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Santorini Sites & Villages

FIRA

White cubic houses built on the edge of the caldera form a labyrinth of narrow streets and pathways. While in the upper – eastern part of FIRA orientation is easy – the western part towards the caldera still maintains the traditional character of a Cycladic village. Small paved roads, bends, terraces and balconies. This part is only accessible on foot and is full of restaurants, shops, cafés and small galleries. Views from the edge of the cliffs over the multi-colored rocks and the sea are breathtaking.

FIRA was founded in the year 1806. During the phase of reconstruction after the big earthquake of 1956 the old traditional architecture of the Cyclades was maintained. So nothing disturbs the natural beauty of this scenery. A lot of houses were and are built inside the rocks. The white of the walls in contrast with the blue of the churches and the many blossoming flowers on the balconies and terraces create the typical views of this town.

The best time to explore FIRA is in the morning, enjoying a stroll through the picturesque Kato Fira, the small roads and cafés to the well known museum of prehistoric Thera, with wall paintings from Akrotiri, and the  the Balloneio cultural centre, the orthodox metropolis of Ipapantis and the church of Agios Minas (Saint Mina). If you continue to the north along the caldera passing the P.M. Nomikos Conference Centre you can reach the cliff-top villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli. A steep walk brings you as far as OIA (8 km).

From the main central square Platia Theotokopoulou in the west – the caldera the streets are pedestrian alleyways like the shopping street Erythrou Stavrou. In another block by the cliffs you find the Odos Ypapantis, the so called “Gold Street”, which takes its name from the numerous jewelry shops lined up one after the other.  After crossing the Agiou Mina you reach the start of Odos Spyridon Marinatos, hundreds of steps that take you down to the old port of Fira, Skala. Heading north you can find the station for the cable car – maybe the better solution on the hot summer days of the Aegean. Another option is a donkey ride

 Sights from South to North:

Museum of Prehistoric Thera (Tel:22860 23217, admission € 3; open daily except Monday 08:30-15:00). This newly built museum opened in the year 2000. Its collection contains the finest masterpieces of Cycladic culture. Famous are the wall paintings found in Akrotiri and the unique gold ibex figurine.

The white churches Agios Minas and Agios Ioannis, right at the edge of the cliffs, are very popular motives.

The Balloneio cultural centre opened its doors in the year 1995. It is located in the vicinity of the bus station.  A private foundation, established by Loukas and Evangelos Bellonios, financed this institution. Many book presentations, exhibitions and lectures with various topics. On the lower level there is the only public library of Santorini.

The Orthodox cathedral Mitropolis Ypapantis is located in the centre of Fira. The original building was destroyed during the earthquake of 1956. Remarkable are the frescoes inside, painted by the local artist Christoforos Assimis.  A well known spot to watch the sunset.

The Archaeological Museum (Tel: 22860 22217 admission € 3; open daily except Monday 08:30-15:00) is located near the cable car station. It contains a collection of houses finds ranging from the Prehistoric to Hellenistic periods, especially from Akrotiri and Ancient Thira.

The Museum Megaron Gyzi (Tel: 22860 23077, admission € 3), situated behind the Catholic cathedral, exhibits engravings from the 16th to the 19th centuries displaying dresses, landscapes and maps of the Cycladic islands, including old photographs of Santorini before the devastating earthquake of 1956.

The Catholic cathedral Agios Ioannis Baptistis (St. John the Baptist) near the cable car station, close to the caldera, was built in 1823 in baroque style.  Severe damage caused by the earthquake of 1956 forced a major renovation which was finalized in the 1970s. This church is part of the Catholic Quarter in the centre of Fira. At the end of the 18th century the catholic community moved from the Skaros rock to the north part of Fira.

The Dominican Convent close to the cathedral is not open to visitors. Only the convent church can be visited (Best time is 09:00-13:00). It displays frescoes and its architecture is a fine mixture of baroque elements with traditional island architecture.

The Petros M. Nomikos Conference Centre (Tel: 22860 23016) is located north of the Catholic Quarter with a magnificent view over the caldera. Worth seeing is the exhibition of copies of the wall paintings of Akrotiri.

The old port of Fira (Skala Fira) on the bottom of the cliffs just bellow Fira can be reached either by foot on the Odos Spyridon Marinatos with its 590 steps, by experiencing the adventure of a mule ride on the same street, or you can use the cable car built in the early 1980s. Here is the starting point for different ship excursions. Big ferries berth at the new port Athinion. Under water the cliffs continue to fall almost vertically several hundred meters which makes it impossible to use an anchor. At the south end of the harbor you find the chapel of Agios Nikolaos. 

The Folklore Museum (Tel: 22860 22792) is located in Kontochori. It displays an original old winery, a collection of printed documents about Santorini and the work of carpenters, blacksmiths, cloths, traditional household goods and it has a small gallery with works by contemporary local artists.

KONTOCHORI

Following the more inland road through Fira to the North you will find the small village of Kontochori. The two villages grew together over the last decade so you will not notice passing from one to the other. Due to its distance from the caldera it is quieter and surrounded by farming areas. The landscape is divided in flat agricultural terraces. The church of Profitis Ilias was originally founded by a catholic order in the 18th century, nowadays it is Greek orthodox though.

 FIROSTEFANI

Like Kontochori Firostefani is an independent village. Following the main road to the North you will reach Firostefani without noticing that you actually left Fira. Following the Odos Erithrou Stavrou to the North right after the Catholic Quarter the town limits are marked by an arch passageway. Also if you follow the way along the caldera you will find just after the limits of the village a nice terrace with a marvelous view. Right behind is the church Agios Gerasimos. Firostefani is generally quieter than Fira; ideal for those who want to stay close to lively Fira but not right inside. You can find restaurants, bars and cafés with terraces or balconies to enjoy the phantastic view of the volcano.

KARTERADOS

Only two kilometers south-east of Fira you find the village of Karterados. Named after a Venetian duke, Karterados was first a village of sailors; later an agricultural village, nowadays a number of hotels and private quarters has been established. In the lower part there are still cave houses to be found. Still Karterados is a traditional settlement of Santorineans. The church Agios Georgios is the third biggest after the Mitropolis in Fira and the church Timios Stavros in Perissa.

 IMEROVIGLI

Imerovigli is the highest located village on the caldera. The scenery is dominated by the impressive Skaros rocks. Only two kilometers from the capital Fira, Imerovigli offers a number of high quality accommodations with spectacular views over the volcano. In Venetian times one of the most important settlements the inhabitants moved later to the area of Fira. Though there has been a lot of development since the 1980s Due to the romantic scenery and atmosphere Imerovigli attracts a lot of couples from all over the world. There are restaurants and a few shops but for nightlife you have to go to Fira. Particularly remarkable is the view of the sunset, when the surrounding islands close and far “emerge” on the horizon.

The Monastery of Agios Nikolaos located at the entrance to the village is the only orthodox convent of Santorini. This castle like building with thick stone walls was erected in the 2nd half of the 17th century.

The church of the Panagia Maltesa is located in the middle of the village. Worth seeing are the old wooden icons and the frescoes that cover all walls and the roof.

Behind the chapel Agios Georgios steps lead down the caldera to the path to the Skaros rock. On top of the Skaros rock was the Venetian Kastro founded in the 13th century, the strongest castle of Santorini. Unfortunately there is almost nothing left of it especially after the earthquake in 1956.    

 VOURVOULOS

This village is located about 4 km north east of Fira. Built along the hill of a steep valley it offers good views to the vineyards and coast of the north-east. Traditional cave houses are there, some of them still in use. In the lower part of Vourvoulos you find a big “platia” and the beautiful church of Agios …….?.

 OIA

Once home of wealthy captains and seamen this picturesque village is built on a steep slope of the caldera in the north-west end of Santorini. The marble paved main road, the classicistic captain mansions, old cave houses hewn into the soft volcanic rock, numerous churches and chapels are the signs of a wealthy and prosperous past. Before the devastating earthquake in 1956 Oia had 8000 inhabitants. The earth shook for only about one minute but the result was a disaster. Oia was destroyed and many people left the village afterwards. Now there is not much evidence left for the visitors eye since good restoration work has taken place. Small streets and paths lead up and down the caldera like a labyrinth. Small restaurants and cafés with a magnificent view over the caldera offer the visitor unique scenery. Fancy boutiques, well known jewelry shops and art galleries are also present here although Oia is a much quieter place than Fira. The exception is the time around sunset, which is on the “must” list of each tourist visiting Santorini.

The Maritime Museum (Tel: 22860 71156) is housed in one of the most magnificent captain mansions of the 19th century and displays a collection of Oia´s maritime past.

The castle of St. Nikolas is a venue in the afternoon for the sunset. Crowds of visitors come here to enjoy the famous view and the colors as the sun “dips” into the sea. Around the castle there are many traditional cave houses.

The port of Armeni is located on the inside of the caldera. There is also a small beach and taverns. A steep stairway starts from the westerly cliff road.

In a small bay below Oia you find the picturesque fishing port of Ammoudi. Taverns painted in different colors, right in front of the almost vertical red cliffs, wooden boats and the clear water underline the idyllic scenery. The steps (around 300) start at the castle. In the summer there is also mule transportation available. If you have a car or scooter you can use the asphalt road that ends at a small park space. Often difficult to find parking!

 FINIKIA

Finikia is a small village on the caldera just before Oia. Mainly private houses of Santorineans are built here. Worth visiting is the big church Panagia Marouliani and the cemetery.

 MESSARIA

Messaria´s central location makes it a crossing point for the island´s main roads. The new part of Messaria is like a busy shopping centre. A few steps up, in the old part, life is quieter. Here you can find classic mansions of wealthy ship owners from the 19th century  and dome shaped houses built into the rock. The church Agios Dimitrios in the centre is built with the black and brown lava!

 VOTHONAS

The very romantic lower part of Vothonas (Kato Vothonas) is located in a deep canyon. Up the main road you pass a windmill and the small chapel Agios Triphonas as you walk down the canyon. The houses are built into the volcanic rock around the main church Panagia.   Narrow paths and steps connect the different parts. At the lower entrance to the village you can visit the chapel Agios Ioannis Roussos, which is built into the pumice rock. 

 MONOLITHOS

Monilithos is located on the east coast of Santorini, about 7,8 km from Santorini´s capital Fira.

Passing the airport you reach the long sandy beach of Monolithos. It is an area preferred by families also because of its shallow waters. There are restaurants, cafés and hotels all along the beach. At the back you will see the ruins of old tomato factories which does not improve the view. One of them is still in operation and is run by the Association Cooperative of Theraic Products. A single rock stands out from the landscape next to the airport more than 30 meters and gave the name to the area. On top there is the white chapel of Agios Ioannis. 

 PYRGOS

Pyrgos is located in the middle of Santorini on a steep hill. At the top of the village there are the remains of a Venetian castle. Pyrgos was the capital of Santorini in the time of the recurrent pirate attacks. The inhabitants of closeby Ancient Thira left their village after an earthquake and founded this settlement, which is the oldest village still existing on the island. Pyrgos represents a typical example of a traditional Cycladic settlement. Small, narrow streets, arch passageways, cobbled roads, white cubic houses and many churches create this very distinct atmosphere. At an altitude of about 360 meters Pyrgos is the highest village of Santorini. From the castle on top you have a magnificent view over the west side of Santorini: Fira, Oia, the bay of Messaria and Thirassia.

Historical Pyrgos was the castle built by the Venetians as a stronghold against pirates. Six churches are spread throughout this village. The oldest is the church Theotokaki from the 10th century. The small museum in the church Agia Triada exhibits precious icons.

Above Pyrgos, on the mountain of Profitis Elias stands the Monastery of the Prophet Elias, which was founded in the first half of the 18th century. This monastery has a collection of old books, manuscripts and ethnographic material.

EXO GONIA – MESA GONIA

Exo Gonia is a small settlement on a steep hill. Eye-catching is the big church of Agios Charalamos with frescos of Christoforos Assimis and the red tiled roofs instead of the traditional blue domes.

Mesa Gonia was a centre of wine production of Santorini. As a result of the earthquake of 1956 this village was almost completely destroyed. Many inhabitants moved to the coast, especially to Kamari.

The church of the Panagia of Episkopi is one of the most important churches of the Byzantine time. It was founded in the year 1115 by Alexios I. Komnenos. Major renovations had to be undertaken first after a fire in the year 1915 and the after the earthquake of 1956. The marble floors and marble pillars were taken partly from Ancient Thera. You can still see the Dorian capitals.

KAMARI

Kamari is the main summer resort of Santorini. It is located 10 km from Fira at the south-east coast. Endless black sandy beaches with a promenade, modern restaurants, bars and cafés. An open air cinema and various shops are also located here. In Kamari you can find all kinds and categories of accommodation, basically cheaper than on the caldera side, but still only 15 minutes away. There are good bus connections available all day. 

Impressive are the huge rock cliffs of the Kavos Mesa Vouno at the south end of the beach.

 ANCIENT THIRA

The second important period in the history of Santorini is linked with the city of Ancient Thira. The excavation there, begun in 1896 by Baron Hiller von Gaertringen in the area of Mesa Vouno, revealed ruins of a town which bore evidence of settlement as early as the 9th century BC. The mountain of Profitis Ilias, Santorini's highest peak runs eastward into the lower rocky outcrop of Mesa Vouno. These two mountains are joined by a ridge named Sellada.

 Mesa Vouno, with an altitude of 369 metres, extends from west to south and its steep slopes plunge to the coast at Kamari to the north side and Perissa to the south.

 This naturally fortified spot was an ideal place for the Spartan colonist to found their city, and they built two roads, one to Kamari beach, where they had their port (ancient Oia), and the other to Perissa. The strategic location of the town was appreciated later by the Ptolemies. In the 4th century BC, the most important era in the history of the island, Ancient Thira was transformed into an Egyptian naval base with the installation there of a large garrison.

The excavations 

 Excavations in the area have brought to light a Hellenistic settlement that stretched from north - west to south - west. It was about 800 metres long its greatest width was 150 metres and was split in two by a central street, from which many side streets branched off. Because of the sloping terrain, many of the alleyways were stopped. Of the buildings that have been discovered, the public ones were constructed of dressed limestone blocks, a material found in abundance on the island, while private houses were made of small stones of irregular shape. 

The arts : The earliest art form found in Ancient Thira is pottery from Geometric period. Thanks to the burial customs many works of pottery have survived in reasonably good condition. Thiran ceramics of that period and later, in the oriental style, were influenced by neighbouring Naxos.

Nevertheless, the pottery from this time is perhaps the only work that can be attributed to Thiran craftsmen. This is because from the 5th century BC and afterwards, the development of ceramics in other region (Attica, Rhodes, Corinth, Ionia) and the location of Thira at a crossroads on trade routes made it easy for the island to accept the wares of potters of other regions, and so local production stagnated.

Apart from ceramics, examples of the plastic arts (sculptures) have also been also found in Thira. Although it developed after pottery, perhaps because of the absence of the raw materials needed, such as marble, Thira has given us some of the most monumental sculpture that we know, (Kouros, 6th century).

PERISSA

Perissa is located in the south-east of Santorini, about 13 km from Fira. It is a well developed summer beach resort that offers the comfort and all the amenities active holidaymakers expect. Shops, restaurants, bars, discotheques, car rentals, laundries and water sports are offered here. Especially during the summer months a lot of backpackers and young clientele gather here. The black beach with fine sand is even longer than the one in Kamari, bordered on one side by the giant rocks of Mesa Vouno.

The church Timios Stavros is the second biggest of Santorini. It was built about 150 years ago but also had to be renovated after the big earthquake of 1956.

The chapel Agios Katefiani is built high up on the rocks and looks from the distance like a white spot.   

MEGALOCHORI

Megalochori is located about 9 km south of Fira along the road to Perissa and the southern beaches. Tourism does not play a very important role. Highlights of Megalochori are the two churches whose ornate bell towers are built over the main road. On the idyllic Platia Nikolaou you can find small traditional taverns in quiet surroundings.

EMBORIO

On the way to Perissa you will pass the largest village of the south: Emborio. Is is 12 km from Fira and was for many years the commercial centre of Santorini. In the Middle Ages Emborio was a strong fortress, as you can still see in the historical centre as the remains of the Pyrgos Goulas dated back to Byzantine times. Just before you reach the village you can see the small church of Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis, built of grey marble from the island of Naxos, constructed on an ancient sanctuary from the 3rd century BC. South of Emborio on the western hills of Gavrilos there are the remains of 8 windmills. Some of them are not closed so it is possible to have a look inside.

AKROTIRI

The area of AKROTIRI is located on the south west side of Santorini, about 15 km from Fira. This area has slowly developed a touristic infrastructure over the past years, such as hotels and taverns. Nice views to the caldera are also possible from here. Down at the sea there is the small “Caldera Beach” and the fishing port of Akrotiri. Along the road to FARO there are nice small taverns with good view. You can walk on foot to the “Red Beach” or go by boat to the “White Beach”. Akrotiri is the location of the churches “Ipantis of Sotirios” and “Agia Triada”. The famous excavations are 2 km away.

PREHISTORIC THERA: AKROTIRI

AKROTIRI is one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean region. The first signs of habitation date from the Late Neolithic times (4th millennium BC). During the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC), a significant settlement was founded and it was extended and gradually developed by the Late Bronze Age into one of the main urban centers and ports of the Aegean.

Its great development and prosperity are indicated by the large extent of the settlement (ca. 20 hectares), sophisticated multi-storied buildings with the magnificent wall-paintings, furniture and vessels and the sophisticated drainage system.

AKROTIRI had connections to many important settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean like Crete, the Dodecanese, the Geek Mainland, Anantolia, Egypt, Cyprus and Syria. Many imported objects have been found to support this. The material wealth created by these economic activities allowed the inhabitants to invest in impressive buildings, good infrastructure and unique works of art found in AKROTIRI. Not even one building has been uncovered so far that does not display wall paintings and other decorations in its rooms. The former village of AKROTIRI has become a cosmopolitan merchant port. One gets the impression that it was some kind of competition that drove its inhabitants to these extensive decorations. Subject of the paintings are very often exotic scenes and environments that show again the extensive external relations of AKROTIRI´S inhabitants.

This prosperous age found a sudden end around the middle of the 17th century BC. The inhabitants were forced to abandon the area as a result of severe earthquakes. The “Big Bang” followed in the biggest volcanic explosion known in human history. More than 30 km3 red-hot matter of ashes and pumice covered the island and buried AKROTIRI under it. This made the town a “Gold Mine” for archaeologists since the whole town together with its art works and objects of every day life were preserved. The similarity to Pompeji is undeniable. Hence AKROTIRI is also called the “Pompeji of the East”.

The first evidence of ancient AKROTIRI came to light in the second half of the 19th century. Professor Spyridon Marinatos begun much later, in the year 1967 under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens, with systematic excavations. He decided to excavate at AKROTIRI to support an old theory of his, published in the 1930's, that the eruption of the Thira volcano was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization. After his death the excavations were continued under the direction of other learned colleagues.

Only the southern tip of a large town has been uncovered, yet it has revealed complexes of multi-level buildings, streets and squares, with remains of walls standing as high as 8 meters, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. The similarities with the Minoan Knossos are undeniable. AKROTIRI was most probably not a genuine Minoan settlement, since it was inhabited for centuries, but under the cultural influence of the strong Minoan civilization from Crete. The site was not a palace-complex such as are found in Crete, but its excellent masonry and fine wall-paintings show that this was no conglomeration of merchants' warehousing either. A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export.

The houses in Akrotiri are major structures and some of them are three stories high. Streets and squares and walls standing as high as 8 meters indicate that this was a major town. In many houses the stone staircases are still intact, and they contain huge ceramic storage jars (pithoi), mills, and pottery. The most famous archaeological remains found in Akrotiri are wall paintings or frescoes, which have kept their original color very well, as they were preserved under many meters of volcanic ash. The town had a highly developed drainage system and its citizens were clearly very sophisticated and relatively wealthy people, judging from the fine art work.

Pipes with running water and water closets found on Thera are the oldest such utilities discovered. The pipes run in twin systems, indicating that the Therans used both hot and cold water supplies. The origin of the hot water was probably geothermic, given the volcano's proximity. The dual pipe system suggesting hot and cold running water, the advanced architecture, and the apparent layout of the Akrotiri find resembles Plato's description of the fictional lost city of Atlantis, further indicating the Minoans as the culture which primarily inspired the Atlantis legend.

Fragmentary wall-paintings at Akrotiri lack the insistent mythological content familiar in both Greek and Christian decor. Instead, the Minoan frescoes depict "Saffron-Gatherers", who offer their crocus-stamens to a seated lady, perhaps a goddess; in another house are two antelopes, painted with a kind of confident, flowing decorative, calligraphic line, the famous fresco of a fisherman with his double strings of fish strung by their gills, and the flotilla of pleasure boats, accompanied by leaping dolphins, where ladies take their ease in the shade of light canopies, among other frescoes.

The well preserved ruins of the ancient town are often compared to the spectacular ruins at Pompeii in Italy. Unfortunately for would-be visitors the canopy covering the ruins collapsed in September, 2005, killing one tourist and injuring seven more. The site remains closed while a new canopy is built.

 

 

Read 3677 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 12:12
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