Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Santorini - Greek island

Santorini island panorama

Santorini (Greek Σαντορίνη, IPA: ˌsa(n)do̞ˈrini) is a small, circular archipelago of volcanic islands located in southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km south-east from Greece's mainland. It is also known as Thera (or Thira, Greek Θήρα, IPA: ˈθira). It is the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km² (28 mi²), and in 2001 had an estimated population of 13,600. Santorini is essentially what has been left from an enormous volcanic explosion which destroyed the settlements thereon and led to the creation of the current geological caldera. Its spectacular natural beauty along with its eminent nightlife make the island one of Europe's top tourist hotspots.

A giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular and measuring about 12 km by 7 km (8 mi by 4 mi), is surrounded by 300 m (984 ft) high, steep cliffs on three sides. The island slopes downward from the cliffs to the surrounding Mediterranean sea. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the Mediterranean by another much smaller island called Therasia. The lagoon merges with the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest. The water in the centre of the lagoon is nearly 400 m (1,300 ft) deep, thus being a safe harbour for all kinds of ships. The island's harbors are all in the lagoon and there are no ports on the outer perimeter of the island. The island's capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon.

It is the most active volcanic centre in the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, though what remains today is largely a water-filled caldera. The name of Santorini was given to it by the Latin empire in the thirteenth century and is a reference to Saint Irene. Before then it was called Kallistē ("the most beautiful one"), Strongylē ("the circular one"), or Thera.

The island was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history when it erupted cataclysmically some 3,500 years ago, at the height of the Mycenaean epoch. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of feet deep and, according to a theory, its effects may have indirectly led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (70 mi) to the south, due to a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis (see below for detail).

Modern Santorini

Santorini was annexed by Greece in 1912. Major settlements in Santorini include Fira (Phira), Oia, Emporio, Kamari, Imerovigli, Pyrgos and Therasia. Akrotiri is a major archaeological site with ruins from the Minoan era. The island has no rivers and water is scarce. Until the early nineties locals used to fill water cisterns from the rain that fell on their roofs and courts, from small springs as well as by importing it from other areas of Greece. Nowadays, there is a desalination plant that provides running, yet nonpotable, water to most houses. The primary industry of Santorini is tourism and in the summer the island can get quite crowded. The pumice quarries have been closed since 1986 in order to preserve the caldera of Santorini. Santorini is home to a small but flourishing wine industry, based on the indigenous grape variety, Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko vines are extremely old and are resistant to phylloxera, attributed by local winemakers to the well drained volcanic soil and its chemistry. Consequently they did not need to be replaced during the great phylloxera epidemic of the early 20th century. Assyrtiko vines are well adapted to the Santorini habitat and are planted far apart, as their principal source of moisture is dew. They are trained in the shape of low spiraling baskets, with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds. Also unique is the red, sweet and extremely strong Vinsanto. White wines from the island are extremely dry with a strong, citrus scent; the ashy volcanic soil gives the white wines a slight sulphurous flavor much like the Visanto. It is not easy to be a wine grower in Santorini; the hot and dry climate gives the soil a low productivity. The yield per acre is only 10 to 20% of the yields that are common in France and California.

Santorini red beach

In 1707 an undersea volcano breached the sea surface forming the current centre of activity at Nea Kameni, and eruptions centred on it continue — three times in the twentieth century, the last being in 1950. Santorini was also struck by a devastating earthquake in 1956. At some time in the future, it will almost certainly erupt violently again. Although the volcano rests at the present time, at the current active crater [there are several former craters on Nea Kameni] steam and sulphur are given off.

Santorini island is the main location for the film Summer Lovers and subject of a large number of documentary films.

Alistair MacLean's Santorini is a fiction story that takes place in the sea area around the island.

Santorini for tourists

Santorini island could be divided into two parts, the western side of the island and the eastern. To its western side owes Santorini, mainly, its popularity. It is where the caldera is, and the villages, like Fira and Oia are, that are built on the cliff. Therefore on this side of Santorini most hotels have terrific views, of the caldera, volcano, sea and sunset. There is of course a drawback that you have to keep in mind before making your reservation. The majority of the hotels built on the caldera have many stairs, which is usually annoying for tourists not willing to climb up and down all the time. Some of them do not accept children under 13, because they do not offer any children facilities, due to their dangerous location on the cliff. There are hotels that are specially oriented to couples and honeymooners. Most of Santorini luxurious resorts can be found on the western side of the island. Note that not all hotels, which are on the western side of the island offer view, as some of them are located in town.

The eastern side of Santorini resembles to the rest Greek islands. There are many beach hotels, especially in Kamari, that attract also a lot of tourists, mainly youngsters and families. These hotels usually offer larger rooms and pools than those on the other side of the island.

Keep in mind that the rooms’ rates are fixed, by many hoteliers, according to the view of the room,which makes the hotels on eastern side of Santorini much cheaper than those on the western side.

Moreover keep in mind that booking your accomodation in advance would be very helpful, as most hotels have few rooms (usually not more than 20) and get easily full.

Most of the island's hotels are closed during winter. They open during or after Greek Orthodox Easter (April or May) and usually close by the end of October. As in other Greek Islands, July, August and September are considered high season.

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