Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Santorini Sights


Which are the “hot points” of Santorini? Actually,Thira is not only the Caldera. There is so much to discover.Villages that are true jewels, as well as museums and monuments of tremendous importance. Get informed and find out which stones you should pick up to experience the grandeur of Santorini. Everything can be found here!

There are some reasons that make Santorini the most sensational destination. One of these reasons is its geological particularity, for she was born out of the volcanic lava. Continuous lava flow deposits gave birth to this island, whose central part sank as a result of the big volcanic eruption in 1660 B.C. That is how the one and only inhabited Caldera (=cauldron) in the world was formed at a depth of 400m below the sea surface, truly one of the wonders of the world! As a result, in the place of “Strogili”, which was the only island that existed at that time, emerged the islands that we have today: Santorini, Thirasia, Aspronisi and, the newer ones, Palia and Nea Kameni. This Thiran lava became for the people of Santorini the raw material to construct their houses, the so-called “yposkafa” (=dwellings carved in the rock). Due to its volcanic origin, the soil of the island is easy to dig. Later on, they would make mortar out of this very same soil (containing stable materials) and lime to support the vault of the house. In this way, the poor families would have a roof that kept their house warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

In case you do not have much time and not know where to go first, here are the highlights of Santorini that you should not miss:


1) The Akrotiri, where the archaeological settlement of the pre-historic Thira is situated.
2) The Museum of Pre-historic Thira in Fira. You will be impressed with the findings exhibited there
3) The world-famous sunset of Oia – people from everywhere in the world come to live this unique experience!

MegalochoriAlthough Its name means “big village” in Greek, Megalohori is completely the opposite. It is a small village in the mainland of Santorini, actually dug in the bed of a torrent. The 2-3 churches with the elaborate steeples show the locals’ artistry and pure labor of love. Megalohori is famous for its vineyards and three of the most important wineries of the island: Boutari, Antoniou (of the Venetsanos family) and Gavala. Strolling around the village after a swim or going for an evening walk before reaching the more crowded and noisy areas sounds ideal!

Imerovigli
There are not many sights in Imerovigli but the view from here is absolutely breathtaking and there is no doubt it will reward you! It is positioned in the most privileged position of the Caldera overlooking Thirasia at the background. The scenery is so calmful and peaceful that puts you into the high captivating energy of the island! From here you have a panoramic view on the whole island and you will be the first ones to see the pirates or the sunset from the best point of Santorini! And, for sure, should you have time, do not omit seeing Panagia Malteza with the wooden temple. It is said that this icon of Virgin Mary was found in Malta.

Tip: The Castle of Skaros is a post-byzantine monument built by Markos Sanoudos and was used as an observatory. Climb up here simply to gaze across and get lost in the horizon!

Ancient Thira
The archaeological site of Thira dates back to the 8th century B.C. The Lakedaimonians built Thira and named it after their leader. Wake up early –or do not sleep at all!– to drive to Kamari and then continue on foot. Besides the historical significance of the site, you will also have the chance to enjoy the spectacular view. Here you will see the Agora, the Sanctuary of Artemidoros, the Royal Stoa, the temple of Dionysus, the Sanctuary of Appolo Karneios, the Ancient Thira Cemeteries and the Theatre. Everything verifies the remarkable civilization!

KarteradosKarterados is a small village which once used to be a very prosperous place with captains’ mansions. There are two reasons for which it is worth going to Karterados. Firstly, to taste the traditional Santorini “kritharokouloura” (barley twist) at Kalimeris' bakery and, secondly, to find –if you wish– cheap accommodation within a distance of only two kilometres from Fira. Once here, enjoy wandering around the paved alleys of the village and admire the church of Analipsis (Ascension) with the steeples in a castle form!

FirostefaniFollowing the brow of the Caldera, you reach Firostefani, from where you have the best panoramic view on the volcano. The cliff here becomes so steep that it cuts your breath! And, by all means, you have to visit the Conference Center Petros M. Nomikos (tel: 22860-23016/19), where the three-dimensional photographic reproductions of the Akrotiri wall paintings, are all presented together! Between Firostefani and Imerovigli is situated the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos, founded in 1651 by the Gyzis family and dedicated to Agios Panteleimonas, Zoodohos Pigi (Spring of Life) and Agios Nikolaos.

Tip: On the way to Kamari is the Wine Museum (telephone: 22860-31322) housed in the Volcan Wines Winery of the Koutsagionnapoulos family. Here you have the chance to learn everything about the history of the Santorini wine from 1660 to 1970.

Finikia
One of the most beautiful villages of Santorini. A walk to Finikia will make you relax and a visit to Panagia Matrona will fill you up with energy. Walk along the vineyards and light a candle at the chapels of Agia Kyriaki and Agios Konstantinos.

Should you walk up to Kyra Panagia, you will find yourself gazing at the best sunset of your life! Strolling down towards the neighbouring Baxedes region, you can visit the Paris Sigalas winery and relax drinking a glass of tasty wine.

VothonasThis special settlement is built in a ravine five kilometers long. The amazing people of Santorini made their houses on the ravine walls. Using a smear made from volcanic soil they constructed roofs which stand by themselves with no wooden or iron support. It is an opportunity to admire the creativity and practicality of the locals who were sheltered in the “yposkafa” (dwellings carved in the rock). And, for sure, don’t forget to walk up to Panagia Trypa to light a candle!

Tip: In Mesa Gonia you can see whatever was left from the devastating earthquake of 1956. The “kanaves” (cellars carved in rock) reveal the commercial power that Santorini had as a wine production center.

Akrotiri
Akrotiri is a small fish village with no particular interest, but the fact itself that such a remarkable civilisation emerged and flourished here for approximately fifteen centuries, gives it a special prestige. The ancient city of Akrotiri is the most important archaeological discovery in the Eastern Mediterranean. The French mechanic Ferdinand De Lesseps had located the prehistoric antiquities since 1866 but the actual excavations started in 1870 by the French Archaeology School. In 1967, Sp. Marinatos brought to light this amazing settlement. The volcanic eruption (1600 B.C.) covered with lava the ancient city and preserved it in an excellent condition for many centuries, as happened in Pompeii. The fact that it covers such a large area (approximately 200 stremmas = 20 hectars), along with the excellent urban planning and sewage network, the elaborate multi-storey buildings with the beautiful interior decoration (colorful wall paintings), the rich heavy furniture and household equipment… all these are elements that designate the grandeur and significance of this city. Unfortunately today it is not possible to visit it due to propping works of the covering shelter. Visit the Kasteli of the Akrotiri and Goulato, which are really impressive! Also, admire the striking scenery of the white lighthouse on the rocks!

Tip: Akrotiri is the point from which one can take the path leading to the Red Beach or the boat to the White Beach or the dirt roads leading to Mesa Pigadia, Almira, Kampia and Gialos.

Oia
Oia occupies the best part of the island, the northwestern part. The houses of Oia are dug in the volcanic lava, mainly two-storey houses with a very particular character. This is the best choice for those who wish to enjoy their holidays far from very crowded places and experience the uniqueness of Santorini. If Fira is the fancy and glamorous side of the island, Oia is the elitist part. Here you can surrender to the magic of nature that has created this earthly paradise! Spectacular seaview, wonderful architecture, the world famous capturing sunset of Oia with its magical purple colors... these are just some of the reasons that bring here the most famous names of the international jet set!

The Maritime Museum (tel: 22860-71156), housed in a captain’s house of the 19th century, and the Oia Castle are the most important sights.

Pyrgos
Pyrgos is the Medieval Santorini. The Venetian Kasteli is one of the five castle-states built by the Venetians in the 15th century.

The special architecture of the village with its stone houses and the arches gives a different dimension to the island. Pyrgos has become world famous for its devout and unique Easter celebration! Here are the Byzantine Museum, the Folklore Museum of Yannis Chryssos (tel: 22860-31101) and the historical Monastery of Profitis Ilias, from where you can have a spectacular panoramic view of Santorini and the neighboring islands.

Perissa
Perissa is not just the most popular beach of Santorini. Here are remnants of the Byzantine Period, the Church of Agia Irini (Santa Irini, from which the name Santorini derived), the Church of Timios Stavros (Holy Cross) and the Museum of Minerals and Fossils with exceptional exhibits (telephone: 6973-379949).

Tip: A path starting from Perissa leads to the ancient city of Thira on the mountain Mesa Vouno (Profitis Ilias).

EmporioEmporio was the commercial centre of Santorini during the Venetian Occupation. A closed village with a characteristic dialect and its own personality. The narrow picturesque alleys, the castle ruins of Goulas, Kasteli (the best preserved monument, with Palia Panagia) are what has remained to remind days of economic prosperity. The row of windmills on the Gavrilos hill, the Church of Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis (ancient temple converted to a Christian church) and the Ancient Ehentra with the tombs carved on the rock are really worth visiting.

FiraFira is the busiest point of the island. Hanging from the highest cliffs of the Caldera, it attracts thousands of tourists and, as a result, Fira is the most densely built part of Santorini. It would be better to visit Fira in the morning, when it is not that crowded. Have a glance at the Theotokopoulos Square, the meeting point overflowing with cafés and thousands of visitors! Gold Street with the jewellery stores and the commercial center Fabrika are poles of attraction, but you should also go ahead to Budi to enjoy the view of the Caldera. The view is fantastic, as well as the happenings takingplace at that spot.

Now it is time for the Archaeological Museum of Thira (tel: 22860-22217), which includes collections of sculptures and inscriptions from the Archaic to the Roman Period, but also vessels from the Geometric until the Hellenistic Era. Visiting the incredible Museum of Pre-historic Thira (tel: 22860-23217) you will get into the spirit of the civilisation developed at Akrotiri and admire the indelible colors of murals which remained intact under the lava. The Bellonias Foundation is the cultural center of the island, standing out with its colors, yellow ochre and cypress green (tel: 22860-24960), whereas the Gyzis Mansion (tel: 22860-23077) has copper engravings from the 16th-19th century depicting local daily life scenes.

The Santorini Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is situated in a unique position in the Caldera and has wonderful religious paintings created by the Santorinian painter Christoforos Asimis when the church was rebuilt, following the earthquake of 1956. The Catholic Cathedral will impress you with its architecture and steeple. The Catholic women’s monastery, with twelve nuns, constitutes a remarkable monument. In the Folklore Museum, founded by Manolis Lignos in Kontohori of Fira (tel: 2280-22792), you will see a cave with the layers of lava deposits from the volcanic eruptions, as well as an authentic “kanava” (see wine section).

Tip: From Fira one can take the cable car to go down to Gialos. Otherwise you can very well ride a “barron” (donkey!) or walk down 587 steps!

More information about the villages of Santorini in following posts!

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