Festival) is a series of festivities finished by firework shows, presenting a virtual volcano eruption. On the island, there are many religious traditions and holidays kept as well. Especially "the day of Panagia Episkopi", celebrated on August 15th in Mesa Gonia village, "the day of Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias)" on July 20th in the city of Fira or the celebration of Ayioi Epta Paides (a little church hidden in a cave in the caldera – located between Oia and Imerovigli, available only by boat) on August 4th in Oia.

Santorini - one of the most favourite tourist destinations in the world

Santorini is a picturesque Greek island, which is not only looking amazing on postcards, but because of its uniqueness and charm will captivate you also live. Maybe you will even have the impression of being in a different world and that Santorini really is the mythical Atlantis.

Sunset in Oia (Ia) Santorini is often presented as the "Romantic Island" because it became very popular among the newlyweds and couples in love. It is not surprising - which romantic soul would not be pleased about a breathtaking sunset, that you can watch from a terrace house or from the walls of an old castle?

The tourists choose the island for its uniqueness, which lies primarily in the volcanic origin of the region. They seek for beautiful historical sites, traditional Cycladic architecture and also for the wide and magnificent beaches with crystal clear water. Another allure of Santorini are the boat tours through the caldera, with visiting several small volcanic islets around the crater. Santorini is also well known because of the local tasty wines.