Thanks to its
extraordinary beauty, Santorini is one of the major
tourist attractions of Europe. With its marvelous
climate and perfect observation conditions, its prominent
caldera it is also an eldorado for volcanologists.
group of Santorini is the most well-known and active volcanic
centre of the Hellenic Volcanic Arc in the south Aegean
Sea. It is a complex stratovolcano with a large caldera
created by several large explosive eruptions. The
different products of ca. 2 million years of volcanic
activity have accumulated around a small non-volcanic
basement, that once formed a small island similar to the
other cycladic islands. Most of the volcanic layers are
visible in the multi-colored sequences of the impressive
steep inner walls of the caldera, striking the visitor
who reaches the island by boat.
The most recent large eruption - the Minoan
eruption - occurred in the late
Bronze Age at around 1640 BC and devastated the Eastern
Mediterranean. It was one of the biggest known volcanic
explosions in younger time. Its deposits form the
characteristic, tens of meters thick layer of white
pumice and ash that blankets almost the whole of the
island group. (Unbelievably, despite its abundance,
pumice is sold in Fira and Oia as tourist souvenirs...)
The Minoan eruption
destroyed a rich and highly developed economic and
cultural centre of that time. Since 1969, intense
archaeological excavations have brought to light an
important Cycladic town which had been buried beneath the
Minoan ash-layer for almost 4000 years. Although it
appears that people had time to evacuate their island in
time before the eruption, carrying most of their goods
with them, the findings from Akrotiri are impressive:
especially, they include well-preserved and magnificent
wall paintings, ceramics and other objects. Thanks to the
work of numerous archaeologists, a new light was thrown
on an important prehistoric period and culture. The
spectacular discovery even induced continuing
speculations that relate the volcanic destruction of
Santorini to the legend of the sunken Atlantis. (for a more detailed
treatment of this subject follow this link)
The awakened interest on
this peculiar island triggered an intensive research, not
only among archaeologists, but also and in particular
among volcanologists. Few volcanoes have been studied as
intensively as Santorini. So far, three large
international congresses only about Thera ("Thera
and the Aegean world") and numerous workshops,
field-trips etc. have been held on Santorini.
Together with Etna (Italy), Piton de la Fournaise
(Réunion, France), Furnas (Acores, Portugal) and Teide
(Gran Canaria, Spain) volcanoes, Santorini was chose as
one of 5 European volcanoes where research had been
focused during a special research project titled
"The European laboratory volcanoes", initiated
and supported by the European Commission.
The international volcanological organization IAVCEI nominated 15 volcanoes "Decade
volcanoes". All of them present a potentially high
risk and/or are specially connected to human histry of
the world: Avachinsky-Koriaksky (Russia), Colima
(Mexico), Etna (Italy), Galeras (Colombia), Mauna Loa
(Hawaii, USA), Merapi (Indonesia), Niragongo (Congo),
Rainier (USA), Sakurajima (Japan), Santa
Maria/Santiaguito (Guatemala), Santorini (Greece),
Taal (Philippines), Teide (Tenerife, Spain), Ulawun
(Papua New Guinea), Unzen (Japan), Vesuvius
The aim the Decade Volcanoes programme was to direct
attention to this selected number of active volcanoes and
to encourage research and public awareness. By this, the
understanding of the volcanoes and the hazards posed by
them has been greatly improved during the past years.
Is Santorini an
Yes. Although at present dormant, Santorini has been
active several times in historic time. During the past
time span elapsed since its last major explosive eruption
(in about 1640 BC) numerous minor and medium-sized,
mainly effusive eruptions have built the dark-colored
lava shiels of Nea
and Palea Kameni inside the
caldera. Their first appearance was witnessed and
reported by Greek and Roman writers. The last eruption
occured in 1950. At present, only fumarolic activity,
mainly inside the recently active craters, which are
easily vistited on a daily basis by hundreds of tourists
during the summer season from May to October.
On few places in the world the relation between volcanism
and human life has been as intense as on Santorini. The
particular conditions developed an outstanding cultural
and artistic style that dates several thousands of years
back. Many things could be mentioned here, but one is (in
my opinion) outstanding: Santorini's architecture.
Its origins are found in the simple technique of
excavating the light and easily removed pumice and the
necessity to collect rain water. The special properties
of the volcanic ash allow to build easily water-proof
cisterns and vaults. Also, protection from the strong
winds, the abating light, and the inspiring, spectacular
landscape play an important role. These factors have led
to a perfect treatment of spaces and light, where the
basic forms of the cube and the vault are dominant. The
ever-varying ensembles of such simple geometric forms,
full of grace and harmony, yet are always functional.
Perhaps they are without equivalent, and have ever since
fascinated the visitor.
A sad word:
One sad word should be said here, too. Unfortunately, a substantial part of
modern building (and other) activities on Santorini have
lost their original sense of proportion.
Houses and buildings are growing at a monstrous speed.
Mass tourism is dangerously taking over, leaving few
places unaffected. Almost everywhere the results of the underlying
temptation to make quick money are visible.
Santorini's face is changing, and some of its natural
treasures have already been lost. Santorini, once called Kallisti,- the most beautiful one-, is no longer
an idyllic place, but some of its once legendary
beauty and magic still remain and hopefully will be preserved for the future, too.
Click on an image to see the larger
Location of Santorini.
Firostefani and Nea Kameni in the background.
The historically active crater of Santorini's Nea Kameni volcano.
of the Santorini island group (courtesy of Birke
Schreiber, homepage: Santorini für Individualisten).
Ever looked for a really good topographic map of Santorini?
Here it is!
View of the
200m-high caldera cliff at Cape Alonaki. The top
layer is the ca. 40m thick Minoan pumice (BO =
"Bimsstein, oberer"). The lower half of the
cliff section is composed by the rests of an early
stratovolcano (lavas of Cape Alonaki, ca.200-250 ka). In
the middle part, the cream-white colored lower pumice
series (BU1 and 2) are visible.
the main town Fira. At right, Nea Kameni. In the
background the south tip of the Akrotiri peninsula.
not only offer nice beaches and a relaxing vacation...
...but it is
also a paradise for walking tours. For information
on organized walks and/ or geologic excursions,
*Photo from a group in May 97 at the cliffs near Akrotiri.
still used as the main transportation method in the
narrow streets of the old parts of villages.