The Cyclades are the most famous island group consisting of about 2200 islands, islets and rocks in the Aegean Sea. The most popular among them are Andros, Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos, Amorgos, Syros, Paros and Antiparos, Ios, Santorini (of course), Anafi, Kea, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos, Folegandros and Sikinos, Milos and Kimolos and many others.
There is no doubt that they are among the most beautiful islands worldwide since they are the Cyclades nymphs turned into islands by the God of Sea (Poseidon) who was furious with them, as the myth goes.
The name of the formed archipelago means “circular islands” (“kyklos” means “around” in Greek) since in ancient times it was created around the sacred island of Delos which is the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, according to the Greek mythology. More info about the islands and the whole group could be found if you Visit Greece .
S A N T O R I N I ( T h í r a )
When we speak about Santorini we always bear in mind the island itself but, actually, it is a circular archipelago that is the southernmost member of the Cycladic islands. The Santorini island complex consists of two inhabited islands (Santorini and Thirassià) and three uninhabited ones (Aspronìssi, Palea Kamèni and Nea Kamèni).
The tiny archipelago, situated around 200km southeast of the Greek mainland, is still an active volcano and most probably the only one on Earth whose crater is in the sea. The huge volcanic explosion of 1400 A.D. destroyed the central parts of the formerly single circular island and as a result of this, the island of Santorini took the form of a crescent; its devastated central parts were flooded by water and the geological water-filled caldera was created (400 metres deep below sea level and size is 8x4km); the smaller surrounding islands of the island complex were formed.
Nowadays Thìra is one of the most visited Hellenic islands. In 2012-2013 it ranked second in the world in terms of the annual number of visitors, according to a Canadian survey, as far as I know. And it’s absolutely justified as the island is a true precious gem in the Aegean Sea. Even its ancient names underline its extreme beauty. When it was in the hands of the Phoenicians, it was first called “Calliste” or “Kallisti” (“kalliste“ is the female form for “the best” or“the most beautiful”; just a short note here: the ancient Greeks always named islands using female forms). After that the island was named after its next colonizer – Theras, son of Autesion and the name Thìra (Thera) is still one the two official names of the island. Another ancient name was Strogili or Stronghyle which meant (“the round one” or “the rounded one”) because of its circular shape. The second official and better known name of the island, i.e. Santorini, was given by the Venetians in 1204 whose rule started after the Fourth Crusade and lasted for three centuries (between the 13th – 15th centuries). They named it after the Chapel of Aghia Irini or Santa Irini in Latin. The Chapel was built in a small bay on the island of Thirassià where the Venetians moored their boats.
Sooo, what’s Santorini (Thìra) famous for? For many things, I can assure you. 🙂 It allures with its beautiful white-washed houses and blue-domed churches, its deep, blue, crystal, clean water of the caldera and white-, red- and black-sand beaches with volcanic pebbles as well as with stunning views from the famous “Caldera’s eyebrow” (it includes Fira, Oia, Imerovígli and Firostefáni) and awe-inspiring sunsets over the caldera from the town of Oia.
Yes, for sure, white-washed houses form the idyllic landscape of the Cycladic islands. They are built directly and amphitheatrically into niches on the cliffs and are like cave houses with tiny, cobbled alleys between them. And why are they in white & blue? They are painted in white lime water because it keeps them cool during hot summers (whitewashing is carried out three times a year) and on the other hand, thus they look more aesthetic. And the domes of churches on the island are in blue because the colour symbolizes sea and waves. Or in other words, the whole white-blue landscape of the Cycladic islands is, actually, Sky-blue-white (i.e. the Hellenic national flag). 🙂
There is a variety of beaches on the island of Santorini. There is no doubt that the Red Beach of Akrotíri is the most impressive one with the red rock formations and unique volcano landscapes. Even more unique is the White Beach. Just imagine black sand from the volcano mixed with grey-white pebbles and gigantic rocks around. Nice, a? And of course, there are some white-sand beaches in addition. Notwithstanding, the seascape of Santorini isn’t perfectly completed without its deep, blue, crystal, clean, alluring water of the caldera…
Every sightseeing tour certainly starts with the modern capital of the island – Firà, whose name comes from the alternative pronunciation of the ancient name of the island, i.e “Thera” or “Thìra”. The city houses the Santorini Archeological Museum and the Museum of PrehistoricThera. The cable car connecting the old port with the capital is really very convenient. Just a short note about the port. It is called Skala Pier and is for cruise ships only while there is another bigger harbour – Athinios (the new port), that is for ferries and commercial boats.
Another impressive town is Oia whose name is pronounced [‘i.a]. It is famous for being the place of the most beautiful sunsets on the island. There is a particular site from which the watching of the sunset is thought to be spectacular. But believe me it’s not a good idea to go there for two reasons. Firstly, at sharp 7.30pm (the time of the sunset) it is overcrowded with people and if you want to enjoy the sunset from there and take photos of the setting sun, it won’t be possible since you will see and photograph only the heads of the spectators in front of you. And, secondly, after the sunset spectacle these crowds of people jam up the tiny, cobbled and winding streets so that you need more than half an hour to reach the central parts. That’s why it’s highly advisable to sit in one of the numerous restaurants or cafés facing the caldera and watch the sunset with a glass of local wine from there.
It is absolutely a pleasure to visit Ancient Thera. It is the site where one dives into the ruins of the ancient city and at the same time they are surrounded by the views to the caldera. These views to the blue infinity are to be seen also from four other villages collectively known as the “Balcony to the Aegean”: Mesa Gonia with its traditional Cycladic architecture, Exo Gonia with the Church of Panagia Episkopi, Pyrgos Kallistis with the ruins of the Venetian Castle and with the magnificent views of Santorini in almost all directions and “the wedding town” – Imerovìgli. The latter is the best known town on Santorini that has a growing reputation as a wedding and honeymoon destination for couples and newly married both from Greece and all over the world. Its landscape is dotted by amphitheatrically located white-washed houses in harmony with brides’ snow-white wedding dresses and the deep, blue caldera in front corresponding to bridegrooms’ navy blue suits. It’s a like a fairy-tale in which one sees princesses and princes in their white-blue kingdom. There is another fascinating town on the island, namely Akrotíri. It is famous for two things: for the Red Beach and for being the Pompeii of Santorini.
Being on the island of Santorini, avail of visiting some of the other islands of the archipelago. There are one-day cruises that allow you to visit Nea Kamèni, Palea Kamèni andThirassià. Nea Kamèni is a volcano-island. The trip to the crater takes about 40 minutes in one direction. The worst part is the climbing under the sun and over stones. But it’s not that bad if you are well-equipped and have a bottle of mineral water. 40minutes is almost nothing and that torture is compensated entirely by the wooow views from above. Boats don’t stop on Palea Kamèni but anchor close to the shore where enthusiasts jump into the water to swim either in the cold or thermal waters there. Yes, the seawater there has two different colours and temperature near Palea Kamèni. The blue water is for walruses while the brownish is thermal and is for those who love hot sea baths. Thirassià is a good place to have a rest, take either some fresh sea food or a traditional Greek meal, take a donkey-ride, drink a Frappe or just sit down on a small rock near the shore watching the sea after an intensive day of climbing and swimming.
A visit to Santorini is also a great culinary and wine experience. One indulges in the traditional, exceptional products and locally produced wines from grapes grown in the volcanic soil. Santorini’s cuisine is mainly based on the traditional agricultural products with a unique taste grown in the volcanic soil of the island. Among them, the most characteristic ones that are used as cooking ingredients are: Santorinian cherry tomato, fava-split peas, capers (the blossom and leaves of the shrubs of wild capers give sharp aroma and a spicy taste), white egg plants (they have a sweet and juicy taste),courgettes, barley, katsouni (a kind of cucumber) and “hloró tyrí”, (a special kind of fresh goat cheese with a creamy texture and a slightly sour taste).
On the other hand, Santorini offers its visitors lots of traditional desserts like Koufeto (a wedding sweet made of white pumpkin pulp, sugar, honey and almonds), Sisamomelo (sautéed sesame beaten dessert, mixed with honey and cinnamon), Melitinia (traditional Easter dessert made of soft cheese, sugar and mastic) and Santorinian pudding (dessert made from semolina and milk). A favourite drink in Greece and on the island of Santorini, in particular, is A.K.A. Frappé (Greek iced coffee made from any instant coffee, with much or little sugar, evaporated milk and ice cold water).
Santorini vineyard is extremely old. Wines produced from grapes grown in the volcanic soil are unique and exceptional. Assyrtiko, Athyri, Aidani, Mantilaria and Mavrotragano are among the most distinctive and characteristic varieties that can be tasted at the numerous smaller and bigger wineries on the island.
This 15-minute travel-video is a recap on what I retold you about the island. Enjoy it. 🙂
P.S.: I will give you a humble piece of advice. Be careful with the curves along the way and if you travel by bus, never stand upright. Otherwise, you risk falling down on the alley between the seats and get lividities. Being dressed in a short white skirt and having such lividities on your legs, you will be in harmony with the Cycladic landscape but that “harmony” will cause you much pain and it hurts. 😉