9-11 October, 2011
Thira in Greek (but everyone calls it Santorini), an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades group.
My boat from Rhodes was a slow one, leaving at 8am and not arriving at Santorini until 11pm. We did call in briefly at about 5 or 6 other islands (including, I think Patmos), so I don’t think the route was direct by any means.
The main town of Fira, where my lodgings, “Hotel Flora” was located, is on top of the sheer cliff face leading up from the port. During daylight hours there is a cable-car. There is also a pedestrian route via many steps (with donkeys for transport in the day if your luggage isn’t too heavy). Eager to get to my bed quickly, and not keen on stepping in donkey poo in the dark, I took a taxi for 15 euro. The road zig-zagged up with seven 180 deg. switchbacks.
Update: In the harsh light of day, I discover that the preceding paragraph is not strictly true. The ferry docked at the New Port, some kilometres along the coast from the Old Port with the cable car and donkeys.
When I got there reception was closed, but there was an after-hours telephone number posted. My mobile had no carrier signal, but I remembered I have Skype on my netbook computer. I got through and the owner was there in five minutes to show me my room (double bed, en-suite, balcony, fridge and TV for 20 euros per night).
The next day (Monday) was grey and rainy. I took an umbrella, braved the wind and rain and snapped some pics of the spectacular view over the caldera (explanation later).
The island of Santorini today is semi-circular in shape, about 18km long and from 2 to 6 km wide. It was formed as the result of the eruption of a volcano around 1500BC. The former island (Strongyle) was round, about 15km in diameter, and had a tall central cone about 1000m high, with a crater at the top.
When you look out now over the caldera (Spanish for “cooking pot”, referring to the bowl-shaped void left by the collapse of land) to the only remaining bits of earth (Thirasia and tiny Aspro on the other side, and the current volcano, Nea Kameni, in the middle) it is hard to imagine the immensity of the event that blew up a mountain, and sucked it down into the abyss of the crater, 800m deep. The sea rushed in and flooded it creating the present-day lagoon, encircled by Santorini, Thirasia and Aspro. It is thought to have been by far the most violent explosion in recorded history, 4 times greater than that the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.
The people living on Strongyle at the time of the explosion were part of the Minoan civilisation based in Crete. That civilisation afterwards went into decline, possibly as the result of a huge tsunami which swept the coastline of Crete. It seems possible that this historical event is the basis for the myth of Atlantis, a legendary continent with a flourishing civilisation that sank to the bottom of the sea.