Oia in Santorini is the most famous village of the island, known all over the world for its unique sunset, when the sun sinks into the blue sea behind the volcano… It is situated in the northern part of the caldera, at an altitude of about 120 meters and stretches from the west to the east coast, in this narrow part of the island, as the old village has now effectively integrated the surrounding small villages, such as Tholos, Foinikia and the small settlement around the beach Paradisos. Towards the sea of the caldera you will find Amoudi and Armeni, two small bays that are ideal for swimming. Oia is also called Apano (upper) or Ano Meria, precisely because it is the most northern village and it has about 1,000 residents in total.
As early as 1993 Oia has been declared a traditional settlement and preserves unchanged the traditional Cycladic and Thiran architecture. The white houses that adorn the caldera with its dark reddish color, mingle with other bright colors, while the blue domes of churches are the village’s landmark. It has all the tourist facilities of a modern destination, a diverse market with shops and public transportation that connects Oia daily with the rest of the island, especially during the summer months. Fira, the capital of the island, is about 11 kilometers away. The main road alongside the caldera is marble paved and along with the perpendicular streets, they constitute the “heart” of Oia.
The village was built around the 13th century during the Frankish rule, and was then named Kasteli (castle) of Agios Nicholas, one of the five castles of Santorini. Today the ruins of the castle are situated in the most northern point of Oia, surrounded by traditional houses and churches, where you can also admire the undercut caverns and the kapetanospita (‘captain houses’) of the 19th century. Many of these houses have been restored after the extensive damage of the 1956 earthquake and have been converted into hotels, restaurants and cafes. One of the old captain houses now hosts the Naval Museum of Santorini, honoring the rich maritime tradition of the village, which was a great maritime power in the 19th century.
A characteristic specificity of Oia is the fact that wherever you turn your gaze to, the sky or the sea, you will not find anywhere aerial cables: the settlement is a prototype and all the networks run underground!
The sunset in Oia
There is no way you can travel to Santorini and leave without seeing the magical sunset of the island, which is considered one of the most spectacular in the world and attracts spectators from all corners of the earth. Oia has become synonymous with the sunset of Santorini, as it is the village from where one can enjoy the sun setting in all its glory. Young and old, Europeans, Americans, Asians and Africans, and even travelers from distant Australia, gather on rooftops and terraces around the castle to marvel the …routine, yet uniquely impressive spectacle: the sun, an orange or even red “flaming” ball, sets peacefully in the vast blue sea, with the volcano and the small islets in the foreground.
The Kasteli of Agios Nicholas
The castle of Oia was called Kasteli of Agios Nicholas and today unfortunately only a small part of it is preserved. The point where it was built, on the northern edge of the caldera, collapsed substantially in the earthquake of 1956. It is estimated that it was built before 1480 by the Venetian dominants of the island and was one of the five castles of the island. Today it is considered the most “favorite” place to enjoy the sunset and to view (and photograph …) Oia, as it stretches along the caldera.
Read more about the Castle of Agios Nicholas here
Kapetanospita and caverns
The traditional settlement of Oia has at its core two types of buildings: the traditional undercut cavern houses and kapetanospita, the houses of the ship owners of the island. The latter are built in the neoclassical style, with a strict geometric simplicity in their appearance and colors. They were the houses of the ship owners who during the 19th century turned the village into a reckoned naval force. They are also called karavokiraika.
The undercut caverns of Oia are the most characteristic houses of Santorini. They were built primarily to house the ship crews – the sailors – and they all share several common characteristics. These vaulted constructions were dug in the pumice volcanic earth of Thira, with a door and two narrow windows and a skylight in the front. Usually the courtyard of one house was the roof of the next one, creating an intertwined construction and forming a unique image.
Find more detailed information about the undercut houses of Santorini here
Oia was the driving force of the Thiran shipping in the 19th century, while its dominance continued during the early 20th century until the sailing ships were replaced by steam ships, a development that the village was not able to follow. In 1890 Oia had a shipyard, while its inhabitants had a fleet of 130 ships. They mainly undertook transitory trade, especially between Russia and Alexandria. Those of the Oia inhabitants that were not ship owners, often found work on the boats of their fellow villagers as part of the crew, so there was no house in the village that did not have a sailor…
The churches of Oia
The most famous church in the village is Panagia Platsani situated almost in the center. Although this is a newer building, as the old church was destroyed in 1956, it remains one of the most impressive churches of Santorini. The Isodia of Panagia, glebe of the monastery of Chozoviotissa Amorgos, Agios Nikolaos, Anastasi, Christos Iroon, are among some of the churches that are definitely worth visiting. In Tholos you can visit Charitomenos (‘graceful’), the church of Agios Kirikos and Agia Ioulita, that got its name, since, according to tradition the Saints ‘graced’ the parents that brought their sick children to them with a cure. Continuing our pilgrimage towards the sea, on the small island of Amoudi you can visit Agios Nicholas Peramataris, while near Armeni you can see the whitewashed chapel dedicated to the Agioi Epta Pedes.
Amoudi is the beach of Oia, situated right beneath the village that can be reached either by car, as there is a paved road or by descending (on foot or on a donkey) the 235 steps on the rim of the caldera. In the picturesque harbor with the fishing boats you will find taverns and restaurants serving local delicacies, while you can also swim in the beautiful sea. Previously the area was the port for the merchant ships of the village, which loaded wine and pumice.
Find more detailed information about Amoudi here
Down the other side of Oia is the port of Armeni, which was also used by the old merchants to load their ships. Today there is a tavern that welcomes those who choose the beach for a swim and decide to descend the 292 steps that lead there.
Find out more about Armeni here
Baksedes and Columbos
Another two beaches situated very near Oia is Baksedes, otherwise known as Paradisos, a large beach towards the eastern part of the island and Columbos, the beach with small black and red pebbles near the underwater volcano.