Santorini Greece History
IN THE CAPITOL CITY
From the landing-place, Skala, we can climb up to Fira, the capital, on foot or on donkey-back. There is a funicular railway for those who wish to avoid the hundreds of steps. Fira is very attractive, with winding narrow streets, arcades and a quarter where the Catholic nobility once dwelt. . There is a superb view out from Fira to the Kamenes, the two islets of black stone created by the volcano.
The site at Akrotiri has yielded the remains of a Minoan city destroyed around 1500 BC by an eruption of the volcano on Thira. In effect, this is a prehistoric version of Pompeii buried beneath volcanic ash, with two and three-storeyed houses, with squares, shops, workshops and so on. Among the finds from the houses were marvelous murals (on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens), vases, and everyday utensils.
The old-world village of Ia, 11 km. to the north of Fira, is a place of incomparable beauty. The unique appeal of Ia lies in its little houses hewn out of the soft rock, its neo-classical mansions with their courtyards, its narrow paved alleys. There is a superb view out to sea. Among the best bathing beaches - some of them with black sand and others with pebbles - are Kamari or Armeni, Amoudi, Baxedes Perissa, Monolithos and Kokini Paralia. The striking landscape, the peculiarities of the natural environment, the unusual architecture and the outstanding monuments of Santorini attract very large numbers of visitors in the summer - so many, in fact, that the excellent tourist amenities of the island can only just cope with them.
It is not only the silent crater visited by the tourist caiques, but everything else that you see and feel.
Breakfast on the balcony at the edge of the Caldera, the journey from Fira to Ia, Thirassia in its time warp, the black pebbles at
Perivolas, the sculptured rocks at Vlyhada, the cut-in-the-rock houses at Ia, the sunset at Faros, the full moon rising out of the sea at Monolithos.
Climatic conditions are typical for the Cyclades region, with long sunshine duration & little rainfall. Humidity is relatively high (in fact, it is the main water source for vegetation). Temperature fluctuations are rather limited throughout the year and snow is a rare event. Winds usually come from the North quite strongly (especially the meltemi in August), but sometimes the south ones are nasty too.
Santorini is well known for its strong and tasty wines which are the major local products, the most interesting being the white nikteri (from grapes picked before dawn), the sweet red vissanto ('vino santo') and the powerful tsikoudia (strong grape schnapps, identical to grappa). The local agriculture yields a limited amount of vegetables, small and tasty. A few tomato processing old factories still exist, idle but charming examples of past industrial architecture.
Shipping has always had a great historical, financial and political importance, with many local seamen and shipping tycoons. The surrounding waters are very good for fishing, but usually the demand for fresh fish exceeds the supply. The newest sector with vast & fast growth is tourism, involving a large part of the permanent and seasonal population.
The spectacular & unique landscape, the distinctive vernacular architecture and the long runaway have caused a rapid increase of mass tourism during the recent years, with all the related side effects on the environment & the attitude of the locals. Settlements like Kamari & Perissa are quite busy in summer, continuously growing thanks to the hordes of visitors.
The port of Fira is a routine stop for every East Mediterranean cruise. There are quite a few sandy shores easily accessible by car; Kamari & Perissa beaches are crowded in summer, though there are spots with better sand & fewer people at short distance. The sea in Caldera is deep (down to 400 meters at a spot west of Merovigli) and clean, but accessible only at a few points -and by few people.
Nudism is rather tolerated, especially in some less crowded spots like Koloumbos. Special attractions include the excavation site in Akrotiri, the islets of New & Old Kammeni (with black lava rocks and sulphur water warm all year), and local religious events (like in Riva on the 5th of May).
The above brief on Santorini climate, economy & tourism is a contribution by Thanos N. Stasinopoulos, architect. See his web site ‘’ for more details on Santorini architecture.
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