From the times of the Byzantium and at the highest point of the caldera stands Imerovigli, one of the most impressive villages of Santorini. It is estimated that the early settlement, Skaros was built in 1207 by the Venetian James Varotsi, who was granted Santorini after the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The modern village looks over the impressive volcano from a height of about 300 meters above the sea level and it is situated approximately 3 km northwest of Fira, on the road to Oia. Apart from the paved road, the village is connected to the capital of Santorini by a path, offering endless views of the unique volcanic landscape.
Since Imerovigli is a preserved traditional settlement, the architectural style of the building remains unchanged, mainly in the Cycladic and especially the local, Firaic, style. Today Imerovigli is one of the most developed tourist spots of Santorini, with high class hotels, restaurants and other shops, which receive each year tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. There are daily connections with the rest of the villages by municipal transport, and, since it is located almost at the middle of the island, Imerovigli is an ideal ‘starting’ point to get to know the entire island of Santorini.
The name ‘Imerovigli’ is composite and comes from the words “imera (day)” and “vigla” (from the Latin verb ‘vigilare’, meaning ‘being vigilant’). Although it is very likely that the name refers to the existence of a watch tower in the area during the Venetian period – perhaps a tower that was designed to warn residents about the pirate threat – this has not been currently confirmed by any archaeological discoveries.
The view of the sunset from Imerovigli is unique and many recommend the village as ideal for a romantic vacation: the sun sinks into the sea behind the islands of the volcano – the Palia and Nea Kameni – in the background you can see Thirasia, while right and left stretches the caldera with its white houses “hanging” from the cliff … In addition to the walk along the edge of the cliff, with the undercut caverns, you should also take a tour through the unique “maze” formed by tortuous, narrow streets, stairs, walking up and down through the village, with the beautiful modern houses and the ruins of old mansions. Imerovigli has been hit several times by earthquakes and the volcano: first there was the eruption of Columbo that drew away the residents of Skaros, while the village also suffered serious damage at the earthquake of 1956. This fact did not stop the residential development of the settlement the following years, as the majority of the new buildings has been restored based on modern antiseismic criteria.
Holding a special place among the attractions of Imerovigli is the castle of Skaros, the old Kasteli (castle) of the village, which is also known as the Upper Castle or Rocca. It was one of the five castles of medieval Santorini and, as a matter of fact, for several centuries it was the capital of the island and its inhabitants were referred to as Kastrinoi (‘the people of the castle’). Built on a high rock, which can be reached by following the old path, it was at its prime during the Venetian period, as the most important of the five castles built it in this particular form: the houses were standing next to one another, with their doors and windows facing towards Kasteli, so that their outer walls formed at the same time the defensive wall of the castle. It is estimated that it was built in 1207 by the first Venetian master of the island, while in 1650, at the eruption of the volcano Columbo, it was partially destroyed and finally abandoned in 1817, after a strong earthquake. Today visitors can see the ruins of the traditional buildings, houses and churches, as well as the remnants of the old, wooden draw bridge at the castle’s entrance.
Find detailed information about the Castle of Skaros here
The churches in Imerovigli
Beautiful churches adorn the village, others standing among the white houses, and others built on the cliffs of the caldera. Panagia Theoskepasti is situated at the front of Skaros, on the edge of the rock. The whitewashed chapel, which offers an uninterrupted view of the volcano, is also known from the homonymous novel by Ilias Venezis. On the path that leads to Skaros, there is the chapel of Agios Ioannis Aokefalistis (St. John the Beheaded), also known as “Ai Giannis Katiforis”, celebrated on August 29. Panagia Malteza is also an impressive church, situated in the village, which was thus named because the particular image of Virgin Mary was found in Malta. The old building of the 19th century was destroyed by the 1956 earthquake and in its place a new church was built, with an impressive stone steeple. Near the village is also the nunnery of Agios Nicholas, founded in 1651 and where you can admire a famous Byzantine icon.