Santorini: the island of Summer Lovers and Saint Ireni
Leaving Heraklion late afternoon; and witnessing the following morning open, out on the open Sea of Crete as we make our way with celestyal cruises to our first destination – Santorini GR – Σαντορίνη. With its iconic whitewashed homes that tumble down the steep incline ascent and the villages of Fira GR – Θήρα and Oia GR – Οία along with blue domed churches that are closely nestled atop the Caldera Rim.
Shaped by an earth-shattering volcanic eruption, today’s slightly obscured crescent shaped Moon Island known as Santorini, also known as Thera GR – Θήρα is what remains of the ancient crater.
The island of Santorini lies at the southernmost point of the Cyclades (meaning circle) group of islands.
Evidence shows that the area known as Akrotiri GR – Ακρωτήρι on the island of Santorini was inhabited as early as 3600 BC. During the period of 1500 BC, Santorini was known as Strongili, meaning round in Greek.
It was during the early 1300 BC, that Phoenicians known for being prominent traders in the export of snails to extract ink settled on the island and remained until around 1115 BC when the Lacedaemonians, an ancient Greek military power also known as Spartans colonised the island.
The Phoenicians were also responsible for forming the basis for the Hellenic alphabet and language around 825 BC; and are further known for creating the first form of a writing system throughout history. In the coming 7th and 6th centuries BC, Thera was a major trade island of Greece, with neighbouring mainland locations of Corinth and Attica. During later centuries between 300 – 145 BC (during the Hellenistic period) Thera was a strategically important naval base.
Catastrophic change came in many forms during the next 2000 years, in both physical form and rulers of the island. During the period 197 BC and 726 AC the volcanic island erupted four times. Vying empires ruled during the preceding years from 1200 until 1821 with the successful Greek Revolution and Independence. During the Venetian rule the island changed name and became Santorini, given in honour of the islands patron saint, St Irene of Thessaloniki. St Irene was responsible for converting many Pagans to Christianity and died on the island while in exile in 304 AD. The chapel of Saint Irini GR – Σάντα Ειρήνη, is located at the tip of the small adjoining Thirassia Island visible from the village of Oia.
Arriving by sea is truly one of the world’s most captivating views. If you’re planning on staying awhile longer, and looking for some truly spectacular accommodation for Fira, check here, or maybe Oia is more to your liking, check here.
All around me, I hear others sounding out words, like ‘Amazing’, ‘What an extraordinary view’, ‘Incredible’… ‘WOW! Santorini is clearly a place where the superlatives are certainly fitting. The islands striking earthy cliffs topped by a prominent white cap of historic habitation first greet you and smaller ferry boats are bobbing around in the sea waiting to take you ashore to walk the steep near vertical path…or a far less strenuous option to take the cable car. Life always presents choices.
Time permitting; I walk a section along the 9km path that hugs the landscape along the paved cobblestone and narrow pavement, passing through the small hamlets of Firostefani GR – Φηροστεφάνι and Imerovigli GR – Ημεροβίγλι. The pathway is strewn with smaller winding lanes and stairs that lead to many hypnotic placed hotels the cling to the cliffs joining the two villages of Fira and Oia. I found myself pausing for a short time to ‘breathe’ in the strikingly spectacular and breathtaking views ahead, behind and out across the calming Aegean Sea.
Oooh…Santorini, you are everything and more than one has imaged. A postcard vision becomes a reality.
Due to time considerations, I was unable to walk along the cliff to the village of Oia, visible in the distance, so I returned to Fira.
To spend time admiring some of the 250 churches that provides a diverse collection of religious authorities and serves the islands local community. The prominent Orthodox Metropolitan Church with its white domes and gracious arched entrances stands proudly in the centre, amidst other whitewashed buildings.
Clearly St. Irene was successful in her calling.
Passing, the blue domed and white washed Anastasi Church, in Imerovigli.
I make my way to The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, in Fira that can be seen from many vantage points across the island. Built in 1827 with rolling arches and a delightfully peaceful courtyard, the cathedral was restored in 1956 following an earthquake and adorns beautiful frescoes inside, whilst outside offers an impressive view of the caldera and the volcano of Santorini.
The labyrinth of cobble stoned lanes and gleaming white streets are peppered with places to eat and drink, along with an abundant supply of jewellery shops, art galleries and souvenir shops selling an array of Máti.
The Greek Máti GR – Μάτι dates back to the 6th century BC. The Máti, is also known as evil eye; a talisman or apotropaic that is believed to have the power to protect and avert evil influences or bad luck.
The process of casting away the evil eye is referred to as xematiasma and involves an incantation recited three times. What the incantation is can differ according to the family, the region and/or situation.
It’s time for a bite to eat at PK cocktail bar, to admire the view, enjoy the experience and just ‘be’.
With time passing by, I return to the old port descending on foot via the well-trodden now paved path, carved out of the sheer mountainside in 1715 that is used to transport goods and supplies by donkeys, mules and human foot traffic.
Waiting a few minutes at the top of the path for some donkeys being guided by their owner to pass, before continuing down the winding path and encountering a few more donkeys lining the path of steps.
Back at the port and I find myself drinking a girl ‘lemon’ beer and chatting to a Kiwi (New Zealand) woman who now lives and works together with her Greek husband on the island.
Time to pause and ponder for a moment and appreciate where I am and admire the breathtaking views across the Aegean Sea and the unspoilt island of Thirassia GR – Νησίτης Θηρασίας, before taking in the early rays of the sunset that graces the sky and changes the cliff face to burnt orange. Looking to stay in Santorini, you have choice; in fact a choice of more than 1700 accommodation providers offering accommodation for every budget and every occasion.
Looking back across the sea as the small boat returns us to the ship, I wonder – will a return visit to Santorini present and offer an opportunity to experience more of what this island has to share?
I hope so.
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This blog is part of a series of posts about the Greek Islands and ancient historic sites in Greece. I hope you enjoy reading and that I bring some inspiration (if needed) to visit this amazing and magical part of the world. Looking for additional reading on Santorini, check here.
Continue island hopping with me, as I spend time in Mykonos and other islands in the Mediterranean.
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