Greek Islands: Santorini

January 25, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff

We’ll start with Santorini simply because of its spectacular beauty, which also makes it one of the most popular islands. On the southern fringe of the Cyclades Islands, where the Aegean and the Sea of Crete begin to intermingle, Santorini gets its name from 13th century Rome: Saint Irene. But even before then, its beauty was renowned, as one of its earlier names, Kallistē (meaning “most beautiful one”), attests. Another name for Santorini in ancient times was Strogili, which means "rounded" in Greek. Glimpses of the island can be found in the film Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, starring Angelina Jolie.

Born of a Volcano

Like so many of the other islands, this 28-square-mile land mass was the spawn of a volcanic eruption. In fact, it’s the caldera itself, the famous submerged volcano crater filled with deep blue water, that makes Santorini’s views so breathtaking; see for yourself on a live Webcam.

The sunsets have been described as the best on earth, but the flocks of tourists who come just for the prodigious nightlife swear the sunrises are pretty dazzling as well. Many revelers bracket their after-dark partying by viewing the fiery orb’s fall and rise.

That leaves the daylight hours as the ideal time to pass out on any one of the beautiful black sand beaches, or the especially dramatic Red Beach on the western part of the island. Hint: the White Sand beach is near here, too, but only reachable by caique (small fishing boat) from the Red Beach. 

Art, Culture, and History

But the geography isn’t the only daytime attraction. There are no less than nine museums on the island of Santorini, a testament to its rich history. The small Archaeological Museum in Fira has some sculpture worth viewing and takes less than an hour to see everything, which makes it a nice appetizer to the more substantive Museum of Prehistoric Thera. The Naval Maritime Museum, tucked into a 19th century mansion, is a draw for fans of all things nautical. Other standouts include the Museum of Minerals & Fossils; the Megaro Gyzi Cultural Center (one of the few 17th century mansions that survived the 1956 earthquake); and the Lignos Folklore Museum, which offers a glimpse into how tradesmen of the past plied their craft: carpenters, barrel makers, shoemaker and tinsmith workshops— even a old wine cellar with treading vats you’ll want to sink your toes into. Then see how the other half lived at the George Emmanuel Argyros Mansion. Oenophiles will love the Wine Museum, in a natural underground cave 300 meters long delineating a 300-year history of wine dating from the mid-1600s. The Icons & Relics Collection of Pyrgos is housed in an old church with an impressive array of religious icons.

But probably the most striking “museums” are the ones created by nature: the archeological sites of Ancient Thira and the Akrotiri Excavations, featuring astounding wall paintings, relics and foundation outlines from the17th to the 20th centuries B.C.

Ideal Villages

From ancient cities to modern, the capital city of Fira is noted for its lovely architecture, plethora of pools, and stunning churches, such as the Catholic cathedral. But, in truth, blue domes crowned by crosses dot the island. The village of Oia has a strong following that believes it to be the most beautiful setting on the island. And then there are all of Santorini’s villages, making the contest an impossible one. But Oia has its share of hidden treasures, which incites the imagination to go exploring in all of them. You can even enjoy a little taste of Santorini at home by recreating its culinary predilections.

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