Santorini, also known as Thira, is widely considered to be the most spectacular island of Greece, full of charm and relaxing energy. Thousands of tourists come every year in awe of the caldera of the volcano, a legacy of what was probably the world's largest volcanic eruption ever.
This eruption, which occurred in 1647 BC, caused the middle of the volcano to subside, leaving a caldera of high cliffs - one of the world's most spectacular geographic phenomena.
This is a theory postulated by Plato, one that has fired the imagination of writers, artists and mystics since ancient times ... was the island of Santorini really the lost Atlantis ?
Santorini, 2 million years ago, used to be three tiny islands or rocks, there was no crater or volcano visible at the time. (I will be able to show you these rocks in a little bit). As the volcanic rain which was located near the 3 rocks became active, lava started pouring out of the volcanic vein. Throughout the various eruptions lava filled the gaps and connected the three small rocks into one large circular island. If we look at the map, located at the front of the bus, we can still see the outline of the original shape of the island. All we have to do is connect the different islands. If we connect Oia, the northern tip, to Thirassia, to Aspronisi, to Akrotiri, the Southern tip we can still see the outline of the once circular island.
Santorini was a circular island with a crater in the middle which was located where the caldera is today. The crater reached 1,000m. (3,000ft) in height. In 1625b.c. there were many devastating earthquakes and a terrible eruption which followed. This great eruption was so large that it caused the crater to collapse inward and break the central and western parts of the island into pieces allowing water to rush in creating the present day caldera. Caldera is a word often associated with Santorini. It is a Spanish word which means "cauldron". More than half of the island was destroyed. Santorini now occupies a total area of 72sq. kilometers. This is the size of our caldera 83sq. kilometers. Santorini's caldera is one of the largest of the world.
The remainder of the island was buried under 60-70 m of pumice stone and volcanic ash. The explosion was so great that scientific research tells us that the blast was heart in the Scandinavian countries and ash was found in California, Greenland, the land, and Asia Minor. Remember that the actual crater of Santorini is not Nea Kameni, but it is the actual caldera, the gulp next to us. The rein is actually located where your cruise boat is docked. The crater is located under the water and is presently active but quiet. Not only has Santorini's shape changed but the islands shape has also changed throughout time. Santorini's original name was "Strongili" which comes from the Greek word "strogilo" meaning round.
At the top of Athinios port, we can see the other part of the island. The view is not as dramatic as the cliffs of the caldera but the view is quite peaceful.
The highest point of the island is Profitis Ilias, the mountain that we will see with the radar antennas on top. The mountain of Profitis Ilias is 565m. high. On the top of Profitis Ilias or Prophet Eliya, there are Greek and Nato military bases. The name of the mountain comes from the monastery of Profitis Ilias which is located at the top. The monastery was built in 1771 and there are currently 5 monks living there today. The mountain that we will see slopes downward. At the lower peak of the mountain is Ancient Thira.
Pyrgos. The small hill that we will see is the highest village on the island. The village of Pyrgos was the capital of the island until 1810. This village is virtually untouched by tourism. For centuries the island was invaded and inhabited by many nations, but the Venetians were the ones that left a finger-print in the islands history. On top of the hill, there are remains of an Venetian castle, which was built by the Venetians in the 13th Century, during their occupation on the island. The Venetians built the castle on the top and their houses around the hill to protect themselves against island attacks. But in 1537 a pirate called Barbarosa captured the island and handled it over to the Sultan of Turkey. There are 50 churches in Pyrgos and 250 inhabitants. It is a saying that Pyrgos has more churches than houses, more donkeys than people and more wine than water.
The airport is an international airport and it was built in 1971. According to statistics, there are 75 domestic and 85 charter flights per week. Santorini belongs to a group of islands called "Cycladic". "Cyclades" comes from the Greek word "cyclos" which means "circle". If you look at a map of Greece you will be able to see that the Cycladic islands form a circle on the map. Santorini is the Southern most island of the Cyclades.
On our right we will see the village of "Messaria". Messaria is the geographical center of the island. Messaria comes from the Greek word "mesi" which means "middle" "Messaria" means "in the middle"-in the middle of the island.
Years ago the economy of the island was based on the export of pumice stone. Pumice stone is a porous volcanic rock and when mixed with cement it is a good insulator underwater. In 1866 when the Suez Canal was being built, they made quarries to export the pumice stone. There are three quarries on the island. Because so much pumice stone was being exported, more than 2 million tones annually, the government made a strict law which forbade the exportation of pumice stone from the island. We will be able to see the quarries and the factory and how much of the hill is missing. If pumice exportation was not banned, a big damage would have been made to the island. The whole island would have been destroyed.
At the town of Fira. After the second World War, Fira became the capital of Santorini. You will be able to see some of the public buildings of Fira- Post office- and the Archeological Museum of the island. The new museum built in 2000 and contains the new findings of Pre-Historic Akrotiri, which is the islands excavation site. The Orthodox Cathedral of the island, the beautiful bell-tower of the Catholic Cathedral. 95% of the islands is Greek orthodox. In the main square of the capital are all the banks and some cafes. Fira has a population of 2,500 inhabitants. For the young and young at heart, Fira is where the most night life is. It is build 30 meters above sea level, is famous for its views and sunsets. This were 42 gold stores are located, which contain jewelries brought from all over the world and of course the Greek hand made pieces.
There are three different parts to the capital of Fira. The lower part is Fira, the middle part is Firostefani and the highest part is Imerovigli. Firostefani gets its name from "stefani" which means "crown". The village of Firostefani forms sort of a crown around Fira. Imerovigli gets its name from the Greek word "imero" day and "vigli" watch. The islanders use to keep their day watch or "imerovigli" from this village. There are two different theories on how the capital Fira got its name. Firstly the capital has two different names "Fira" and "Thira". The first theory is that during Turkish occupation the Turkish could nor pronounce the "th" sound in Thira, so they changed it to the "f" sound and called the capital Fira. There is a problem with this theory. Many linguists disagree with this theory. The other theory is that the name comes from the Greek word "firos" meaning a yellow-radish color, the color of fire. the color of the rocks under Fira have a deep radish color. There are different layers of this color and the name of the capital comes from the color of the rocks under Fira. This is the most popular and mostly accepted theory.
During the 13th Century, there was a Venetian occupation on the island. The occupation took place in 1204. The Venetians fortified 5 different places on the island. Imerovigli was the capital. They chose Imerovigli because it is the highest point on the Caldera. there is a strange rock formation that protrudes from the front of the village. This rock formation is called "Skaros" and it is here that the Venetians built their strongest of the five castles. This castle was never defeated. the castle was destroyed in 1956 during the terrible earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale. Santorini is a very seismic island. Earthquakes are common on the island but they are usually very small registering from 1-3 on the Richter scale. Santorini is 72sq. kilometers and has a permanent population of 10.000 inhabitants. There are 13 villages on the island.
The green plants that we will see everywhere are the grape vines. Usually grape vines are cultivated 1.5m high. The Santorini grape vines are cultivated near to the ground to protect them from the strong winds that hit the island. The vines are cut, leaving the three strongest branches and are weaved into a basket shape. The grapes are grown inside the basket. This protects the grapes against the winds. the vines that we see here are very young. On the Southern cape of the island, Akrotiri, there are vines that are 65 years old. In the winter, when all the leaves fall off, the island looks like it is covered in baskets. Santorini and Mykonos are the windiest islands in Greece. In August, the islanders pick the grapes by hand and transfer them by donkeys to their wineries. White, red, semi-sweet and very sweet are some of the wines Santorini produces.