Despite the growth in tourism the island has experienced, Santorini, one of the most famous islands in Greece, remains an enticing, mysterious beautiful destination.
The volcanic Caldera, i.e. the huge underwater crater formed by the eruption in the 16th century B.C., dominates the landscape. The same eruption resulted in three quarters of the island being submerged beneath the sea. Why not try the unique experience of a boat trip around what is left above sea level:
• On Néa Kaméni, make sure you’ve got some sturdy shoes to protect your feet and a bottle of water and you’re off to conquer the summit, in other words the crater of the volcano!
• On the islet of Paliá Kaméni, dive into thermal sulphur waters.
• On Therassia, the largest of the volcanic islets opposite Oia, you can ride a donkey to reach the top of the island and visit Manolás, a village which has bravely withstood the ravages of time. Enjoy the magnificent view of Santorini and the marvel of Potamós, a settlement consisting of cave-houses.
(1) Now, let’s take a tour around the archaeological sites of Santorini:
• In the south of the island lies Akrotiri, one of the most important Aegean settlements of the early Bronze Age (first half of the 2nd millennium B.C.). The settlement was deserted because of the eruption of the volcano, but it was saved too for the same reason. Volcanic material covered it preserving the evidence of its glorious past: the vast territory, the multi-storeyed houses with exquisite frescoes, an amazing sewer system, stone streets and squares, and a multitude of luxurious vases and items of furniture.
• The only town on the island in the ancient times, Thera, was founded by Dorian colonists at Méssa Vounó, a natural fortress area of the inland. Perched on the hill at a height of 369 metres, the ancient town spreads out in terraces. It boasts antiquities such as the Sanctuary of Artemis, the Agora, the Royal Portico, the Temple of Apollo Karneios, the Basilistai House, the Gymnasium of the Epheboi, a theatre and the Terrace of Festivals.
• The beautiful village of Oia, most of which is embedded in the pumice of the cliffs, is the first settlement in Greece to have been designated a cultural heritage site. Hundreds of visitors marvel at the worldwide famous sunset from here. Profitis Elias in Imerovígli is your alternative spot for a breathtaking sunset. Not to be missed is also Emporeió, a traditional village with a medieval touch, thanks to the fortress architecture, the narrow streets and the six-metre-tall windmills.
(2) Discover Santorini’s fascinating museums:
• Museums of international importance are the pride and joy of the cultural heritage of the island. In pole position stands the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, one of the most important museums in Greece. The town of Akrotíri and findings from it (bronze utensils, tools and weapons, plaster casts of wooden furniture, Linear A boards) are on display for visitors who would like to get a feel of what life was like in the prehistoric settlement just before its devastation by the volcanic eruption. Take the opportunity to see the three-dimensional images of the frescoes of Akrotiri, housed in the Congress Centre “Petros M. Nomikos”.
• The Archaeological Museum of Firá offers a clear and scientific insight to the human presence on the island, from the Dorian colonization at the dawn of history to late Roman times. Collections of sculptures, inscriptions, clay figurines and painted vases are some of the exhibits.
• The Museum of Folkloric Art in Kontohóri, also set in the pumice cliff, hosts collections of lithographs, manuscripts and books, and it revives obsolete professions, such as those of blacksmiths, shoemakers and carpenters.
• The Naval Museum in Oia highlights the contribution of Santorini to the glorious history of the Greek Navy. Housed in a shipowner’s mansion of the 19th century, the museum displays an amazing collection of maps and photos, as well as rare objects (trunks, naval equipment, ship models) belonging to the great shipowners of the island.
• Do not forget to visit the unique Wine Museum. Built 8 metres below the ground, the museum offers you the chance to get to know the history of wine production on Santorini and the everyday life of the local wine makers. Some major features of the museum are the electronic guide in nine languages and the chance to taste delicious local wines.
(3) There are some festivals and events that are well worth a visit:
• Festivals of international importance are held every year, turning the island into a meeting point for prominent artists. The most important is the Jazz Festival in July. In August, the key event is the Ephestia (in English, that would be: “Volcania”) which is a series of festivities rounded off with a feast of fireworks presenting a virtual eruption of the volcano.
• A well balanced combination of religious devoutness and cosmopolitan fun awaits you at several celebrations of religious days. The day of Episkopi is celebrated on 15 August in Méssa Goniá, the day of Profitis Elias on 20 July in Firá and the day of Ayioi Epta Paides on 4 August in Oia. Those who are on the island on 22 October will have the chance to take part in the festival of Saint Averkios, the saint of wine. After the Mass, the locals hold a Bacchanalian feast of wine before staggering home, tipsy but exhilarated.