THE CHARM OF SANTORINI
Volcanic activity, rare architecture and unique natural footprint form one of the most beautiful islands on Earth
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
21 May 2019
Had you ever travelled to the southern part of the Aegean Sea, you might believe that Heaven is to be found on Earth. Located only about 200 km southeast of the mainland of Greece, is the Cyclades group of islands inhabited by over 15 thousand people. At the very south of the circular archipelago Santorini (Σαντορίνη) is the largest island of the group. Often it is referred to as Thera due to the volcanic eruption that led to Santorini's formation. Therasia is also among the two inhabited islands in the municipality of Santorini, which also includes the non-populated islands of Aspronisi, Nea Kameni, Christina and Palaia.
If you love to travel, you would have likely noticed Santorini's strong presence in the press as nearly every holiday guide or travel guru website has talked about the beauty of the island, that attracts tourists from every corner of the world. Yet, the Greek island has a fascinating history, enriched with mythological speculations that you may not have heard of.
One of the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of the world occurred around 3,600 years ago during the culmination of the Minoan civilisation. While the following tsunami wave may have reached over a hundred kilometres south to the island of Crete and consequently lead to the collapse of the Minoan civilisation there, popular speculations state that the Thera eruption is the very source of the legend of the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Santorini is what remains from this violent eruption, which completely changed the geological outlook of the region and lead to the destruction of the earliest settlements on a formerly single island. The region is the most active volcanic centre in the nearly 500 km long South Aegean Volcanic Arc, which became volcanically active between 3-4 million years ago.
The eruption of Thera had such devastating effect that it was considered the most famous event in the Aegean region right up until the fall of Troy. The emptying of the magma chamber during the volcanic event lead to the collapse of the core of a circular island. This left a large caldera, over hundreds of meters deep and surrounded by volcanic ash. The caldera was refilled by the volcano and collapsed repetitively throughout the years. Prior to the time of the Minoan eruption, when a massive amount of rock and magma was released into Earth's atmosphere, the caldera was forming nearly a complete ring. The eruption interrupted the circular geographical layout and two new channels were created between the islands of Aspronisi and Therasia and Therasia and Thera.
Santorini is a colonial name, while Thera was revived in the 19th century as the official name of the island and its main city. Ancient history remembers the island being called Kallístē (Καλλίστη), which translates to the most beautiful one, or Strongýlē (Στρογγύλη) meaning the circular one. Since the 13th century the Latin Empire named it Santorini, referring to Saint Irene's cathedral in the village of Perissa.
During Medieval times Thera was under Roman ruling until the Empire was divided and the island was passed on to the Byzantine Empire. Another volcanic eruption followed in the summer of 727 from the sea depths between the Therasia and Thera islands. Evidence is left through George Cedrenus's text ' the whole place burned like fire, little by little thickening and turning to stone, and the air seemed to be a fiery torch'. In the period of the Russo-Turkish War, Santorini was under brief Russian occupation and was later returned to Ottoman control. Yet, the island became a definite part of the Kingdom of Greece in 1832. It wasn't until the Second World War when Santorini was occupied by the Italians, while in 1943 German forces gained control of the island. Years later, in 1956, strong earthquakes resulted in large-scale destruction and the need for evacuation. The majority of Santorini's population migrated to Athens and Piraeus.
From the many times Santorini has erupted, there have been at least 12 grand-scale explosive eruptions, of which at least four lead to the formation of the modern-day caldera on the island. A repeated sequence of volcanic eruptions and caldera collapse allowed the inner coast of the island to exhibit layers of solidified lava plastered on top of each other. The shallow beaches downwards at the perimeter are made either of solidified-lava pebbles or variously-coloured sand, where the shades and colours depend on which geological layer is exposed at the land's surface. Examples are the Black Beach, the Red Beach and the White Beach on the island. The seawater at the darker coloured beaches remains noticeably warmer due to the lava's absorbing qualities.
The tourism industry flourishes in Santorini, resulting in certain economic and population growth. There is plenty to see and explore in the island, including the Akrotiri archaeological site with Minoan era ruins and the view of the MS Sea Diamond cruise ship that sank at the bottom of the giant caldera, which makes it impossible for any but large ships to enter the protected bay. The rectangular lagoon in the centre of the island is surrounded by steep cliffs and slopes leading to the coasts of the Aegean Sea. The capital city Fira is located at the top of the cliff, while more popular sights in Santorini include the principal port Athinios and fishermen's harbours on the south eastern coast.
It is no wonder that Santorini benefits from tourism. The destination was voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The maintenance of the agriculture is another source of wealth for the island nation, who profits from a small but successful wine industry. Yet, periods of drought create certain issues on the island and NOMADSofORIGIN would like to take a moment to remind those, who plan on visiting to remain aware and respectful of the limited water resources of the island nation.
Tourists travel from all over the planet for a chance to experience a first-class holiday on this Greek island. Apart from the naturally beautiful state of the land and the mesmerising sea views that throw warm sunset shades all over the steep streets, it is the rare architecture that also catches the eye. A literal translation of romantic the traditional Cyclades architecture captures the heart of visiting couples and strikes the inspiration of adventure enthusiasts. Made of whitewashed local stones that reflect the shades of the volcanic ashes used to colour their walls, the low cubical houses are a unique and irreplaceable part of Santorini.
After all the volcanic activity and the human-factors that have threatened the island of Santorini, those who have the chance to travel there and witness the natural beauty of this unique destination are truly the lucky ones. The Greek island is a place like no other and NOMADSofORIGIN recommends the lovers of exotic travels to book a stay in the late summer period, for it could not disappoint.
NOMADSofORIGIN is an independent annual publication with a focus on sustainable travelling and global cultural values. Each issue features interviews, engaging articles and photo guides, which take our nomadic readers through different destinations and introduce them to local people's perspectives.
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