The Island of Thira (Santorini)


Our first visit to this island was in June 2004, and of all the islands we have visited, perhaps this is the most breathtaking.There are so many excellent pictures of the island on the internet, that we don't attempt to give you a full idea of what we saw. But we cannot resist showing you some of the features that took our attention.



A panoramic view of the caldera seen from the north. It is easy to understand, yet hard to believe, that this is a result of a volcanic explosion in the 16th Century BCE. It is the largest Caldera in the world. The island in the centre, Nea Kameni is the present volcano.


 Some visitors seemed disappointed by the volcano itself, expecting fire and cinders. Well, the ground is burning hot and the smell of sulphur powerful. And these craters are from eruptions in recent living memory.
Good enough for me.

A hot spring (more like hot mud bath) on the edge of the volcano island.
Approaching Fira quayside from the Caldera.
The castle is built into the rock.




So typical of Santirini, it is not surprising that photographs of the island feature the most in Greek travel literature.
View across the Caldera seen from Fira.
Cruise ships call in regularly to Fira. In this view from the cable car, we can see two, with their tenders ferrying their passengers to the quay.

I knew that June 8th was an important date for astronomers, the first transit of Venus across the Sun for 122 years. I had planned to set up my own crude experiment (using binoculars to project an image on a card) later in the day, but it wasn't necessary.

On the Fira quayside we met Dan Benedict of "Eye on the Sky", from New Jersey, USA. He had arranged a Mediterranian cruise that would land in Santorini on the day. His viewer is a lot better than mine would have been! We are grateful to Dan for the chance to see this important event.

If you want to check the details (Scientific American May 2004) you will find that the transit of Venus was first seen n 1639 by Jeremiah Horrocks, who lived near where Kate and I spent our childhoods. His friend, William Crabtree also saw it, near where we live now.

Dan Benedict runs a website which is well worth a visit.

And there it is, Venus in transit.
(Only in Greece the Goddess Venus is known as Aphrodite.)
The town of Oia is remarkable, every one is determined to have a view over the Caldera.
Note the old ruins in the centre.


The harbour at Oia, accessible down a long flight of steps.


A pair of mooring bollards, only on closer inspection they prove to be a couple of old cannon concreted into the harbour wall!


Time to relax



Akrotiri, the village from the time of the Minoans, destroyed by earthquake and volcanic eruption about 1550 BCE
The excavation is to be protected by a new roof which was under construction when we were there. When it is finished, the old roof will be removed. In the meantime, there is a great deal of temporary scaffolding and protective sheeting about and not a lot of light because of the work going on. Consequently, I offer just this one photo.



This odd piece of topography is actually a layer of pumice, and I took the photo to indicate just how deeply Akrotiri, indeed the whole island had been buried.

At the other end of the scale, on a mountain-top, the ancient town of Thira. Abondoned a mere two thousand years ago.
A roadway in ancient Thira.
Then, as now, water is a critical problem. In ancient Thira they collected rainwater in cisterns for use during the summer, a practice still used. (But because of the growing tourist trade, the island now has a desalination plant.)
Looking down on Perissa from the track up to Ancient Thira.
A view from the top of the Venetian Fortress at Pyrgos, looking across to the new Airport. What is interesting here is how the old fortress has been adapted to present day needs. You can see modern buildings making use of the ancient walls.
A view of present-day farming in Santorini. Tomato plants in the foreground, vineyards beyond, planted in pumice. There are no streams or rivers on the island. The winter rains are completely soaked up by the pumice. This leads particularly to humid nights in summer. No irrigation is needed anywhere. No wonder volcanic regions are so productive! (And Santorini wines are something special).
Since the old methods still work, they are still in use. This farmer finds donkeys very effective.
These farm animals have a special use:-
A line of six animals being used for thrashing. Near the man in red, there are two smaller mules whilst the larger horse is on the outside. They simply trot round and round like a troupe of circus horses. The man in white is forking the corn under their feet.
Kate examining the product, finding the grain amazingly well separated. After all, a technique that has been used for countless centuries must be good.

And Finally:

This girl with Kate had just opened a cafeteria near the Venetian Fortress in Emporio. She taught Kate the correct way to make iced coffee, a local speciality. She is typical of the people of Santorini, having a disarming friendliness to all tourists.

We hope she does well.