Sovereign of the pulses and wings of the Aegean
You sought the words that invoke the Infinite
Through flames through lava through smog
You found the drawn-out paths of your destiny.
(Od. Elytis, “Ode to Santorini” – transl. by the author)
Santorini carries a significant mythological and historical weight. Stepping onto the island feels like entering a different realm, where every corner can tell you a story, where myths and legends come alive. This series of articles aims to guide you through Greece’s most enchanting sites, blending practical travel advice with the rich tapestry of the Greek Mythos. Santorini, the first stop in our long journey, is more than just another picturesque island or a popular summer destination; it’s a gateway to a world where ancient tales come alive amidst breathtaking landscapes.
Greek mythology is more than just a collection of stories; it’s a reflection of our past. Today, these myths continue to captivate us, offering a unique lens through which we can view and experience places like Santorini. As we explore this stunning island, we’ll uncover how its history, culture, and natural beauty are inextricably linked with tales of gods and heroes.
Santorini Key Facts
|Poseidon, Euphemus, Helios
|Creation of Santorini, Atlantis Legend, Volcanic Eruption
|Flight or ferry from Athens; in the Cyclades
Santorini, officially known as Thira, is a gem in the Aegean Sea, famous for its dramatic views, breathtaking sunsets, and characteristic white-and-blue buildings. The island’s history is as rich as its beauty, deeply rooted in mythology and ancient tales. According to legend, Santorini was formed from a clod of earth thrown into the sea by Euphemus, son of Poseidon, creating an island of unparalleled beauty.
The island’s mythological significance is equaled by its historical importance. Santorini has been a crossroads of civilizations, leaving behind a tapestry of cultural and architectural marvels. The Greek island of Santorini is a must-see destination, where myths and history merge with unique architecture and delectable cuisine.
Practical Travel Tips
Visiting Santorini is more than just embracing its mythological past; it’s also about navigating the practicalities of modern travel to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. From choosing the best time to visit to finding the perfect place to stay, these practical travel tips for beginners and experienced travelers alike are designed to help you make the most of your Santorini adventure.
Santorini is well-connected by air and sea, making it easily accessible for travelers. The island’s airport, Santorini (Thira) International Airport, welcomes flights from major cities in Europe, especially during the high season (May to September), and daily flights from Athens, which take about 45 minutes. Of course, you can take a ferry from Pireaus or Rafina and enjoy a 5-hour trip across the Aegean.
Santorini is generally accessible, but its rugged terrain and steep pathways in some areas can be challenging for those with mobility issues. It’s advisable to check accessibility options when planning visits to specific sites.
Best Time to Visit
Santorini’s peak tourist season runs from July to August, with sunny weather and a vibrant nightlife. For a more relaxed experience with fewer crowds, visit during the shoulder seasons of May-June and September-Early October. During these months, the weather is pleasantly warm, allowing you to enjoy the island’s beauty in peace and, possibly, enjoying lower prices.
Duration of Visit
A stay of 3-4 days is usually enough to see the highlights of Santorini, such as its famous caldera, beaches, and archaeological sites. If you prefer to follow a more relaxed pace to enjoy leisure activities, a week-long stay is ideal.
Santorini offers accommodation options for all preferences and budgets. For the famous caldera-view luxury hotels, with infinity pools and excellent breakfast, you could opt for Fira and Oia. For budget-conscious travelers, there are several mid-range hotels and guesthouses, particularly in less touristy areas like Kamari and Perissa, with easier access to beaches and local life. Booking accommodation well in advance is advisable, especially during the peak season, to secure the best options.
Santorini caters to a range of budgets. While some experiences, like staying in a caldera-view hotel, can be pricey, there are also more affordable options available. Planning and booking in advance can help manage costs effectively.
As almost every Greek island, Santorini is equipped with many amenities to cater to your needs. There is a wide variety of restaurants and tavernas, souvenir shops, boutiques, cafes and beach bars. Of course, for basic necessities, you will find supermarkets, mini markets and pharmacies in the main towns, as well as ATMs throughout the island.
Santorini in Greek Mythology
The island of Santorini is a Cycladic canvas where ancient myths come to life. It’s not surprising, given the impact of the unprecedented natural disaster caused by the volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago on the rest of Greece. Most myths of Santorini revolve around this catastrophic disaster, as well as the creation of the enchanting island.
The Creation of Santorini
According to Pindar, the lyric poet, Santorini was created because of a superstitious sailor! Euphemus, one of the Argonauts, when in Libya, took a small marble of dirt out of the hands of Triton. One night, Euphemus had a weird dream that made him feel regretful. Then Jason advised him to throw away the marble, and from there Kallisti grew. Medea foretold that after 17 generations, people would come from Libya and build the famous town of Thera.
The Eruption of Santorini’s Volcano
There are numerous myths about the eruption of Santorini’s volcano. It is said that Phaethon, the son of the sun god Helios and the water nymph Clymene, once wanted to drive his father’s chariot. Despite Helios’ warnings, Phaethon grabbed the chariot’s reins. However, he was unable to maintain a firm grip on the horses. As a result, he kept driving the chariot close to the Earth, where the land burned and dried up, and then farther away, where the land became frigid. Some associate that myth with the eruption of the volcano.
The eruption is also linked to the rivalry between Poseidon and Athena. It is said that after losing to Athena in the contest to become the patron deity of Athens, Poseidon sent a monstrous flood to the city and caused massive waves in the Aegean. These waves could be a tsunami caused by the volcano’s eruption.
Santorini and the Legend of Atlantis
Another captivating myth associated with Santorini is its connection to the lost city of Atlantis. The legend of Atlantis, first mentioned by the philosopher Plato, tells of a highly advanced civilization that sank into the ocean in a single day and night of misfortune. Many historians and mythologists speculate that the story of Atlantis was inspired by the catastrophic volcanic eruption on Santorini, which led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization. The latter is supported by the fact that Atlantis consisted of two islands, a greater and a lesser one, which could have been Crete and Santorini respectively.
Santorini in Ancient Greece
Santorini is an island also steeped in rich historical significance. Santorini’s history represents the eternal struggle between man and nature. As the natural elements linked to volcanic eruptions raged, the people of Santorini have found ways to survive and create a magnificent civilization throughout the centuries.
The Ancient City of Thera
The ancient city of Thera, established around the 9th century BC, holds a pivotal place in Santorini’s history. Perched on the ridge of Mesa Vouno mountain, it was a city-state that flourished during the Hellenistic period. Thera’s strategic location made it a vital maritime hub, influencing trade routes in the Aegean Sea.
Excavations in Ancient Thera have unearthed a wealth of artifacts, including inscriptions, sculptures, and pottery, which provide insights into the city’s social, political, and religious life. The ruins include remnants of temples dedicated to various gods, an agora (marketplace), a theater, and a gymnasium, painting a vivid picture of a bustling ancient city.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was eventually abandoned, though the exact reasons are still debated among historians. Unlike Akrotiri, which was preserved under volcanic ash, Ancient Thera shows no evidence of a sudden catastrophic end. Instead, it appears to have declined gradually, with residents possibly leaving in search of better opportunities as the city’s importance faded.
Akrotiri: A Bronze Age Gem
The ancient Greek city of Akrotiri is often compared to Pompeii. It is a well-preserved prehistoric town that was buried in volcanic ash around 1627 BCE. This Bronze Age settlement is thought to have had strong ties to the Minoan civilization on Crete. The myth of Atlantis possibly sprung out ot the town’s destruction.
The excavations at Akrotiri have yielded a plethora of artifacts that provide insight into the lives of its inhabitants. The frescoes in particular stand out for their artistic quality and the light they cast on the Minoan-style wall paintings.
Exploring the Location: Santorini
Santorini’s caldera, formed by one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in history, is a natural wonder that dominates the landscape. Furthermore, the caldera’s cliffs provide panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the deep blue waters of the Aegean. A boat tour around the caldera offers a unique perspective on this geological marvel, allowing visitors to appreciate the formation’s sheer size and beauty.
The Red Beach, named after its stunning red volcanic rocks and sand, is a natural wonder. This beach, located near the ancient site of Akrotiri, serves as both a place for relaxation and swimming, as well as a stark reminder of the island’s volcanic nature. The contrasting colors of the red cliffs, blue sea, and black sand create a surreal and captivating landscape, ideal for both photographers and nature lovers.
Perissa’s stunning long black sand beach is ideal for all ages and provides all of the amenities you need, including restaurants, snack bars, and water activities.
Santorini’s volcanic soil has produced some unique grape varieties, making the island’s wineries a must-see. These wineries not only offer tastings of unique wines such as Assyrtiko, but also provide information about the island’s viticulture history. Many wineries are located in scenic areas and provide tours that combine wine tasting with breathtaking views of the island.
Sunset Views in Oia
No trip to Santorini is complete without witnessing the famous sunset in Oia. This picturesque village, with its white-washed houses and blue-domed churches, provides an ideal setting for the stunning sunset. Here you can see the sun setting into the Aegean Sea, painting the sky orange and pink. It is almost a magical experience that captures the beauty and romance of Santorini.
However, keep in mind that it is a very popular tourist attraction, attracting hundreds of people, so arrive about an hour before sunset to ensure a good spot.
Santorini is not yet another rocky island in the Cyclades. It’s a natural wonder, with myths woven into the landscape itself. From its blue-and-white houses to the majestic caldera, and from pearly beaches to the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, the island exemplifies the enduring power of the past.
Few islands can match Santorini’s breathtaking view. This island serves as a reminder that mythology is not a relic of the past, but rather a living, breathing part of our world that invites us to explore and discover.
FAQs about Santorini
Yes, many believe that Santorini’s massive volcanic eruption and the destruction of the Minoan civilization on the island inspired the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
Ancient Thera was a prosperous city-state in the Hellenistic period, known for its strategic maritime location and cultural diversity.
Yes, the prehistoric town of Akrotiri and the ruins of Ancient Thera are significant archaeological sites, offering insights into the island’s advanced Bronze Age civilization and Hellenistic period.
The Volcano of Santorini
Santorini, also known as Thira or Strongyli, is an island in the south Aegean Sea and is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.
The history of the island is directly linked to the volcano of Santorini and its activity.
Santorini and the Chariot Of Phaethon
In this myth, Helios, the sun god, rode his chariot across the sky every day.
Helios’ son, Phaethon, envied his father’s power and asked him to drive the chariot himself for just one day.
Helios hesitated, for Phaethon was still young, inexperienced and weak, so he tried to talk his son out of it – but eventually he allowed him to take the reins of the horses.
When the horses felt that their master was no longer dominating, they suddenly got out of control and started jumping up and down all the time. Whenever the chariot got very close to the sun, the earth and the rivers would dry up. Whenever the chariot was far away, the earth was covered with snow and ice.
This turbulence caused Zeus, The Supreme God, great worry, for he wanted to save the earth. So Zeus hurled his thunderbolt at the chariot, turned the horses to stone, and threw the burning body of Phaethon into the river Eridanus in Italy.
Featured Image Credit: Norbert Nagel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons