City Profile of Santorini, Greece: Important Information about Santorini, Greece.
One of the most beautiful and renowned islands in Greece is Santorini. The island’s official name is Thira, while the capital is Fira. When travelers see postcards or pictures of Greece showing white-washed buildings set against cobalt blue Aegean waters, chances are those pictures were taken in Santorini. The island of Santorini is the largest of a group of islands, numbering around 220, known as the Cyclades, which includes other popular islands such as Mykonos, Ios and Naxos.
Santorini is actually composed of six islands, making it a small archipelago. The main island is Thira or Santorini. The other islands that comprise this group are Therasia, Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana. The last four islands are uninhabited since only Thira and Therasia are occupied. Santorini is located at the southern portion of the Aegean Sea, about 200 kilometers away from the mainland. It is about a half-hour flight or an eight-hour ferry ride away from the capital city of Athens.
Measuring slightly over 73 square kilometers, the island is inhabited by about 13,000 people as of 2011. The rest of the people you will see on Santorini are most likely tourists, as it is one of the most popular places to visit in all of Greece. Another feature that makes Santorini unique is that there are no street names on the island. This is simply an indication of how simple life is in Santorini is and how quaint the island is. In fact, it takes less than a day to explore the entire island, although travelers will want to stay much longer in this paradise on earth. In 2011, Santorini has been voted as the Top Island and Best Island in the World by Travel+Leisure Magazine and BBC, respectively.
:: History of Santorini
:: Climate of Santorini
:: Demographics of Santorini
:: Economy of Santorini
:: Interesting Facts about Santorini
:: Things to See and Do in Santorini
:: Customs and Traditions in Santorini
Eons ago there were three small non-volcanic islands in the area where the present day Santorini is located. Due to numerous volcanic eruptions about two million years ago the gaps between the islands had been filled, creating one large circular island with a crater (caldera) in the middle, known today as Santorini or Thira. Santorini has a very dramatic history dating back over 3,600 years ago, as far back as the Neolithic period. The ancients called the island Strongýle, which in Greek means “round” or “circular one,” owing to the original shape of the island. Ancient Greeks also called the island Kalliste, meaning “the most beautiful one.”
The island was unoccupied for a period of time during the Bronze era. However, the later civilizations that settled on what is now Santorini were very advanced. In 1200 BC, the Phoenicians settled on Ancient Thera. In 1100 BC, a group from Sparta called the Lacedaemonian people followed. Archeologists discovered that the inhabitants of the island were using the Phoenician alphabet by 825 BC. As early as the 7th century BC, the island had a strong trade relationship with neighboring islands. Owing to its ideal geographical location, it also served as a perfect naval base.
An ancient advanced civilization of Minoans (Dorians) from Crete settled in the area of Akrotiri on the island around 9th century BC, forming seven villages and leaving behind many relics and artifacts that can still be seen today. Items such as pottery, colorful wall frescoes and evidence of an advanced civilization had been uncovered. Archeological finds in the excavated settlements showed skillful masonry work and sophisticated plumbing system with pipes for hot and cold water. There were indications that wealthy families lived in the ancient town. The relics that can be seen in Akrotiri today have been very well preserved under thick layers of volcanic ash. This is believed to be the largest Minoan civilization outside of Crete.
The archipelago that we see today was created out of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history. The island of Santorini was situated near two tectonic plates. In 1625 BC, a massive volcanic eruption and earthquake destroyed the Minoan civilization and changed the topography of the land. The waves that resulted from the eruption were so massive, it created a tsunami that affected the nearby island of Crete and destroyed the Minoan civilization. While historians may dispute that the Minoans were destroyed by the tsunami, it is because of the volcanic eruption that the remnants of the civilization that settled in Akrotiri were preserved. Because of the natural calamity, the crater collapsed inward and broke the large island into five pieces and creating a 300-meter deep caldera and leaving the island uninhabited for about 300 years.
Some believe that the legend of Atlantis is linked to this event. Since the Minoans that settled on the island showed wealth and an advanced civilization and the natural landscape matched Plato’s description of the mythological lost city, many believe that Atlantis is actually the ancient city of Thira or Thera.
From 1200 AD to 1579 AD, the island was placed under Byzantine and Venetian rule. The island’s name Santorini comes from St. Irene, the patron saint of the island, back in the 13th century, when Greece was part of the Latin Empire.
From 1579 AD to the early 19th century, Santorini was under the Turks. In the 19th century, the island and the main city were officially named Thera. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire referred to the island as Santoron or Santurin, and the colloquial name stuck till today.
It was only in 1821 that it was freed from Ottoman rule, following the Greek War of Independence. It would be another nine years later in 1830 when Santorini became part of Greece, thanks to the Treaty of London.
Today, Santorini is a beautiful island city, bustling with tourist activities especially during the summer months of May to September. It remains as one of the most visited places in Greece because of its natural beauty and splendor.
Santorini enjoys a very pleasant climate, common to many Mediterranean islands. It is warmer during the daytime and much cooler during the evening. The average temperature in Santorini is about 25 °C or 77 °F.
The summer season is the warmest time of the year in Santorini, lasting from May to October. The daytime temperatures range from 22.5 °C or about 73 °F to 30 °C (86 °F) and normally drops after the sun has set. The hottest month in the island is in July. However, even when the temperatures rise, it still feels cool in Santorini because of the cooling effect of the meltemi winds. It hardly rains in Santorini especially during the summer months, so it’s perfect for going to the beach and enjoying a number of outdoor activities. The island receives as much as 12 to 13 hours of sunshine during the summer months.
November up to April are the coolest months, with temperatures ranging from 10 °C to 15 °C or about 50 °F to 59 °F. There is also less sunshine during this time, averaging only about six to seven hours of sunshine during the daytime. During the winter, the temperature drops down to 15 °C (59 °F) in January. Most of the rainfall also occurs during the winter season, particularly in January and February.
Travelers going to Santorini should pack lightweight clothing and be prepared for pleasant warm weather. A hat, scarf and cap are good items to bring, as well as a tube of sunscreen to protect against the hot Mediterranean sun.
The municipality of Thira has a population of over 12,400 people, while the community of Oia has a population of about 1,200. If the total land area of the uninhabited islands is also taken into account, Santorini has a total land area of about 90.62 square kilometers. The islands form a crescent shape and the crater in the center of the islands is considered to be the largest caldera in earth.
Over half a million tourists come to Santorini’s shores every year, the bulk of which arrive during the summer tourist season. Cruise ships and passenger ferries make a stop carrying passengers from various parts of Europe, America and Asia.
The locals are mostly members of the Greek Orthodox Church and make their living from tourism-related industries. It’s not uncommon to find family run restaurants, shops and hotels on the island, run by generations of Santorinians. They are a people known to be hard working, but at the same time, know how to relax and enjoy life.
Tourism is what keeps the island’s economy going. What used to be a fishing village is now one of the favorite island destinations of many travelers from around the globe. The bulk of the people you may run into Santorini are in fact tourists. Over half a million tourists flock to Santorini every year, making it a top holiday destination among the Greek islands. The island of Santorini has consistently been ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world, because of its pristine blue waters and the unique charm that the island exudes. At the same time, the sunset in Santorini is one of the most beautiful and romantic sunsets in the world.
There is also a small wine industry in Santorini that is slowly gaining attention. Using the indigenous variety of grape called Assyrtiko, a sweet delicious wine called Vinsanto is one of the island’s products. Although the production levels are only a fraction of what other wine growing regions produce, both the red and white wines from Santorini have a strong bold flavor that has gained the attention of wine drinkers from around the world. The long barrel aging, usually between twenty to twenty-five years, gives the Vinsanto wines their unique frankincense aroma combined with the scent of citrus and minerals derived from the soil, with layers of several undertones.
Although rain is sparse in Santorini, the volcanic ash soil is very fertile, resulting in crops that have very intense flavors. One of the prized agricultural products from Santorini is sweet cherry tomato, noted for its intense red color that can actually stain. This tomato is made into tomato jelly using traditional wooden utensils. Their white eggplants are famed for their sweetness and can be eaten raw. Large cucumbers called katsoúni are native to the island. They are usually picked while they are still green. However, when left on the vines to turn yellow, the cucumbers develop a sweet taste that is akin to melons. The island also has its own variety of legume called Lathyrus sativus, quite different from the split pea that is grown in other parts of Greece. The seeds are hulled and boiled and turned in Santorini’s own version of fava purée, a favorite Greek side dish or appetizer, usually served together with leafy greens, fish and salty dishes. Travelers going to Santorini should taste some of these homegrown delights when visiting the island.
The topography and shape of the island is one of the features that make Santorini uniquely beautiful. The giant crater at the center of the archipelago of Santorini measures 12 by 7 kilometers. On its three sides, there are steep cliffs that reach up to 300 meters in height. The island of Santorini has the largest caldera in the world. Also, the land itself is made from cooled molten rock, instead of being part of the earth’s crust.
The smaller island of Therasia completes the fourth side of Santorini. On the northwest and southwest side, there is a lagoon that leads to the sea. This lagoon is an ideal harbor for shipping and other port activities, since it is about 400 meters deep. This makes it an ideal stop for many luxury cruise ships. The capital city of Fira is located at the top of the cliff overlooking the beautiful lagoon. This section is considered the most active volcanic center of the Volcanic Arc of the South Aegean Sea.
The beaches of Santorini are quite unique. The color of the sand on its beaches is dependent on the geologic layer that had been exposed through the island’s transformation. Travelers may find beaches with solidified lava pebbles or fine sand in different colors, such as white, red, gray and black. The water is deep blue and crystal clear.
Santorini is very arid. Rainfall is scarce and potable drinking water is hard to find. Locals collect rainwater and use it for their daily needs, while potable water is brought to the island using ferryboats. While desalination facilities are already in place, the water is still not potable and most people and plants are dependent on dew.
The island’s aridness make the plants adapt to the environment. Just like the grape vines in Santorini’s vineyards. They vines are planted far apart and trained to grow in low spirals to form a basket shape to best catch the dew, which is their main source of moisture. The grapes grow inside these natural baskets that also shield the fruits from the wind and the heat and preserve moisture.
Travelers going to Santorini can choose to stay in many family-run hotels. There are also a number of family-run restaurants on the island where you can taste authentic Greek and Santorinian cooking.
Walking around the capital of Fira is inevitable while in Santorini. It’s the most densely populated area, especially during the summer season. There are many souvenir shops, craft stores and restaurants that cater to tourists. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll on the cobblestone streets. Travelers can take in the spectacular view of the crater of the volcano in Fira, due to its elevation. Santorini is a popular tourist destination for those looking for a bit of romance and those looking for an ideal place for a honeymoon. Travelers can enjoy the world-famous sunset of Santorini. The best views are on the western side of Fira. You can go to Oia or just stay and watch the sunsets from one of the buildings in Fira that have balconies made just for the purpose of sunset viewing.
Akrotiri is a must see in Santorini. This is an amazing archeological site of the ancient Minoans that settled on the island over 3,000 years ago. Located on the southwestern side of the island, it has been well preserved since the entire village was covered by ash during the volcanic eruption. Visitors can still see today just how advanced and sophisticated these people were, utilizing fine masonry skills, advanced plumbing systems and many other architectural features well ahead of its time. There is also an Archeological Museum where many of the excavated items can be seen. A highlight of the museum is the well-preserved colorful frescoes that were painted by the ancient Minoans. Some of the most famous one are the Flotilla or ship procession, the Fisherman, Blue Monkeys and Women Gathering Saffron. The museum and site are closed on Mondays and holidays.
Another archeological site that travelers must visit is the Ancient Thira. It is located in the Mesa Vouno limestone cliffs. These are ruins from the early settlers in Santorini, which include Minoans, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks and Venetians. Seeing the ruins will give travelers a peek at an ancient way of life. As with the Archeological Museum, the Ancient Thira site is closed on Mondays.
Beach lovers will enjoy the beaches found in Kamari and Perissa. The sand is black in Perissa because of the volcanic rock from which it came from. The sand is quite grainy and rocky, although the waters are blue and beckoning. These are also noted diving centers. Backpackers usually head to Perissa. This is a big beach side town in Santorini where the rates are cheaper for travelers. On the other hand, travelers who prefer resorts with full amenities resorts will find these in Kamari.
A camera is one of the best things to take with you when you go to Santorini. There are simply too many beautiful sights to capture. Taking a picture of the volcano’s crater rim is a must. From white domed houses lining the cliffs set against the blue Aegean waters, to the real windmills lining the coast, the island of Santorini is a photographer’s paradise. There are also cliffs filled with red rocks or black sand beaches. You’ll also find locals with donkeys or tourists atop these donkeys going for a ride.
In Palia Kameni, travelers can enjoy the hot springs of the island. This is one of the two volcanic islands in the Santorini Caldera. The mud baths provide water that is pleasantly and naturally heated to a warm 33 °C or just about 91 °F. The sulfur at the baths is good for the skin. Travelers can leave feeling refreshed and invigorated.
Travelers may want to learn how to cook some traditional Greek cuisine while in Santorini. One of the most famous places to learn this is in Selene Restaurant in Fira. Traditional Greek and Santorini fare is taught. For only 130 euros for four recipes plus lunch, the restaurant has been teaching travelers for over a decade the secrets to making some of the best Greek dishes, such as keftedes (fried meat balls), melitinia or traditional cheese dessert and cold tomato soup with cheese ice cream. The one-day lesson lasts for about four hours and given any day of the week except Thursday.
Travelers can also visit the wineries on the island. These are unique compared to other vineyards because the grapes grow in baskets low on the ground and don’t use arbors like wineries in France and California. End the wine tour with some wine tasting and purchase a few bottles of Vinsanto to bring home with you. Some wineries date back to the 1830s and can also be found in places where famed Santorini tomatoes are grown and harvested.
There are many traditional customs that are still observed in the island of Santorini today. Taking things slowly or in a leisurely manner is a way of life in Santorini. It’s not uncommon to find men in cafes or elderly people holding on to worry beads (the Greek rosary) in their hands.
When breaking ground for the construction of a new home, a priest is called in to bless the site. Coins are thrown on the ground in the four corners of the home for good luck.
Religion plays a big role in the lives of the Santorinians. There are over 300 chapels and churches on the small island. The Easter season marks the beginning of the summer season in Santorini. Locals celebrate in a variety of ways. Villagers hang red fabrics from their balconies starting Maundy Thursday and start dying eggs in red to represent the color of life. The crucifixion is reenacted. On Good Friday, the females of the island decorate the epitaphs in the central square using flowers picked from their gardens. A midnight mass service features monks taking down an icon of Christ from the cross and wrap it in white linen before being laid in a flower-adorned and covered casket (epifatios). During the evening hours of Black Saturday, the streets are lit with oil lamps in the village of Pyrgos, and the devout carry lit candles as they follow the casket as it is carried around the village. The streets will be heady with the scent of flowers and perfumes that the devout throw on the casket during the procession.
Sweet items are not eaten on Good Friday, in memory of the suffering of Christ. Bakeries and homes are busy cooking a number of Easter treats, such as cheese pies, cookies, melitinia and tsoureki. The Easter fast is broken after Christ’s Resurrection and in the early hours of Easter Sunday, after the midnight procession, people go home to partake of mageiritsa soup made from the innards of lamb. After the soup, the red-dyed eggs are cracked. A bigger feast follows where family members congregate to have roasted lamb and other delicacies.
Instead of birthdays, Santorinians celebrate Name Day. This is the celebration when the baby receives his name after the first year of life. This custom isn’t native to Santorini as most Greeks celebrate this way.
Every June 23, the feast of St. John the Baptist is celebrated. During the evening hours, May wreaths are collected and burned. The villagers jump over the bonfire that has been created for good luck.
Finally, tourists should withhold from breaking plates while eating out. While this custom may seem like a lively thing to do, it’s not very practical and is no longer practiced. Locals and tourists conduct themselves with decorum in Santorini, since everyone is here to have a good time. In place of plate smashing, rose petals are thrown. It’s cheaper and doesn’t cause any injuries but it expresses the same enthusiasm, passion, joy or high spirit of life or “kefi.”
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