“Cruising to the Cyclades” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first cruise in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese and this year’s in the Peloponnese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
We made it to Santorini (or Thira), in spite of reasonably strong winds!
We arrived in the famous and huge volcanic caldera of the island in the late morning, had lunch aboard and then went ashore to explore the crater-rim town of Fira, the island’s capital town. There, we visited the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, devoted entirely to finds from the site of Akrotiri (we are visiting it tomorrow), the Bronze Age Pompeii, destroyed and conserved by a volcanic eruption not long before 1,600 BC. It houses a most wonderful collection of remarkably beautiful objects: pottery, household items and some of the extraordinary frescoes that the site is famous for. We then gave our guests a generous amount of time at their own disposal, to relax and enjoy Fira, rejoining them for an excellent dinner of local specialities before returning to our boat.
Today, my image is simply the view across the southern part of the caldera as seen from Fira: one of the quintessential sights of Santorini. It has two main components, both of them unique, one natural, the other man-made.
The most dominant feature of Santorini, and the one that precedes all human activity here and will most likely survive it all, is the caldera itself, an enormous submerged volcanic crater. It was formed by a long series of eruptions over hundreds of thousands of years, most recently by the great Bronze Age eruption of the late 17th century BC. Emitting about a hundred cubic kilometres of material into the atmosphere, it was one of the largest volcanic events to occur during the presence of developed humans in this world. It destroyed the Bronze Age settlements of the island, covering them in the ashes that have preserved them to this day and that now form a layer of pumice that is over 50 metres (160ft) thick in places. It must also have had a major impact on the Aegean in general. What the viewer sees today is an oval rim of steep cliffs, belonging to the islands of Santorini and Thirasia, consisting entirely of volcanic materials: lava and pumice. The caldera measures 7 x 12 km (4 x 7.5 miles) across, the cliffs are up to 300m (980ft tall) and the sea is up to 400m (1,300ft) deep within it. At the centre of the caldera, there are two recently-formed volcanic islets, Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni. There is no better example of a submerged caldera to see…
Equally as striking are the settlements that have formed on the caldera rim: Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. They have been there for centuries, but the modern era of tourism has led them to grow considerably in recent decades. Winding lanes and streets are lined by a multitude of white-washed houses, arranged in tiers on the steep slopes overlooking the caldera cliffs, and often including vaulted rooms cut into the pumice layers. Traditionally, these were used for storing wine and other produce, but today they make for attractive accommodation, protected from the unrelenting heat of the summer season. The traditional homes of Fira and the other villages always included open spaces, today used for countless cafe or restaurant verandas as well as for an ever-growing number of swimming pools… Here and there, domes of churches stick out as minor landmarks between the houses.
We had fun exploring some of the buzzing life of Fira today, enjoying a relaxing drink on one of the innumerable terraces, and most of all enjoying the wonderful views of blue, white and grey. Tomorrow, we will spend a long day on the island, including a visit to Akrotiri and much more…