Greece/Denmark: Day Four — Exploring Santorini 2

Today was a busy day of sightseeing: a 4 hour tour of the whole island. In my previous visit to Santorini, 10 years ago, I only briefly visited Thira and Oia. Today we saw the whole island, which has several villages. Unfortunately, we saw so very much, I will probably distill it down to just the broadest highlights!

The Beaches

Santorini has several beaches commonly referred to as red sand and black sand beaches for the obvious reasons. The black sand beaches (there seem to be more than one, though they are all basically along the same, very long stretch of the east side of the island) are populated with grass beach umbrellas along the water and numerous bars and cafés on the other side of the street. The crystal clear water gets very deep very fast!

A couple of beaches are up against some extremely dramatic cliffs with the oddest sheer-faced rock formations I’ve ever seen—not much beach in front of them, but gorgeous and as remote as one can get on Santorini. One beach, red beach, is very small, very deep, and bordered by tall red rock cliffs. The area is “officially” restricted from use because of a rock slide that fell from the high cliff above into the sea, completely blocking part of the beach. The path to this area was rather an unpleasant (jagged rock-filled) walk. Again, like the other beaches, this area was beautiful. Apparently the Greek people tend to vacation at the beaches and not so much at the caldera on the west side of the island.

Megalochori Village

One of my favorite villages was Megalochori village. We drove through it. Thank goodness our guide was driving a small car. Literally, there was about an inch between us and the stone walls of the village houses and shops lining the narrow street. In narrow places we had to creep through at 1kph so as to negotiate the confines of the street itself. I have no idea what you do if you come upon a vehicle coming toward you—back all the way out of the village or to the village square I guess? Very quaint. Very picturesque. Very narrow.

Pyrgos Kallistis

We quickly (regrettably) walked the village of Pyrgos (We had to get to the Minoan archeological site at a specific time.) which is filled with narrow walks and the stunning unexpected at every turn, this area was worth a lot of pictures. The rain and rush only allowed for a few; so, we might head back here. Christopher, our guide, said that the locals of Pyrgos will frequently invite people in off the streets to have lunch with them.

Moni Profitou Iliou

Next we went up to the highest point of the island, μοναστήρι, where a monastery sits—amazing real estate! The 360° views were stunning and only equaled by the force of the wind gusting over the island. You can see the entire island and caldera from here.

Minoan Ruins in Akrotiri

The Minoan ruins in Akrotiri deserve a full post. This is the archeological record of an advanced civilization that existed as far back as 4,500BC. The city was destroyed, entombed, by the great eruption of the island volcano about 3,600 years ago. It appears that the Minoan people had time to escape as no bodies have been found in the city, only the skeleton of a single pig. Either the people left before the eruption or were killed at some other location on the island. However it happened, their civilization ended abruptly. Anthropologists speculate that they relocated on a nearby island before the eruption but were all killed by the resulting tsunami.

Their buildings were elaborately decorated, including frescos that are replicated in our man cave at Dana Villas! The women wore eye makeup, jewelry, and even painted their finger nails. They had indoor plumbing, a sewer system, even indoor commodes. Much of their lives was preserved by the volcanic ash that covered their city so quickly. Unfortunately, the third floors of their buildings were all blasted away by the eruption, but the first two floors all remained in good shape. The volcanic rock absorbed the centuries of moisture, ideal for preservation: beds, ornate wooden furniture (long since rotted but reformed with negative space infusions), large vases (by the hundreds and hundreds) were all found. These artifacts, save for the commode which remains on site, are located in 3 museums across Greece.

If you have an interest in anthropology, I highly recommend a visit to the archeological site. You can walk around and even in the ruins. The location is very well designed and maintained to actually feature the excavation. Fascinating and well worth the time!

Greek Customs

I’ve also seen so many “shells” of houses and buildings around the island. I asked Christopher if these were projects that were started and then stopped due to the financial crisis that gripped the world, and especially Greece. He said certainly many were. But, apparently the Greeks have a very different tradition from the west. When a daughter is born, the parents usually begin a house for her and gradually build it as she grows up. She is given the house when she is ready to marry. This tradition is sort of the opposite of the dowry concept of the west where wives were purchased as property. In Greece, brides come with their own house. In Santorini, this tradition is more strictly observed than is the case in most of the country.

Amazingly, Santorini has over 500 churches, the overwhelming majority of which are Greek Orthodox. With a population of just around 15,000, that’s a lot of churches! The vast majority of these buildings are exceedingly small, even tiny—more like monuments than places to meet. I really don’t understand this.

Oddly, several of the more popular restaurants were closed tonight. We decided to eat at a very small, cozy restaurant that specializes in crepes. The wind was ferocious, but we decided to eat outside along the edge of the caldera. The waitress wouldn’t serve us out there, saying our food would blow off of our plates and into the sea below. This thought never occurred to me, but she was absolutely correct! So, we were seated behind a wall of glass in a space that was mostly sheltered from the gusting wind. Not only was the food delicious, but this restaurant has a very quaint charm about it. The owners pays attention to even the smallest and most unexpected details, like presenting the check in a tiny, beautifully decorated wooden box and unexpectedly serving guests the island’s finest wine, on the house. A delightful surprise.