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Thera Municipality seal


Beach of Santorini
Beach of Santorini
Beach of Santorini
Santorini ( , ) is a small, circular archipelago of volcanic islands located in the southern Aegean Seamarker, about southeast from Greecemarker's mainland. The largest island is known as Thēra (or Thira, Greek Θήρα ), forming the southernmost member of the Cycladesmarker group of islands, with an area of approximately and a 2001 census population of 13,670. It is composed of the Municipality of Thira (pop. 12,440) and the Community of Oíamarker (Οία, pop. 1,230, which includes 268 inhabitants resident on the offshore island of Therasiamarker, lying to the west). These have a total land area of , which also includes the uninhabited islands of Nea Kamenimarker, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana (all part of the Municipality of Thira).

Santorini is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current geological caldera.

A giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular, and measuring about , is surrounded by high steep cliffs on three sides. The island slopes downward from the cliffs to the surrounding Aegean Sea. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the sea by another much smaller island called Therasiamarker; the lagoon merges with the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest. The water in the centre of the lagoon is nearly deep, thus making it a safe harbour for all kinds of shipping. The island's harbours all lie in the lagoon and there are no ports on the outer perimeter of the island; the capital, Firamarker, clings to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon. The volcanic rocks present from the prior eruptions feature olivine and have a notably small presence of hornblende.

It is the most active volcanic centre in the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, though what remains today is chiefly a water-filled caldera. The volcanic arc is approximately 500 km long and 20-40 km wide. The region first became volcanically active around 3-4 million years ago though volcanism on Thera began around 2 million years ago with the extrusion of dacitic lavas from vents around the region of Akrotiri.

The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruptionmarker (sometimes called the Thera eruptionmarker), which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of feet deep and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Cretemarker, to the south, through the creation of a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.

The name Santorini was given to it by the Latin empire in the thirteenth century, and is a reference to Saint Irene. Before then it was known as Kallístē (Καλλίστη, "the most beautiful one"), Strongýlē (Στρογγύλη, "the circular one"), or Thēra.

Geologic setting

The Cyclades are part of a metamorphic complex area known as the Cycladic Massif, which formed in Triassic to Tertiary time and were folded and metamorphosed during the Alpine Orogeny around 60 million years ago. Thera itself is built upon a small, non-volcanic basement that represents the former non-volcanic island which was approximately 9 by 6 km in size. The basement rock consists primarily of metamorphosed limestone and schist dating from the Alpine Orogeny. These non-volcanic rocks are exposed at the Profitis Ilias Mountains, Mesa Vouno, the Gavrillos ridge, Pyrgosmarker, Monolithos, and the inner side of the caldera wall between Cape Plaka and Athinios.

The metamorphic grade consists of a blueschist facies resulting from tectonic deformation by the subduction of the African Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate between the Oligocene and the Miocene and represents the southernmost extent of the Cycladic blueschist belt.

Geography

The island is the remnant of a volcanic cone whose top was blown off. The inner coast around the caldera is a sheer precipice of more than 300 m drop at its highest, and exhibits the various layers of solidified lava on top of each other, and the main towns perched on the crest. The ground then slopes outwards and downwards towards the outer perimeter, and the outer beaches are smooth and shallow. Beach sand color depends on which geologic layer is exposed; there are beaches with sand or pebbles made of solidified lava of various colors: the Red Beach, the Black Beach, the White Beach, etc. The water at the darker colored beaches is significantly warmer because the lava acts as a heat absorber.

History

Minoan Akrotiri

The "saffron-gatherers"
Excavations starting in 1967 at the site called Akrotirimarker under the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos have made Thera the best-known "Minoan" site outside of Cretemarker, the homeland of the culture. The island was not known as Thera at this time. Only the southern tip of a large town has been uncovered, yet it has revealed complexes of multi-level buildings, streets, and squares with remains of walls standing as high as eight meters, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. The site was not a palace-complex such as are found in Cretemarker, but its excellent masonry and fine wall-paintings show that this was certainly no conglomeration of merchants' warehousing either. A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export. This Bronze Age civilization throve between 3000 to 2000 BC, and reached its peak in the period 2000 to 1580 BC.

Some of the houses in Akrotiri are major structures, some amongst them three stories high. Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight meters, and indicating this was a major town. In many houses stone staircases are still intact, and they contain huge ceramic storage jars (pithoi), mills, and pottery. Noted archaeological remains found in Akrotiri are wall paintings or frescoes, which have kept their original colour well, as they were preserved under many meters of volcanic ash. The town also had a highly developed drainage system and, judging from the fine artwork, its citizens were clearly sophisticated and relatively wealthy people.

Pipes with running water and water closets found at Akrotiri are the oldest such utilities discovered. The pipes run in twin systems, indicating that the Therans used both hot and cold water supplies; the origin of the hot water probably was geothermic, given the volcano's proximity. The dual pipe system suggesting hot and cold running water, the advanced architecture, and the apparent layout of the Akrotiri find resemble Plato's description of the legendary lost city of Atlantis, further indicating the Minoans as the culture which primarily inspired the Atlantis legend.

Fragmentary wall-paintings at Akrotiri lack the insistent religious or mythological content familiar in Classical Greek decor. Instead, the Minoan frescoes depict "Saffron-Gatherers", who offer their crocus-stamens to a seated lady, perhaps a goddess. Crocus has been discovered to have many medicinal values including the relief of menstrual pain. This has led many archaeologists to believe that the fresco of the saffron/crocus gatherers is a coming of age fresco dealing with female pubescence. In another house are two antelopes, painted with a kind of confident, flowing, decorative, calligraphic line, the famous fresco of a fisherman with his double strings of fish strung by their gills, and the flotilla of pleasure boats, accompanied by leaping dolphins, where ladies take their ease in the shade of light canopies, among other frescoes.

The well preserved ruins of the ancient town often are compared to the spectacular ruins at Pompeiimarker in Italymarker. The canopy covering the ruins collapsed in an accident in September 2005, tragically killing one tourist and injuring seven more. The site remains closed while a new canopy is built.

The oldest signs of human settlement are Late Neolithic (4th millennium BC or earlier), but ca. 2000–1650 BC Akrotiri developed into one of the Aegean's major Bronze Age ports, with recovered objects that had come, not just from Cretemarker, but also from Anatoliamarker, Cyprusmarker, Syriamarker, and Egyptmarker as well as from the Dodecanese and the Greek mainland.

Dating of the Bronze Age eruption

The Minoan eruption provides a fixed point for the chronology of the second millennium BC in the Aegean, because evidence of the eruption occurs throughout the region and the site itself contains material culture from outside. The eruption occurred during the "Late Minoan IA" period at Crete and the "Late Cycladic I" period in the surrounding islands.

The exact date of the eruption, however, is unknown. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the eruption occurred about 1645—1600 BC. These dates, however, conflict with the usual date range from archaeological evidence, which is between about 1550 and 1500 BC. For more discussion, see the article on the Minoan eruptionmarker.

Ancient and Medieval Santorini

Santorini remained unoccupied throughout the rest of the Bronze Age, during which time the Greeks took over Cretemarker. At Knossosmarker, in a LMIIIA context (14th century BC), seven Linear B texts while calling upon "all the gods" make sure to grant primacy to an elsewhere-unattested entity called qe-ra-si-ja and, once, qe-ra-si-jo. If the endings -ia[s] and -ios represent an ethnikonic suffix, then this means "The One From Qeras[os]". If aspirated, *Qhera- would have become "Thera-" in later Greek. "Therasia" and its ethnikon "Therasios" are both attested in later Greek; and, since -sos was itself a genitive suffix in the Aegean Sprachbund, *Qeras[os] could also shrink to *Qera. An alternate view takes qe-ra-si-ja and qe-ra-si-jo as proof of androgyny, and applies this name by similar arguments to the legendary seer, Tiresias, but these views are not mutually exclusive of one another. If qe-ra-si-ja was an ethnikon first, then in following him/her/it the Cretans also feared whence it came.

Over the centuries after the general catastrophes of 1200 BC, Phoeniciansmarker founded a site on Thera. Herodotus reports that the Phoenicians called the island Callista and lived on it for eight generations. Then, in the 9th century BC, Dorians founded the main Hellenic city - on Mesa Vouno, 396 m above sea level. This group later claimed that they had named the city and the island after their leader, Theras.Today, that city is referred to as Ancient Theramarker.

Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica, written in Hellenistic Egypt in the 3rd century BC, includes an origin and sovereignty myth of Thera being given by Triton in Libya to the Greek Argonaut Euphemus, son of Poseidon, in the form of a clod of dirt. After carrying the dirt next to his heart for several days, Euphemus dreamt that he nursed the dirt with milk from his breast, and that the dirt turned into a beautiful woman with whom he had sex. The woman then told him that she was a daughter of Triton named Kalliste, and that when he threw the dirt into the sea it would grow into an island for his descendants to live on. The poem goes on to claim that the island was named Thera after Euphemus' descendant Theras, son of Autesion, the leader of a group of refugee settlers from Lemnos.

The Dorians have left a number of inscriptions incised in stone, in the vicinity of the temple of Apollo, attesting to pederastic relations between the authors and their eromenoi. These inscriptions, found by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen, have been thought by some archaeologists to be of a ritual, celebratory nature, due to their large size, careful construction and - in some cases - execution by craftsmen other than the authors.

According to Herodotus (4.149-165), following a drought of seven years, Thera sent out colonists who founded a number of cities in northern Africa, including Cyrenemarker.

In the 5th century BC, Dorian Thera did not join the Delian League with Athensmarker; and during the Peloponnesian War, Thera sided with Dorian Sparta, against Athens. The Athenians took the island during the war, but lost it again after the Battle of Aegospotami.

As with other Greek territories, Thera then was ruled by the Romans;it passed to the eastern side of the Empire when it divided - which now is known as the Byzantine Empire.

During the Crusades, the Franks settled it, while in the 13th century AD, the Venetians annexed the isle to the Duchy of Naxosmarker and renamed it "Santorini", that is "Saint Irene". Santorini came under Ottoman rule in 1579.

Modern Santorini

Santorini in the Greek State

Santorini became independent from Ottoman rule in 1821, during the Greek War of Independence and was united with Greece in 1830 under the Treaty of London. In 1956 a major earthquake and a volcanic eruption resulted in the demolishing of many buildings on the island, leading to the desertation of many of its villages. Nowadays due to the expansion of tourism, the island has gained great wealth and population. Its major settlements include Fira marker, Oiamarker, Emporio, Kamarimarker, Perissa, Imerovigli, Pyrgosmarker, and Therasiamarker. Akrotirimarker is a major archaeological site, with ruins from the Minoan era. Santorini's primary industry is tourism, particularly in the summer months. The island's pumice quarries have been closed since 1986, in order to preserve the caldera.

Aridity

Santorini has no rivers, and water is scarce. Until the early 1990s locals filled water cisterns from the rain that fell on roofs and courts, from small springs, and with imported assistance from other areas of Greece. In recent years a desalination plant has provided running, yet non-potable, water to most houses. Since rain is rare on the island from mid-spring till mid-autumn, many plants depend on the scant moisture provided by the common, early morning fog condensing on the ground as dew.

Wine industry

The island remains the home of a small, but flourishing, wine industry, based on the indigenous grape variety, Assyrtiko, with auxiliary cultivations of two other Aegean varietals, Athiri and Aidani. The vines are extremely old and resistant to phylloxera (attributed by local winemakers to the well-drained volcanic soil and its chemistry), so the vines needed no replacement during the great phylloxera epidemic of the early 20th century. In their adaptation to their habitat, such vines are planted far apart, as their principal source of moisture is dew, and they often are trained in the shape of low-spiralling baskets, with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds.

The viticultural pride of the island is the sweet and strong Vinsanto (Italian: "holy wine"), a dessert wine made from the best sun-dried Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani grapes and undergoing long barrel aging (up to twenty or twenty-five years for the top cuvées). It matures to a sweet, dark amber-orange, unctuous dessert wine that has achieved worldwide fame, possessing the standard Assyrtiko aromas of citrus and minerals, layered with overtones of nuts, raisins, figs, honey and tea.

White wines from the island are extremely dry with a strong, citrus scent and mineral and iodide salt aromas contributed by the ashy volcanic soil, whereas barrel aging gives to some of the white wines a slight frankincense aroma, much like Vinsanto. It is not easy to be a winegrower in Santorini; the hot and dry conditions give the soil a very low productivity. The yield per acre is only 10 to 20% of the yields that are common in Francemarker or Californiamarker. The island's wines are standardised and protected by the "Vinsanto" and "Santorini" OPAP designations of origin.

Agriculture

Due to its unique ecology and climate, and especially its volcanic ash soil, Santorini is home to unique and prized produce. The Santorini tomatoes are renowned; they are cherry tomatoes that are extremely flavorful and sweet, and with an intensely red, staining color. Santorini "fava" (a purée made of the hulled, then sun-dried, then boiled legume Lathyrus sativus - not from the yellow split pea as in the rest of Greece) is considered the best in the world. The white eggplants of Santorini are very sweet, with very few seeds, and can be eaten raw, as though they were fruit. The katsoúni is a unique local variety of large cucumbers which, if left unpicked when green, turn yellow and acquire a sweet taste almost indistinguishable from that of melon.

Recent volcanism

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

Architecture

Houses built on the edge of the caldera
The traditional architecture of Santorini is similar to that of the other Cycladesmarker, with low-lying cubical houses, made of local stone and whitewashed or limewashed with various volcanic ashes used as colors. The unique characteristic is the common utilisation of the hypóskapha: extensions of houses dug sideways or downwards into the surrounding pumice. These rooms are prized because of the high insulation provided by the air-filled pumice, and are used as living quarters of unique coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter, and also as premium storage space for produce and especially for wine cellaring: the Kánava wineries of Santorini.

Airport

Santorini Airport viewed from Ancient Thera
Santorini is one of the few Cycladesmarker Islands with a major airport. It is about 6 km southeast of downtown Thira. The main asphalt runway (16L-34R) is 6972 feet in length. The parallel taxiway was built to runway specification (16R-34L). It can accommodate Boeing 757, Boeing 737, Airbus 320 series, Avro RJ, Fokker 70, and ATR 72. Scheduled airlines include Olympic Airlines, Aegean Airlines and Athens Airways, with chartered flights from other airlines during the summer. Transportation to and from the air terminal is through buses, taxis, hotel car-pickups and rental cars.See also Santorini National Airportmarker.

Volcanic eruption

The physical eruption

The devastating volcanic eruption of Thera has become the most famous single event in the Aegean before the fall of Troymarker. This may have been one of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth in the last few thousand years with an estimated 7 on the VEI (volcanic explosivity index).

The violent eruption was centered on a small island just north of the existing island of Nea Kameni in the centre of the caldera; the caldera itself was formed several hundred thousand years ago by the collapse of the centre of a circular island, caused by the emptying of the magma chamber during an eruption. It has been filled several times by ignimbrite since then, and the process repeated itself, most recently 21,000 years ago. The northern part of the caldera was refilled by the volcano, then collapsing once more during the Minoan eruption. Before the Minoan eruption, the caldera formed a nearly continuous ring with the only entrance between the tiny island of Aspronisi and Thera; the eruption destroyed the sections of the ring between Aspronisi and Therasia, and between Therasia and Thera, creating two new channels.

On Santorini, a deposit of white tephra thrown from the eruption is to be found, lying up to 60 metres thick overlying the soil marking the ground level before the eruption, and forming a layer divided into three fairly distinct bands indicating different phases of the eruption. New archaeological discoveries by a team of international scientists, in 2006, have revealed that the Santorini event was much more massive than previously thought; it expelled 61 km³ of magma and rock into Earth's atmosphere, compared to previous estimates of only 39 cubic kilometres in 1991, producing an estimated 100 cubic kilometres of tephra. Only the Mount Tamboramarker volcanic eruption of 1815, the 181 AD eruption of Lake Taupomarker, and possibly Baekdu Mountainmarker's 969 AD eruption released more material into the atmosphere during the past 5,000 years.
Recent ISS aerial image of the volcano crater


Speculation on an Exodus connection

In The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Exodus Story, geologist Barbara J. Sivertsen seeks to establish a link between the eruption of Santorini ca. 1628 BC and the Exodus from Egypt in the Bible.

A 2006 documentary film by Simcha Jacobovici, The Exodus Decoded, suggests that the eruption of the Santorini Island volcano (c. 1623 BC, +/-25) caused all the biblical plagues described against Egypt, re-dating the eruption to c. 1500 BC. The film claims that the Hyksos were the Israelites and that some of them may have originally been from Mycenae. The film also claims that these original Mycenaean Israelites fled Egypt (which they had in fact ruled for some time) after the eruption, back to Mycenae. The pharaoh with whom they identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus is Ahmose I. Rather than crossing the Red Seamarker, Jacobovici argued a marshy area in northern Egyptmarker known as the "Reed Sea" would have been alternately drained and flooded by tsunamis caused by the caldera collapse, and could have been crossed during the Exodus.

Jacobovici's assertions in The Exodus Decoded have been extensively criticized by scientists and religious scholars.

Speculation on an Atlantis connection

Archaeological, seismological, and vulcanological evidence has been presented linking the Atlantis myth to Santorini. Speculation connecting Crete, Santorini, and the description of Atlantis from Plato was popularized on The History Channel programme Lost Worlds (episode "Atlantis").

Sea Diamond sinking

On April 6, 2007, the 469-foot cruise ship MS Sea Diamond struck a volcanic reef within the crater and sank the following day, resulting in the loss of two passengers. The Sea Diamond was operated by Louis Cruise Lines, part of a Cyprusmarker-based tourism group. The Merchant Marine Ministry said 1,195 passengers and 391 crew members were on board. The ship settled to the bottom near the port of Athenios. The wreck contains 200 tons of fuel oil and poses a serious threat to the waters of the caldera. Plans are currently being made to salvage the ship, which is resting precariously on an undersea ledge.

Gallery



Image:Blue-dome-Santorini.JPG|Typical Blue Dome at OiaImage:Santorini red beach.jpg|Santorini's famous Red Beach.Image:192869736_c3090f211d_o-1-.jpg|Thira, taken from a ship in the harborImage:Sunset - Fira.JPG|Sunset at FiraImage:Sunset - Oia.jpg|Beautiful Sunset at OiaImage:Viewing Fira from Nea Kameni.JPG|Fira from Nea Kameni Volcanic IslandImage:PrehistoricSite.jpg|Prehistoric Site of AkrotiriImage:Linear A vase.jpg|Linear A script etched on a vase found in AkrotiriImage:010607-0930-17 - Nea Kameni - Krater.jpg|Volcanic craters at Santorini todayImage:Thira0193 Skaros Caldera.jpg|Stairway in Imerovigli, SantoriniImage:Santorini windmills.jpg|The Santorini windmillsImage:Thira Santorini.jpg|Thira at nightImage:Oia at night.jpg|Oia at nightImage:santorini fira 150707.jpg|The city of Fira.Image:Oia flower carpet.jpg|The town of OiaImage:Santorini-Cave-View.JPG|white caved dome

See also



Further reading

  • Bond, A. & Sparks, R. S. J. (1976); The Minoan eruption of Santorini, Greece. Journal of the Geological Society of London, Vol. 132, 1-16.
  • Doumas, C. (1983) Thera: Pompeii of the ancient Aegean. Thames and Hudson, London, 168 p.
  • Pichler, H. and Friedrich, W.L. (1980) "Mechanism of the Minoan eruption of Santorini." Doumas, C. PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC CONGRESS ON THERA AND THE AEGEAN WORLD II.


Notes

  • Forsyth, Phyllis Y.: Thera in the Bronze Age, Peter Lang Pub Inc, New York 1997. ISBN 0-8204-4889-3
  • Thera (Santorin) - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  • Global Volcanism Program: Santorini
  • History Channel's "Lost Worlds: Atlantis" archeology series. Features scientists Dr. J. Alexander MacGillivray (archeologist), Dr. Colin F. MacDonald (archaeologist), Professor Floyd McCoy (vulcanologist), Professor Clairy Palyvou (architect), Nahid Humbetli (geologist) and Dr. Gerassimos Papadopoulos (seismologist)


References

  1. Michaēl Phytikas, The South Aegean Active Volcanic Arc: Present Knowledge and Future Perspectives
  2. C. Michael Hogan, Akrotiri, The Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  3. Minoan Qe-Ra-Si-Ja. The Religious Impact of the Thera Volcano on Minoan Crete
  4. Herodotus iv. 147
  5. Santorini Istoria & Istorika Gegonota. Santorini History
  6. URI Department of Communications and Marketing
  7. "Atlantis" Eruption Twice as Big as Previously Believed, Study Suggests
  8. The Exodus Decoded Office Website


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