The volcanic island of Thira, also known as Santorini, is located to the south of Ios and to the west of Anaphi; it covers an area of about 75 square kilometres. Thira, the nearby islands of Aspronisi and Thirasia and the volcanic skerries Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni and Christiana surround the caldera, which was created by the volcano during the 16th century BC. Moreover, an underwater volcanic crater is to be found to the north of Thira. The island as a whole constitutes a spectacular geological monument and, thus, a remarkably popular destination.
The western section of Santorini is rocky and steep, whereas low hills and plains occupy the eastern part of the island. Despite the remarkably limited water resources, Santorini’s dry volcanic soil has facilitated vine growing. There exist only 7 springs all over the island, 4 of which are thermal. Consequently, Santorinians have constructed several cisterns and wells to collect rainwater. The island is particularly famous for its unique beaches, some of which are characterized by a blackish sand (on the eastern and southem coast), which has resulted from intense volcanic activity. Furthermore, there are several isolated beaches of outstanding natural beauty, which may be accessed only by foot or by means of hiring a donkey. Lastly, Thira boasts some of the most organized beaches in Greece with amenities facilitating all sea sports.
The architecturally exquisite villages along the eastern coast, namely Phira, Phirostephani, Imerovigli and Oia, provide a breathtaking view of the caldera. The main settlement is the stunning Phira, perched on a steep rock measuring 260 metres in height. One wishing to travel to Phira from the nearby harbor can only do it on foot or by using the overhead railway or a hired donkey. Oia is located about 10 kilometres to the south of Phira; it features rock-cut houses with domed roofs and narrow facades, as weel as imposing mansions. The renowned Imerovigli occupies the caldera’s highest area. It is connected to the neighboring settlement of Phirostephani through a cobbled street. The attractive villages of Pyrgos, Emboreio and Mesaria offer a panoramic view of Santorini and the surrounding islands. Densely built Emboreios features narrow streets and lodges, whereas the traditional settlements of Vothonas, Phoinikia and Karterados include rock-cut domestic complexes.
The most widely known archaeological site of Thira is the coastal settlement of Akrotiri, which also happens to be one of Europe’s most significant prehistoric sites. The settlement is exceptionally well-preserved, as it was found buried in volcanic ash. It was established during the 4th millennium and remained in use until the mid-2nd millennium BC; this is when the town, by then a thriving urban centre and a cosmopolitan port, was destroyed, due to the volcano’s eruption. Also significant are the extensive remains of the ancient town of Thira at Mesa Vouno; they include various public buildings, shrines and domestic complexes. The ruins of a temple dating from the 3rd century BC, which has been converted to a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas Marmaritis has been identified in the wider region of Mesa Vouso. Perissa has yielded the remains of a three-aisled Early Christian basilica at the site of the Holy Cross monastery. The archaeological finds from Thira are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Santorini at Phira, where the modern Museum of Prehistoric Thira is also to be found. Furthermore, the restored medieval “Goulas” tower, the Gizi Mansion (end of 17th century), the Catholic Metropolitan church and the monasteries of the Dominicans and the Lazaristes are situated at Phira.
Santorini is renowned for its fine wines, mainly the dry white nychteri and asyrtiko, as well as the sweet red vinsanto (Vino di Santorini). The most common grape varieties are asyrtiko, athiri, aidani aspro, mandilaria, mavrotragano and voudpmato. Other characteristic Thiran products are fava beans, white aubergines, caper and cherry tomatoes. Local cuisines includes delightful dishes with meat, mainly kid or rabbit, quails, seafood and fish, such as bouillabaisse and cod served with garlic puree, the famous tomato-balls and a large variety of cheese. Desserts often contain sundried raisins.