Also known as Thira, Santorini
is about 30 square miles in size. It is home to only 8,000 inhabitants in 16 villages, yet sprinkling the landscape are 360 small white churches, a few with domes painted blue to symbolize the sky and heavens. As locals joke, Santorini has more churches than houses, more donkeys than people and more wine than water. Yet the sun is more plentiful than even the sweet wines served at eating establishments and taverns. Visitors come to soak up the sun on the island’s black sand and pebble beaches, then spend the evening in the largest village, Fira. Fira looks like the remaining fringe of a larger metropolis that long ago slid into the sea. It offers a lively array of shops and cliff-side restaurants among a labyrinth of streets made purposefully confusing to outwit pirates, hundreds of years ago.
The atmosphere at night is festive, busy, commercial: yellow lights
from display windows flood the narrow streets. Visitors stroll the
narrow avenues, stepping into shops, traveling to favorite taverns,
munching gyros or gelati. Quiet open-air restaurants by the precipice
are each a stage upon which to view the whitewashed city aglow on the cliffs. The village’s magical moment, though, comes at dusk when the sun, inching below the horizon, washes the white building facades with brilliant pinks and vibrant purples.
Santorini and Myth of Atlantis
Santorini’s role in the myth of Atlantis adds mystique to its reputation. Looking on the map like a snake’s head with its jaws distended, Santorini’s watery mouth was formed by a volcanic cataclysm that swapped land for sea about 1,450 BC, leaving behind the sharply cut rock walls of the caldera and destroying the island’s Minoan civilization. The cataclysm’s earthquake and 200-foot tidal wave devastated the Minoan civilization on Crete 70 miles away. Wiped out by the rage of fire and water, Santorini and Crete fit Plato’s description of Atlantis.