Crescent-shaped Santorini (or Thira), the precious gem of the Aegean, is actually a group of islands consisting of Thira, Thirassia, Aspronissi, Palea and Nea Kameni in the southernmost part of Cyclades.
Did you know that the whole complex of Santorini islands is still an active volcano (the same as Methana, Mílos and Nisiros) and probably the only volcano in the world whose crater is in the sea? The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity; twelve huge eruptions occurred, one every 20,000 years approximately, and each violent eruption caused the collapse of the volcano’s central part creating a large crater (caldera). The volcano, however, managed to recreate itself over and over again.
Santorini is among the top destinations in Greece but also in the world and is characterized by its Cycladic architecture: white painted villages that stand on the top of the high red-coloured cliffs. Santorini architecture is featured uniquely throughout its settlements. Whitewashed houses in complete harmony with its volcanic scenery, it is without a doubt that the villages of Santorini were built to meet perfection. Such an example is the beautiful Oia which is known for its neoclassical mansions, small churches, and the narrow cobbled paths and colourful houses. Matching the classic with the modern beauty, Oia offers the most romantic scenery and a plethora of beautiful places to visit.
Fira, the main town of Santorini is pretty astonishing itself located at the edge of the caldera giving breathtaking views to the volcano. The highlights of the capital are the traditional houses which blend with the lovely Venetian characteristics like the arches and vaults and the colourful stairs. Due to the hard weather conditions (heavy hurricanes in winter and solar heat in summer) and the protection from the pirate's invasions, Santorini's architecture is very much similar to the other Cycladic islands. Of unique charm is the sunset of Fira and Oia, for which the island receives thousands of visitors. Among the narrow paths of Santorini are the beautiful churches, architectural jewels that blend in the island's landscape. The settlements of Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia offer a breathtaking view to the caldera and the golden sunset making the island an unforgettable destination for the summer vacation.
The Venetian presence left the island a small legacy that counts on a few fortified settlements. The only one that remains intact is the Kastro in the centre of Pyrgos village. Equally interesting is the Venetian castle of Akrotiri, the Argyros Mansion, Kasteli Castle and the Catholic Cathedral of Fira. A visit to the Folklore Museum of Santorini will give you much insight into the 19th-century architecture as well as a walk to explore the surrounded villages.
Don't forget to visit the ancient site of Akrotiri in order to get an idea of the architecture during the Minoan times.
Visitors can enjoy their stay in many of the traditional hotels that have respected the traditional Cycladic architecture. Santorini offers some of the most beautiful luxury hotels which are world-famous for their traditional architecture, mixed with all modern comforts.
The unique volcanic land of Santorini and its perfect climate lead to the production of high-quality products. However, the island is famous for its vineyards and wineries with a great history lost in the depths of time. The volcanic activity has made the soil very fertile and as a result, the agriculture of Santorini developed rapidly and became well-known all over the world.
The products of Santorini are of excellent quality but are produced in small quantities. The island specialized in wine and huge areas of vines can be seen on the island. Their branches are put in a way that makes them look like a basket. This way protects the wine trees from the high winds and the sun of the Cyclades.
Other agricultural products on which Santorini is specialized in are: the fava, a vegetable that looks smaller than a pea, a type of cherry tomato that only grows on Santorini which is the result of the lack of water and, finally, the kapari, a vegetable of the size of a pea which is used in the famous Greek Salad. The island of Santorini also produces a cheese made from goat's milk which is called chloro. Due to the volcanic past of the island, Santorini also sales products related to the lava such as the pumice stone.
As one of the most popular islands in Greece, Santorini has a great variety of restaurants and taverns. The best advice we can give concerning Greek food is to stay away from the commercial restaurants and try to find a traditional family tavern where the food is of better quality and much cheaper. In Santorini, the food specialty is the tomatokeftedes, a sort of tomato balls. The wide variety of Santorini products offers visitors many ideas for food, sweets, and gifts.
Wine and Wineries
Santorini specializes in wine production and is highly appreciated all over the world. Wine is among the most famous Santorini products and is always made in a traditional way. The wines are stored in the traditional kanaves (cellars). Some kanaves (wineries) are well known and you can even test their wine: Boutari (Megalochori), Antoniou (Megalochori) Canava Roussos (Mesa Gonia), Koutsoyannopoulos (Messaria), Santo Wines (Pyrgos), Sigalas (Oia). It is a strong and tasty wine. There are of three kinds:
Brusko: Red / dry / strong
Nichteri: White / dry / strong
Vissando: Red / sweet / extremely strong (reminds the liqueur)
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 Emporeio, a traditional village with a medieval touch, thanks to the fortress architecture, the narrow streets and the six-metre-tall windmills.
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 Akrotiri 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 Fira 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.
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