GREEK ISLANDS — Santorini

Santorini is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. It is famous for its dramatic views and tiny villages perched on the side of hills. People from all over the world come to visit this magical island and witness the stunning sunset from Oia town as well as the beautiful beaches especially the beach of Perissa. The island is crescent-shaped which is the result of volcanic activity which happened thousands of years ago and created a caldera with a huge central lagoon surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides. After the major erruption there were smaller erruptions which formed the two small islands within the caldera.

The sights found here are:
Oia
Fira
Art Space Gallery and Winery
Akrotiri
Ancient Thera
Boat Excursions
Thirassia

Oia

Oia
Oia (pronounced E-ah) is found in the northern part of Santorini and it is 11 kilometres from the main town of Fira. It is probably the most famous of all the villages of Santorini due in part to the fabulous sunsets that people come to see. The village is perched on top of an impressive cliff and you get the most fantastic view over the caldera from many places within the village. There is one main pedestrian street that winds its way through Oia and you will find charming houses and tiny shops either side. The roads are very narrow in parts and cars have to be parked at the beginning of the village. From the car park donkeys are used to transport people and luggage. There are a few cultural attractions to be found in Oia such as the Maritime Museum which houses collections of oil lamps, figureheads from ships and model ships amongst others. Another museum is the Museum of Ancient, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Musical Instruments which is housed in the old Community Building. Here you will find a collection of musical instruments dating from 2,800BC till the early 20th century. It can only be visited by appointment. For a small village there are also a lot of picturesque churches especially the blue-domed ones which have been made famous because they feature in so many magazines and travel shows. A delightful way to spend your time in this village is to wander down the main street and pop into the many shops selling jewellery, clothing, souvenirs, books as well as galleries selling pictures of the local scenery.

Fira

Fira
Fira is the capital of Santorini and it is found on the west side of the island. Like Oia it is perched on the side of a cliff and you also get an impressive view of the caldera from here. It is also a town full of charming houses on narrow winding streets and lots of shops to satisfy everyone. It is much busier than the other villages on Santorini especially during the summer months and traffic can become hectic at times. There are many places to see here including the small Archaeological Museum which has displays of pre-historic vases from Akrotiri and marble figurines. Another museum that you can visit is the Museum of Prehistoric Thera which exhibits pieces that have been excavated from Akrotiri and Ancient Thera including statues, ceramics, tools and weaponry. Megazon Gyzi is another museum found at the back of the Catholic Cathedral and it houses the Cultural Centre which hosts lots of art exhibitions, theatre and other types of entertainment throughout the year. Another cultural centre found in Fira is the Bellonio Cultural Centre found next to the Post Office. It regularly hosts cultural shows and art exhibitions. Like Oia you can see many impressive churches as you wander around town especially the Catholic Cathedral with its colourful peach exterior.

Art Space Gallery and Winery

Art Space Gallery and Winery
Art Space would have to be one of the world’s most interesting art galleries especially because it is found in an ancient wine cellar combining the tradition of wine-making with art. It is found at Mesa Gonia on the right side of the road to Kamari and if you are near here it is worth a visit because of its uniqueness. You wander through some cave rooms with interesting pieces of art hanging on the walls which are for sale and there is also a winery. You can take a tour around the winery and there is a tasting room at the end of the tour.
For information about the gallery visit the website at: http://www.artspace-santorini.com

Akrotiri

Akrotiri
This is a fascinating and important archaeological site. The town was once a busy place until a volcanic eruption in 1450 BC destroyed it. It has been partially excavated and it is preserved inside a large shed. This site provides a glimpse into what life would have been like in a town during the Minoan period. You tour the site along the main street of ancient Akrotori which is lined with shops and warehouses. The impressive buildings include three-storey houses which were decorated with magnificent frescoes which are surprisingly well-preserved probably because they were buried in the ash from the volcano. Most of these frescoes have been taken to the Archaeological Museum in Athens but a few can be found in the nearby Museum of Prehistoric Thera. You can see what the frescoes would have looked like from the small pictures found next to the houses they came from. The best view of the town is from the plaza near the exit.
For information about Akrotiri visit the following website at: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh355.jsp?obj_id=2410

Traveller's Tip

Be aware that at the moment there is little in the way of signs to explain what you are seeing so before you visit here it might be wise to do some research so you can understand what the site is all about.
  • Another way to see it would be to hire a guide who can explain in detail what you are looking at.
    Ancient Thera

    Ancient Thera
    The ruins of Ancient Thera are found on the rocky headland known as Mesa Vouna. From here you have a spectacular view of the coast. It was founded in the 9th century BC and was inhabited until the early Byzantine period. The ruins you see today belong to the Hellenistic and Roman eras of the city. Buildings from different historical eras are found together throughout the site and you will see shops from the Hellensitic period, Roman baths, Byzantium walls and there is also the stone church of Agios Stefanos. The site contains several Greek temples such as the Hellenistic Temple of Dionysos which dates back to the 3rd century BC. It is a small Doric temple built on a man-made platform north of the Agora. The facade and roof were made of marble while the rest of the building was of local stone. Also from the same period is the Sanctuary of Artemidoros which is made of rock. It includes various inscriptions and engravings of Artemidoros as well as the symbols of the major gods: an eagle for Zeus, a lion for Apollo, a dolphin for Poseidon. The rock Sanctuary of Apollo Karneios from the 6th century BC includes a temple with pronaos and cella, a square courtyard with six monolithic pillars and an underground cistern and a small building, probably a repository. The best view of the site is from the large Terrace of the Festivals. The cemeteries of Ancient Thira are on the slopes found either side of the roads that lead to the villages of Kamari and Perissa. The excavated graves span every period.

    Traveller's Tip

    Be aware that the site is open from 8am to 2.30pm every day except Monday and there is an entrance fee of around 4€.
    Boat Excursions

    Boat Excursions
    A great way to experience this part of the world is to take a boat cruise around the island or to one of the other nearby islands. There are many to choose from including half day tours; full day tours and of course sunset tours where you get to experience the famous Santorini sunset. There are many boat companies to choose from and a good place to start would be asking for recommendations from the reception at your accommodation.

    Thirassia

    Thirassia
    This island is found directly opposite the Santorini caldera. It is quiet and undeveloped with few tourists mostly day trippers from Santorini. You can stay here but most of the accommodation is in traditional cave-style houses. There are five villages and the main one is Manolas which is a pretty place with whitewashed houses, reached by a flight of 250 steps from the boat landing-place. In the summer months the travel agencies of Santorini run trips from Fira and Athinios to the volcano and hot springs that include Thirassia. It is worth visiting Thirassia to get an idea of what Santorini would have been like before tourists discovered the island.

    Traveller's Tip

    You can get to Thirassia on a day tour from Santorini but there is also a small ferry leaving Oia every day at 8:00am and 12:00pm with the last one returning at 5:00pm. It costs 1€ each way. There is a municipal bus to take you up to Manolas from the port of Riva, or there is also Nikos’ ‘taxi’ which is actually a pickup with benches in the back. Three times a week there is a ferry running from the Athinas port to Riva where you can also take a car with you.