Santorini, one of the best-known of the Cyclades, differs from
the other islands in the group thanks to its geological
morphology, the result of action by a volcano now dormant. The
landscape on the western side of the island, where towering
cliffs crowned by tiny and blindingly-white houses plunge
straight into the depths of the sea. The steep coastline of the
west is countered by the vast beaches of the east side, some of
them sandy and others with pebbles. From the landing-place,
Skala, we can climb up to Fira, the capital, on foot or on
donkey-back. There is a funicular railway for those who wish to
avoid the hundreds of steps.
Fira is very attractive, with winding narrow streets, arcades
and a quarter where the Catholic nobility once dwelt. There is a
most important Museum, with prehistoric finds (mostly pottery),
a large collection of vases dating from the 7th and 6th
centuries BC (including the pieces known as “Thera ware”), a few
Archaic and Classical pieces, and some Hellenistic and Roman
sculptures and portraits. There is a superb view out from Fira
to the Kamenes, the two islets of black stone created by the
volcano. The islets can be visited by launch.
Ancient Tbira is a site of great archaeological interest which
was occupied by Phoenicians, Dorians, Romans and Byzantines.
Down the centre of the city runs the Sacred Way. The buildings
include groups of houses, market-places, baths, theatres,
sanctuaries, the residence of Ptolemy Euergetes, tombs of the
Archaic and Classical periods and Early Christian remains. On
the surrounding rocks the names of the god Apollo and of men and
boys are inscribed in the ancient alphabet of Thira.
The site at Akrotiri has yielded the remains of a Minoan city
destroyed around 1500 BC by an eruption of the volcano on Thira.
In effect, this is a prehistoric version of Pompeii buried
beneath volcanic ash, with two and three-storeyed houses, with
squares, shops, workshops and so on. Among the fmds from the
houses were marvellous murals (on display in the National
Archaeological Museum, Athens), vases, and everyday utensils. On
the highest peak of Santorini is a monastery of the Prophet
Elijah (Profitis Ilias), where there is a picturesque religious
feast on 20 July each year.
The old-world village of Ia, 11 km. to the north of Fira, is a
place of incomparable beauty. The unique appeal of Ia lies in
its little houses hewn out of the soft rock (some of them
whitewashed, others painted blue or ochre), its neo-classical
mansions with their courtyards, its narrow paved alleys. There
is a superb view out to sea. Among the best bathing beaches –
some of them with black sand and others with pebbles – are
Kamari or Arrneni, Arnoudi, Baxedes Perissa, Monolithos and
The striking landscape, the peculiarities of the natural
environment, the unusual architecture and the outstanding
monuments of Santorini attract very large numbers of visitors in
the summer – so many, in fact, that the excellent tourist
amenities of the island can only just cope with them.