Santorini

Santorini, Greece

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Santorini is the volcanic caldera that gave us the legend of Atlantis -- and one the most romantic and scenic places in the Mediterranean!




Why You Have To Visit This Place

The eruption of Santorini caldera in 1625 B.C. changed the course of Western history!  The Minoans dominated the entire Mediterranean for centuries with their military and trading fleet. They were the most advanced civilization on earth at the time, having indoor running hot and cold water, indoor toilets, multi-story houses, public water and sewer systems, and advanced art, architecture, and pottery.  It is thought that the catastrophic eruption of the Santorini caldera with its weather-changing ash cloud and tsunami were factors in their downfall, perhaps in conjunction with other natural disasters, but the dating of the Santorini eruption is problematic; it seems a little early, as archealogists would place it closer to 1500 BC.  The earlier date comes from only one charred olive tree found in the ash on the island, and the radiocarbon date has significant uncertainty.  But the story fits remarkably well with Plato's description of Atlantis, the advanced civilization that disappeared into the sea!


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
     The Myceneans came to power after the Minoans, and then the Greeks, and then the Romans.  Imagine if the Minoans had never fallen, so that the Greeks and Romans had never risen to power.  How different would the world be!  Language, culture, government, art, architecture, language -- all in the West come from the Greeks and Romans, not the Minoans.  I wouldn't be writing this in English.  I may not live in a republic, and my nation's capitol would certainly not be a dome with columns.  All this, because of an eruption at Santorini.  What delicious food for thought!
     Oh, and Santorini is one of the most beautiful places you'll ever visit!





Travel to Santorini

Getting There:  Catch a flight from Athens.  Numerous cruise ships stop at Santorini, but that's only a choice if you like being one of a big herd.  Best to go off-season, too, when the cruise ships aren't around.
Getting Around:  Rent a car so you can see the whole island.  I recommend the smaller companies that are NOT at the airport -- you'll pay double at the airport.  See if your hotel can arrange a shuttle for you, and inquire about parking -- it's severely limited in Fira (Thera) and Oia.
Money:  Because Greece has had such terrible monetary problems, many restaurants and small businesses require cash.  ATMs may still limit how much you can withdraw.  Inquire ahead (your hotel staff will be very helpful online), and be prepared to be flexible.
Water:  Plenty of places sell safe bottled water for reasonable prices.  Keep a lot with you -- Santorini can be hot.
Food:  Oh boy, are your taste buds going to love this trip!  Dive into the fresh seafood, found everywhere, and traditional Greek favorites.  There is no shortage of great restaurants.  Don't be afraid to venture out into the smaller towns away from the touristy areas in Oia and Fira.
Lodging:  You can stay almost anywhere -- the island is small.  Shop around for the accommodations you desire.  Lovers and honeymooners -- stay in Oia!

See my "Volcano Primer" page to learn the rock types and features you'll see at a volcano.

The Island is shaped like a "C" with a volcanic island in the middle.  That means that no part of the island is very wide, and there are awe-inspiring views from almost everywhere.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Panorama of the caldera from Fira (Thera). The volcanic island Nea Kameni last erupted in 1950, and has recently shown signs of activity. Yes -- Santorini is still an active volcano! It also had a destructive earthquake in 1956.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
We stayed at the Tzekos Villas hotel, and absolutely loved it! Many hotels feature spectacular views like this.

Akrotiri  

36.351045, 25.402936  This is the "Pompeii of Greece," a town buried by the Minoan eruption in 1500 - 1625 BC, and it is not to be missed.  Follow the road signs, but have a good map with you (many are locally available).  It's at the south end of the island, toward the west, and it's down close to the beach.  The entrance is small, and is on the left just past the big parking lot.  It helps to look at Google Street View before you go.

You'll want a tour guide, and I recommend Nikos Kaldrimidis, the best tour guide I've ever had anywhere! I've not been able to find his current contact information, but perhaps you'll have better luck. If you want a real Greek experience and you liked your guide, see if you can go out to lunch with them, and let him or her pick the place.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
(Above) The Akrotiri excavation is covered by a protective roof that lets in light and air.
The remarkable things you'll see here include master stonework, multi-story houses and commercial buildings, layers of pumice and ash in the fatal eruption layer, big black "bombs," rocks that were blown out of the volcano from below and crashed all over the island, sophisticated pottery, the civil water system, and even a two-story house with an upstairs toilet!



Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Look at the posters near the entrance, which show progress during excavation. Seeing what the archaeologists first saw helps you understand the ruins.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The structure built over Akrotiri is anchored deep, and the excavation walls of the pilings let you see the ash layering.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The Minoans had advanced construction techniques like these close-fitting, mortarless blocks.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The Minoans also had multi-story buildings including houses. The tallest building in Akrotiri was 5 stories tall!


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This bakery/granary contained a lot of pots. I like how the archaeologists kept some of the pots as they were found. This is what's missing at Pompeii, where all of the buildings are empty.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Here's another look at the pots.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Akrotiri featured a town drainage system, the walled channel left of center in this photo. Buildings also had indoor running hot and cold water! The pipes were square, made of stone.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
These stairs were probably broken in an earthquake associated with the eruption. This quake and the small initial eruptions are likely what warned the Minoans to evacuate the island.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This was a bakery.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The Minoans had multi-story houses like this one, complete with a toilet on the second floor (the chair-shaped enclosure in the back corner) that had running water.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
(Above) The Minoans were not very tall!

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
(Above) Looks like someone left in a hurry! These tables were ready to be packed out, but didn't make it.

The South

Wander around the rim road, take every appealing turnout, and soak in the views!  Here are the locations of some great view spots:   36.364966, 25.379721  36.362673, 25.387594  36.362163, 25.419647  


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
(Above) Panoramic view of the caldera from a scenic turnout on the rim road on the southern part of the island.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Palea Kameni (left) and Nea Kameni (right) are the youngest parts of this volcanic complex.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Nea Kameni last erupted in 1950, and has been rumbling recently.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
From the south end of the island, Thera almost looks like bird droppings!

The entrance to the southern quarry is about here: 36.363093, 25.422557 It's a dirt road. The island was quarried extensively for the pumice-rich ash until 1986, when the quarries were closed to preserve the island. You will see black rocks in walls and paths all over the island. They are pieces of older volcanic rocks that were blown out during the violent Minoan eruption. They were by-products of the pumice quarries.
   Near the bottom of the quarries, look for a white layer of pumice and ash about 6 feet thick. Just below it is the soil the Minoans lived on. Remember, it is seriously illegal to remove artifacts from Greece, so if you find something, enjoy the moment and put it back.
   Above the pumice layer contains surge/pyroclastic flow deposits that blasted down the volcano's slopes. They can look like rippled sand dunes in places. Look for bombs (the black rocks) and the sags they made in the ash they landed on.
   Above the surge deposits are denser pyroclastic flows from the really explosive phase of the eruption. The upper, buff-colored layer above the white layers is the last of the pyroclastic deposits. The only younger volcanic rocks you'll see are on the islands in the middle of the caldera.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The southern quarry is accessed by a dirt road to the right in this view.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
A nice view of Pyrgos Kallistis near the center of the island.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Thera is built on the Minoan ash. You can just see the quarry at the upper right in the photo. The lower layers, mostly dark browns, are the basaltic island the Minoans lived on. Santorini is an interesting volcano in that it has erupted both basalt and rhyolite (the dark and light rocks, respectively). That means it has tapped at least 2 magmas at depth.

Port Road  36.382654, 25.433722

The road that winds down to the ferry port is worth the drive. The entrance off the Fira-Akrotiri road is a little obscure, but there are signs to the Port. It's also by a nice blue-domed church and a sign to "Suites of the Gods" resort.
The upper part of the road cuts down through the Minoan ash, which will look familiar from the quarries. Below that ash are the older volcanic layers, which are chemically different, more basaltic (dark, and richer in iron and magnesium) and less rhyolitic (light-colored, rich in silica).

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This view from near the top of the Port road shows the curvature of the southern caldera quite nicely. The "hole" in the middle is actually 3 overlapping calderas. The southern one formed in the 1600 BC eruption.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The Minoan ash is the light-colored layers at the top. The cross-cutting brownish layers below are older volcanics erupted from the same volcanic complex.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This is how geologists spend some of their time on Santorini - looking at the pre-Minoan volcanic rocks. The Minoan ash is the light-colored layers above.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Farther down, the road also cuts through the much older metamorphic rocks that formed the initial crust of the island before the volcanics. These rocks are quite interesting because they contain graphite schist. You can identify it by its slippery surfaces. The wrinkled, orangish rocks are the older metamorphic "basement" of the island. The volcanic rocks above lay on the island's old eroded surface.


The Fira (Thera) Quarry

At the south end of Fira is the other big quarry. The entrance dirt road is about here: 36.414178, 25.433330 You can see the same pyroclastic layers here, but because this is closer to the volcano, the bombs and pumice pieces are bigger. 


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This is a view of the quarry from the Tzekos Villas hotel at the south end of town. Quarries were the main industry for over a century, shipping the ash and rocks for use in construction around the region. Quarrying only slowed down when tourism picked up.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The wormhole-like patterns were made by excavation. The real volcanic layering dips to the right in this photo. This is the north quarry wall right by the town.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Bombs (black) and pumice (white) along the Fira quarry access road at the south end of town.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The Minoan eruption featured fearsome rock fragments like this raining from the sky along with the rush of hot, toxic, suffocating ash and gases. The rock fragments are pieces of older volcanic rocks coughed up by the explosive eruption.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Look how the bomb just right of center put a dent in the ash layers below! The white chunks are pumice.

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
Hotels in Thera are awesome!

Museum of Prehistoric Thera (in Thera/Fira)

This museum is a must-see on Santorini. Because the ruins of Akrotiri are so fragile, the wall murals and other objects were removed for preservation. Most are in the archaeological museum in Athens, but some good ones are here.   The Minoans were remarkable artists, which is a sign of an advanced civilization. 



Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
The murals of blue monkeys are fascinating not only for their paleo-psychedelic vibe, but also because they indicate the breadth of trade the Minoans had with African countries.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This three-legged marble table is remarkably like ones I saw in Pompeii, over 1600 years younger!


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
These clay stamps show remarkably fluid motion, more sophisticated than any other art in the world at that time.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This marble challis was carved on a lathe, remarkable for that age.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
This is the famous golden bull, which demonstrates advanced metallurgy.


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com
I was fascinated by the bent-goose-neck pitchers because they are incredibly smart -- they require very little movement to pour the entire contents of the pitcher into waiting guests' cups!

Oia

Okay, it's not all about Geology! Oia is one of those irresistible, romantic, unforgettable places you'll dream about for years. It's the town at the northern tip of the island. Take the road from Thera and park in the lot at the end if you can find room.
   A favorite for visitors is experiencing the remarkable sunset from Oia. Get a table at a west-facing restaurant if you can! The view over the Mediterranean is breathtaking. Oia gets busy at sunset, so get there early.


   Just enjoy the photos!


Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com

Santorini Greece island volcano caldera Minoan eruption geology travel copyright rocdoctravel.com


Related Websites:  

VisitSantorini.com
Lonely Planet's Santorini website
Museum of ancient Thera
Akrotiri


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