We refer to it as one, but actually it is a complex of five islands. Santorini (Thira) is the main island and around it Thirasia and Aspronisi (parts of the ancient Stroggili) and the two volcanic islands Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni.
It was one island named Stroggili (circle in Greek) until about 1645 BC, when the volcano in the middle of the island erupted and Caldera was created. The two volcanic islands appeared much later from various eruptions starting from 157 BC until the last one in the 20th century (1950).
Many reasons made this island famous worldwide and more or less we all have seen a picture of it (it was that picture the travel agency used for Greece). There is a talk about the connection between Thira and mythical Atlantis. Also Jules Verne made Santorini famous with its books “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The mysterious island” where captain Nemo and his crew watch the volcano eruption. He was one of the visitors and scientists that came to Thira during the eruptions of 1866 – 1870 and wrote the well known book just after it. It is really the mysterious island, the volcano rules, the caldera view is the most breathtaking one on the planet!
The lost Atlantis
There is a story thousands of years old about a “lost island” in the Atlantic Ocean. The story was told by the ancient Greeks, and had been handed down from father to son for many generations before the Greek philosopher Plato wrote a famous story about it, about 375 BC.
The island of Atlantis, according to Plato’s story, was really a series of islands. Imagine in the center a hill, surrounded by a ring of water; the ring of water surrounded by a circle of land, then another ring of water and one of land, until there were nine rings of water and nine of land. The islands had been created by Poseidon, god of the sea, for Cleito, his beloved. From their children the king and people of Atlantis were descended. The island was very rich, and the people content. The city was built of black and red stone; the roofs of the houses were of red copper and flashed in the sun; and there were two beautiful temples, one surrounded by a golden wall and the other with silver walls, golden pinnacles, and a roof of ivory.
In 1967, a city buried by a volcanic eruption in 1500 BC., was found on Santorini. Archaeologists say this might be Atlantis.
4.000 Years of History
The human presence on the island seems to be existed since the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. The excavation at Akrotiri has confirmed that man’s activity on the island continues until the eruption of the volcano in around 1500 B.C., which entirely buried the island beneath very thick layers of pozzuolona. All traces of human activity vanished from the island until the end of the 13th century B.C.
According to Herodotus, the island was initially called Strongyle (the Round One). Later, because of its beauty, it was called Kalliste (the Fairest One). To Kalliste, came the Phoenicians and there they settled. After the Phoenicians, the Lacedaemonians arrived and gave the island the name of their leader, Theras. In the 9th century B.C. Thera, became an important point on the communication route between the East and the West of that era and adopted the Phoenician alphabet for writing the Greek language. In about 630 B.C. Therans reached the north coast of the African continent where they founded Cyrene, the only Theran colony. During the Classical period in Greece (5th and 4th century B.C.) Thera did not play an important role in Hellenic events. During the Peloponesian War Thera sided with Sparta, as expected. In Hellenistic times the island’s strategic position made Thera a precious base from which the warring campaigns of the successors of Alexander the Great were launched in the Aegean.
Within the Roman Empire, Thera was nothing more than an insignificant small island. However, Christianity reached early the island and an organized church was already existed by the 4th century A.C. The island was of neither political nor military significance in Byzantine times although Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) founded the church of Panagia Episkopi at Gonia.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade (1204) the Duchy of Naxos was founded and Thera became the seat of one of the four Catholic Bishops of the Duchy. The name Santorini was given at that time by the Crusaders after the church of Aghia Irini (Santa Irene) which some say was at Perissa and others say was at Riva on Thirasia. In the years of Frankish rule (1207-1579) although Santorini experienced the development of cotton cultivation and viticulture, the island suffered as much from piratical raids as from the rivalries between the local Latin rulers or between the Duke and the Sultan.
The Turkish dominion (1579-1821) resulted in the abolition of piracy and the development of international trade. The Santorinians created close contacts with the great harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean (Alexandria, Constantinople, Odessa) where they founded important communities. In 1821, Santorini with its shipping strength, took part in the fight for independence from the Turks, and in 1830 became part of the independent Greek state.
Up until the beginning of the 20th century shipping, textiles, tomato production and viticulture were all flourishing. The change from sail to steam-driven ships and also the transportation of the island’s factories to mainland Greece had a great effect on the island’s economy. After the 1956 earthquake there was a huge decrease in the population and an economic catastrophe. Towards the end of the 70’s tourism began to develop, bringing economic relief to the island.
Santorini is a group of islands is consisted of Thera, Thirasia, Aspronisi, Palea and Nea Kameni (Volcanoes) islands and is located in the most southern part of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, 63 nautical miles north of Crete. The surface area of Thera is 73 sq. km. and its population, distributed among thirteen villages, is 13.600 people, according to the 2001 census.
The present-day crescent shape of the island is a consequence of the activity of the volcano in prehistoric times. The island itself owes its very existence to the volcano.
The last huge eruption of the volcano dates back 3,600 years, to the late bronze age. Thirty million cubic meters of magma in the form of pumice and ash were blown to a height of up to 36 kilometers above the island. Pumice deposits, dozens of meters thick, buried one of the most prosperous pre-historic settlements of that period, feeding the myth of the lost Atlantis.
The mild activity of the volcano after this major eruption continues into the present (the most recent eruption occurred in 1950) building up two small islands within the caldera, Palea and Nea Kameni. These islands represent the volcano’s most recent activity.
The marvelous dry climate and continuous sunshine create year around conditions which are perfect for observation, photographs and videos under an extraordinary variety of natural lights and colors that give the visitor the exceptional advantage of reaching the interior of the volcano by boat.