Santorini, in its present form, was shaped by a massive volcanic eruption in 1645 BC, when the middle of the island was effectively blown out. This natural disaster probably caused the downfall of the mysterious Minoan civilisation on Crete, at the same time giving rise to the myth of Atlantis. Since then, there have been further eruptions in the area, one of them forming a new island as late as 1950.
Santorini is technically composed of three separate islands: Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi. The main villages on Thira, the largest of the islands and the site of the original eruption, are situated on the sharp cliffs that circle the caldera of the submerged volcano. They offer quite stunning views and one of them, Oia, even claims, perhaps rather immodestly, to see the world’s most beautiful sunset.
There are plenty of things to do on Santorini. Sightseeing highlights include a variety of charming villages, churches and museums, as well as the spectacular scenery. There are a lot of lovely walks around the caldera in particular. Alternatively, you can simply head for one of the many beaches and do absolutely nothing. Most of the beaches feature black volcanic sand, although there is some white sand and even a ‘red beach’.
As elsewhere in Greece, one of the most interesting aspects of Santorini is its history. The remains of the ancient city of Mesa Vouno are still present on the main island of Thira. Colonists from the mainland probably founded this city in the ninth century BC. It remained the only human settlement of any size on the island until the much later Christian era. The most important archeological site to be found on Santorini is that of the even more ancient city of Akrotiri. Arguably the most significant discovery of a prehistoric settlement in the Eastern Mediterranean, this well-preserved location has been described as a kind of prehistoric Pompeii. It certainly makes for a fascinating day of exploration.
Like most of the Greek islands, Santorini has its fair share of nightlife. This is largely based around Fira, the island’s capital, as well as the beaches of Kamari and Perissa, meaning that these areas might not be the best for those wanting a peaceful island getaway. There are a good variety of bars and clubs, ranging in tone from pleasantly relaxed to downright debauched. The island also hosts a summer jazz festival, which attracts bands from all over the world.
Santorini is well connected by ferry to most of the other major islands in the Cyclades, as well as to Piraeus (Athens), Thessaloniki, Crete, Rhodes and Kos. There also plenty of flights available from the mainland. With its intriguing history and unique geological features, Santorini is a great place for a summer break.