Culture, Nature


Located in the southern Aegean, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast from the Greek mainland, the partly submerged Santorini (Greek: Σαντορίνη) is truly an extraordinary experience. Cliffs up to 300 m high rise steeply and reveal one of the most spectacular impressions of the entire Greek island world; the uniqueness of this island is its geological structure and impressive shape. Santorini is actually the name of the entire archipelago, consisting of the main island of Thira (73 km2/28 sq mi), commonly referred to as Santorini, and the smaller islands of Thirassia, Palea Kameni, Nea Kameni and Aspronisi. Furthermore, the islands of Santorini, Anafi, Thirassia, Ios, Folegandros and Sikinos combine to make the province of Thera (Thira).

The current name of Santorini was given by the Venetians, who ruled the islands from 1204. Its origin is the chapel of Aghia Irini – Santa Irini, which overlooked a small bay where the Venetians anchored their boats. However, the traces of the first settlers go much further back to the 5th millennium BC. Later, at the time of the Minoan civilization, inhabiting the Aegean from 3500 BC to 1000 BC the island was considered highly developed, with significant influence on trade, economy, arts and culture.

During this period around 1600 B.C. the catastrophic volcanic eruption that went down in history as the “Minoan eruption” occurred and is considered one of the greatest volcanic events of mankind. The blast, which was about 100 times more powerful than the Pompeii eruption, blew up the interior of the island and changed its topography forever. This immense natural disaster, which cost up to 20,000 lives, formed a crater rim in the form of a crescent. The outer coast of the rim slopes gently into the sea where beaches with black and red lava were formed, and the inner wall plunges almost vertically into the so-called caldera. Subsequent earthquakes and their triggered tsunamis destroyed settlements on neighboring islands all the way down to Crete, where the Minoan civilization was said to have been wiped out. Almost three centuries passed before Santorini could be resettled.     

An earthquake struck the island again in 1956 and was an economic and social disaster. 85% of the island was destroyed, the local population declined sharply, and Santorini only started to revitalize in the late 1970s with the arrival of the tourism industry. Arguably, what contributes to the magical enchantment that surrounds the island is the fact that the island has been repeatedly associated with the mysterious sunken Atlantis. Whether it really is the legendary kingdom that fell into the sea at its peak, as described in ancient writings by Plato, is debatable. It is believed today that this is in the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands.

Santorini is undoubtedly a tourist magnet and one of the most popular islands in Greece, but what many wouldn’t realize is that it’s also one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world. Wine has always been a part of life on the island and some of the oldest vineyards in the world were planted on the island as early as 3,400 years ago after the natural disaster. After the eruption, the island was covered with lava, ash and volcanic rock that was porous, extremely poor in organic matter but rich in minerals that at first glance appear anything but fertile.    

One of the most striking aspects of vine growing in Santorini is the highly unusual traditional technique used to grow the plants. In this unique method, the vines are braided as they grow into a low-lying circular basket shape called “kouloura,” or “paneri,” with the grapes facing the inside of the ring. In this way, the grapes are protected from the strong winds and intense sunlight, as they offer less surface to attack. The condensation water that settles on the plant surface can also be better utilized in this way.

Read the full article in Issue 20

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