The caldera of Santorini is one of the most impressive spectacles of nature worldwide. It has been captured on the photographs of millions of people from all over the world and has been admired for the colors of the magnificent sunset.
It was created about 3600 years ago when the volcano of Santorini erupted in one of the largest explosions in history, around 1613 BC according to the latest radiocarbon dating. Since then it has maintained almost the same shape, although the subsequent eruptions and earthquakes caused the collapse of some of the most unstable parts of the caldera.
At the edge of the caldera are built many of the villages of Santorini, such as the island’s capital, Fira, Oia and Imerovigli. At its foot lie the spectacular volcanic beaches and ports of Santorini, Athinios, which is where the boats dock today, Gialos from where the cable car starts to Fira, and the port of Ammoudi, below Oia, where you can take the boat to Thirasia, or go for a swim. Further south, below Megalochori, are two beaches with warm waters, Plaka and Therma with the picturesque church of Christ, and even further south, in Akrotiri one can admire a completely different perspective of the majestic, reddish cliff.
Literally, “caldera” means “cauldron” and is a Spanish word. The word is used by the science of Geology internationally to refer to the territorial cavity formed by the receding parts of a volcanic cone or by the erosion of the inner walls. The caldera of Santorini is considered one of the most characteristic, as it was formed when, during the so-called Minoan eruption in 1613 BC, the biggest part of the then single island Stroggili sank, creating what we now call the island of Santorini, Thirasia and Aspronisi – three islands which essentially form the perimeter of the previous island. Nowadays in the center of the caldera are the two small volcanic islands of Santorini, Palea and Nea Kameni, which were created by the subsequent volcanic explosions – essentially the islands consist of cooled volcanic lava.
The diameter of the caldera of Santorini reaches 16 kilometers, while the highest point is located in Imerovigli and is 330 meters above sea level. The most “authentic” form of the caldera today, according to experts, is in Thirasia, as the tourist development of Santorini and the building activity have largely intervened in the landscape. In the caldera of Thirasia, though, and especially at the cape of Tripiti, everyone can admire one of the most impressive formations of volcanic rock, a spot where it looks like the lava froze the moment it touched the rocks.
Today the caldera of Santorini is one of the most expensive parts of Greece. On its brink are built the most luxurious hotels, most of them undercut in the surrounding rock, respecting the traditional architecture and they host every year the most special guests. In Oia the most spectacular sight of both the caldera and the sunset, is the one admired from the old Castle of Agios Nicholas, which was built entirely on the precipice, but a large section of the castle collapsed during the earthquake of 1956. The route from there to Imerovigli and Fira, which can be undertaken on foot, is amazing and gives the visitor the chance to fully experience the greatness of the natural phenomenon that occurred 3500 years ago, and yet the consequences are right in front of him. The view from Akrotiri, and especially from the Lighthouse of Akrotiri, however, is so special that it is worth to visit the area, just to be able to have a complete picture.
Caldera by boat
The most typical route by boat through the caldera is from Ammoudi, the little harbor below Oia and all the way to Akrotiri– and the other way around, of course. At the beginning of your trip you will encounter the rock of Agios Nicholas with the homonymous chapel, followed by Armeni and the church of Agii Efta Pedes. Then, before you reach Imerovigli lies Mouzakia , while under the Castle of Skaros, the old capital of the island, you can see the chapel of Theoskepasti, looking over the caldera. Gialos of Fira comes right after, where you can take the cable car to the city, and immediately after the old port and until you reach Athinios, the modern harbor of Santorini, you can see the remains of the old mines of the island, where pumice stone was extracted. After Athinios you will encounter the two beaches of the caldera, Plaka and Therma, and finally the bay of Balos, with the two churches, Agios Nikolaos by the sea and Panagia higher on the cliff, that welcome the travelers to Akrotiri.
The most impressive view of course is the view of the caldera from the volcano, the Palea and Nea Kameni islands and from the journey to and from the two islands, and finally, the panoramic views of Santorini’s caldera from Thirasia, both from Manolas, the capital of the island, and the old port Korfos.
The “Lost Atlantis”
The mystery hidden in the volcano, the caldera and the entire turbulent history of Santorini has led many readers and scientists to conclude that Santorini was the Lost Atlantis, the ideal state referred in the work of the ancient philosopher Plato, which submerged completely into the sea without leaving any trace behind. What else could have caused such a final catastrophe, if not the force of the explosion of a volcano? And, therefore, what volcano in Greece, we know that could cause such an explosion? The volcano of Santorini, of course! These are the thoughts of those who have dealt with the issue and since a large part of the island has actually sank and disappeared during the eruption of 1613 BC, when most of the Stroggili submerged and the caldera was created, it seems like a “logical conclusion,” that the Lost Atlantis is identified with Santorini.
Indeed many scientific groups, including that of the famous diver Jacques Cousteau visited Santorini and tried to find traces of the immersed Atlantis around the volcano. The surveys were all fruitless, while in 2003, the National Centre for Marine Research ascertained that even if there is historical truth in the Santorini-Atlantis correlation, then the data has forever been lost beneath the thick volcanic sediments.