The Greek Island of Santorini
Our favorite island in the Cyclades is the island of Santorini (officially named Thira). This has got to be the most beautiful (and one of the most expensive!) islands in Greece. The island is actually the main section of the largest caldera on earth. Around 1450 BC when its volcano erupted, this was a very large inhabited island. The blast was so extreme that the majority of the island disappeared and water poured into the massive caldera. This eruption ended the Minoan settlements on the island, and many believe that the legends of Atlantis have their basis in this event. Currently the island is made up of towns hanging from sheer cliffs on one side of the island and flat beaches with red or black volcanic sand on the other.
The capital city of the island is the bustling Fira. From here there are dramatic views out over the sea-filled caldera to the volcano's still-active center and beyond. The whitewashed houses and small streets are very pedestrian friendly. Fira is known for its jewelry shops which line one of the main streets. In summer months the best time to explore is in the early morning before the full heat of the sun and the crush of cruise tourists sets in.
The Old Harbour and Volcano- From Fira you can take a cable car, ride donkeys or walk down a switchback staircase (some 600 steps) down the crater's wall to the old harbour of Skala Fira which sits far below. Chances are if you arrive by cruise ship, this is where you will come. At this harbour there are some small tavernas and shops, as well as the opportunity for boat trips out to see the volcano. These are typically about 3 hours in length. They take you to the still steaming volcano where you can get out and explore on foot. This is only recommended for those who enjoy light hiking since there is some steep and uneven terrain. Many boats also stop for you to swim in the naturally warm water heated by the volcano. If you are arriving to the island by ferry, you will be more likely to arrive at the more modern port of Athinios.
Oia- The smaller town of Oia (pronounced EE ah) sits at the northern tip of the island. It can be reached from Fira by frequent buses, taxi or on foot walking along the caldera edge. It has a smaller town feel than Fira, and is said to have the best views of the caldera and the best sunsets in the world. In the town you will find the Naval Museum of Thira featuring Maritime artifacts such as ships' figureheads.
Beaches- There are a variety of beaches to choose from on Santorini. The most commercial of these is Kamari and Perissa. The first of which offers a couple of well placed resorts, and the second has smaller hotels and pensions. On both of these beaches you will find black volcanic sand. The beaches can be reached by buses or taxis and there are occasional ferries between them. For a more unusual experience try to the white or red beach named after the color of the sand. These beaches are near the site of Akrotiri and are accessible by bus and then some walking.
Wineries- Other than tourists and the amazing archaeological sights, Santorini is also known for its wines. There is no fresh water on Santorini, so few things can survive the dry summer months. The grapevine is one of them. You'll be amazed at the way the grapevines are trained low to the ground in a wreath shape. This allows dew from the ocean air to collect on the leaves and sustain them (tomatoes are grown in a similar way). There are several wineries on the island where tasting and tours can be arranged. Our personal favorite is the Antoniou Winery which also boasts amazing views of the island.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira- This museum just opened in the year 2000, and it is already considered one of the best museums in Greece and has become the top attraction in the town of Fira. You'll see the treasures that have been discovered at the excavation site of Akrotiri. Highlights include an oven, bath tub, the beautiful House of Ladies frescos and the Gold Ibex Figurine. This tiny figurine is so small that in some ways it seems unimportant, but when you realize that the town of Akrotiri dates to the 16th century BC, making this object about 3,500 years old! Included in the price of this museum is entrance to the smaller but well filled Archaeological Museum which focuses on post-Minoan artifacts.
Akrotiri- The excavation site at Akrotiri has brought Santorini to the top of the archaeological world, and it is a must-see during your visit. This Minoan town was not discovered until 1967, and at this point it is believed that the current site is only a small section of a town as much as 10 times larger waiting to be unearthed. It dates back to the 16th century BC, but has very modern amenities including 3 - 4 story buildings with large windows, street drains and indoor toilets! Most amazing are the large wall frescos which are being slowly reassembled. It is believed that the town was abandoned before the large volcanic eruption, because very few portable valuables such as jewelry have been found. Possibly there were warning earthquakes and the population evacuated by boat. Large numbers of everyday household items have been discovered but no human remains. When the volcano finally erupted it buried the city under ash and lava. Slowly this was washed away by a small stream until it was discovered in 1967. A visit of the site only takes about 45 minutes. You can reach Akrotiri by bus from Fira. It is recommended you hire a private guide or read the book "Art and Religion in Thera" which acts as a guide book for the site. This book can be purchased at gift shops in the town of Fira before you go out to the site.
Ancient Thira- The ruins at Ancient Thira do not get much mention since they cannot compare in importance to those at Akrotiri. A few hundred years after the explosion that wiped out the Minoan civilization, people starting inhabiting the island again. The ruins date from the Archaic to the Roman times and include an early Archaic temple of Apollo, an agora and the remains of Hellenistic houses.
Private Shore Trips: See Santorini and learn about its history with a private guide. Private Shore Trips
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