By Neil Harris on November 23, 2019.
Santorini (Santa Irena, Saint Irene) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. It is the southerly-most island of the Cyclades Islands of Greece in the Ionian Sea.
The island is roughly the shape of a reverse C, the remnant of an enormous volcanic eruption in the mid-16th century BC. The Minoan Eruption was the largest in recorded history, destroying the older island of Thera and devastating the Minoan civilization on what is now Crete, which is about 100 miles to the south, with ash and tsunami. The Minoans were the first advanced European culture.
A huge caldera sank into the Ionian Sea leaving a crescent of pumice and granite on its eastern side. This is the beautiful town of Oia (EE-a). These brave little homes, churches and shops cling to the inner rim hundreds of meters above the flat blue sea, and the rest of the town lies on a gentle downward slope to the east. When approached from a distance, the top of Oia looks like an early autumn snowfall on the Rocky Mountains. The Turks occupied Santorini for generations, and forbade the local population from flying their blue and white flag of their homeland. So they painted.
Santorini is known for its unique vineyards and olive groves on the fertile eastern slopes. There is a black sand beach in the southeast, surrounded by a nest of quiet little inns and hotels. There are no five-star highrises here. Pumice was a big mined export years ago, but Athens wisely put a stop to it. Who could allow this jewel to disappear into so much facial scrub.
Of course tourism is a big industry. Cruise ships arrive from early April to late October. A tender is needed to carry visitors to the new port on the south caldera side. Buses travel the upward climb with seven hairpin turns. Our tour guide said we were very lucky because our driver just got his licence after seven attempts! Some of us laughed.
The old port is further north, below the busy town of Fira, about the middle of the island. There are three ways up or down, a steep switchback path on which you can walk or ride a donkey, and a gondola. We chose the latter because we were told the donkeys go very quickly down. They all know there is food and water at the bottom! Some of us laughed. The donkey is held in great esteem, a symbol to the islanders of hard work and endurance.
The beautiful island of Santorini certainly deserves its reputation as one of the best.
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