Nea Kameni is currently the most interesting, if not generally, at least geologically, part of Santorini. It is a small island in the center of the caldera that was entirely created by the volcano, with its oldest parts dating back to 1570 and the most recent to 1950!
For the locals, the volcanic island is just the “volcano“, since it is where the residents saw the latest explosions in Santorini’s volcanic history – and if they didn’t witness them themselves, as the most recent eruption was in 1950, the testimonies and the oral traditions on the creation of Nea Kameni, the island that sprang out of the sea, through fire and the incessant trembling of the earth, are very much alive in the folk heritage of the island.
Nea Kameni, is currently the larger of the two volcanic islands of Santorini (the other is Palea), with an area of approximately 340 hectares and the highest point at 127 meters above sea level. It is the most recent land formation in the eastern Mediterranean and is completely accessible to the public, as visitors can walk on its surface and reach the crater where up to this day fumaroles emit steam. The island has two anchorages, the Taksiarchis bay in the southeast and Erinia Bay in the north. Nea Kameni and Palea are integrated in the European network NATURA 2000.
The creation of Mikri Kameni
It was during the eruption of 1570 when the inhabitants of Santorini at Kasteli of Skaros, saw just a short distance from the then capital, land emerging from the sea. A small island northeast of Palea Kameni began to form and was immediately named “Mikri Kameni” (Small Kameni). It took almost 150 years and the big eruption of 1707 for the next step in the creation of Nea Kameni to take place: two small islands appeared, one white and one black, which in a few months joined initially one another and then subsequently – Mikri Kameni.
The eruption of 1866-1870
At the end of the 19th century took place one of the volcano’s major eruptions – a very important occurrence for the scientists, who had already at their disposal the means and knowledge in order to study and thus understand in the most thorough way the phenomenon. The smoke columns from the volcano were visible from Crete, while about 50 summer houses and two small chapels, one Orthodox and one Catholic, submerged.
The explosion, which took place in several stages, had as a result the creation and eventually the tripling of the area of Nea Kameni, as in the four years that the explosions lasted, new lands continuously emerged or submerged. In February 1866 the volcanic cone of Georgios was created, initially as a small volcanic island near Nea Kameni, and within a few days it joined the larger island. It was named in honor of the then King of Greece George I and so far is the highest formation of the island, where visitors come to admire the majesty of the volcano. During the explosion the islets Afroessa and Reka were created, which gradually joined Nea Kameni, as well as the May Islands, which finally submerged and today are about one meter below the surface of the sea.
A special committee was sent then by the Greek state to observe the phenomenon with the participation of a photographer, which means that it was the first volcanic eruption captured photographically. That was when the great French volcanologist Ferdinand Foucault also came to Santorini, while among the foreign observers who came from all over Europe to see from up close the unique phenomenon, was the author Jules Verne – Nea Kameni and the author’s experience at the island are referred to in his work “20,000 leagues under the sea” and in “The Mysterious Island“, where, in fact, captain Nemo and his crew watch a volcanic eruption.
The 20th century eruptions
In the summer of 1925, the volcano rumbles again and soon from the gray waters emerges a small island, Daphne, between the Mikri and Nea Kameni. Soon its size grows so that the three islands are joined together and form what is now called Nea Kameni. The volcanic activity continued till 1928, and throughout this time the size and shape of the island changed quite a lot. Something similar occurred during the eruption of 1939-1941, while Nea Kameni finally obtained its current shape, with small changes due to the erosion of the water, in the eruption of 1950.
Nea Kameni today
There is no doubt that while the volcano has not erupted for 65 years, it is quite active and may “wake up” at any time. Cambridge scholars argued in 2006 that an explosion at that time would have enough energy to hold for 2.7 years and create a volcanic dome with a height of 115-125 meters. A comprehensive seismic monitoring system has been developed both in Nea Kameni and Palea that records the slightest volcanic activity so that the Institute of Studing and Monitoring the Santorini Volcano (I.M.P.I.S.) will be properly prepared for all eventualities. Some scholars also argue that the fact that steam is still emitted to this day from the depths of the earth, contributes to the “decompression” of the volcanic energy.
Visiting Nea Kameni
Throughout the summer you can take daily boats from Ammoudi in Oia, Athinios and Gialos below Fira to visit the volcano. The stop at Nea Kameni is a small wooden pier that allows visitors to disembark and walk around the volcanic island, reaching the volcanic cone of Georgios and getting very close to the active fumaroles. The conditions are of course very particular, with very high temperatures, while the the steep terrain intensifies the discomfort. Therefore “protection measures” are necessary, such as using sunscreen, hat, sneakers and comfortable clothes, and water for those who want to add their experiences a walk around one of the most important volcanoes on the planet!