Fira is the name that has been widely used for the capital of Santorini. The official name of the small state is Thira, one of the two names of the island (Thira or Santorini). The area has been inhabited since the 18th century when ‘Santorinioi’ (the inhabitants of Santorini) abandoned the old capital – Skaros in Imerovigli – due to successive earthquakes. Today it is the largest settlement, located in the middle of the island, on the “eyebrow” of the caldera and hosts not only the bulk of the services, but also of the island’s visitors.
Below the village, at sea level, lies Gialos, the old port of Santorini, while Firostefani and Kontochori, which formerly were separate settlements, are now incorporated in the capital and form part of its suburbs.
Fira is bustling with life throughout the whole year, as the vast majority of shops remain open. Supermarkets, grocery stores, shops, banks and public services are located around the central square of the city, the Theotokopoulou (El Greco) square, while travel agencies, hotels and inns, restaurants and bars can be found almost at every corner, especially in the caldera.
You can start your walk from the streets around the Cathedral and end up anywhere your stamina will allow, as the options in Fira are endless: museums, churches, monuments, galleries, traditional neighborhoods where you can admire the local architecture, can all be found in … abundance – the same abundance that can be found in the entertainment options, as apart from the restaurants and cafes, many of which appear to “hang” from rim of the caldera, Fira also boast the best nightlife in Santorini, as the streets are filled with bars and clubs.
The cable car
While visiting Fira, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a unique experience: from Gialos, the old port where the cruise ships anchor when visiting the island, begins the funicular that takes the … enchanted passengers up to the top of the caldera. An alternative choice are the 600 stone steps that lead down to the small port, where you can walk among the small shops and taste fresh fish in the taverns. If again you do not want to walk this distance, you can use the donkeys, the likeable animals that for many, many years have been used for this purpose. From Gialos one can also board a boat for a tour of the volcano, Palea and Nea Kameni and Thirassia, while there are many who admit that you cannot really appreciate the greatness of Santorini until you have seen the caldera from the sea.
The Theotokopoulou central square
The central square is situated in the middle of the liveliest part of the city: all services and shops are there, as are the central bus stops that commute to all the villages of Santorini, the taxi rank and the post office. The square is crossed by the street March 25th, which is the main road going north, towards Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. The square, which is not located on the cliff, but rather in the part of the settlement that stretches to the mainland, is closed to the vehicles during summer because of the crowds. Instead, the ring road of Kondohori is used, where you can also find banks, kiosks, commercial stores and gas stations.
Firostefani is located on the northern edge of Fira and until a few decades ago was a separate village. It is built on the edge of the caldera and is now a part of the suburbs of the capital. Many of the houses function as guesthouses, while its narrow streets attract the attention of visitors.
The churches in Fira
The capital of Santorini hosts the seats of both the orthodox and the catholic church of the island, since here, like in almost all the Cyclades islands, the catholic element is very prevalent. The Cathedralis dedicated to the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is located on the cliff and was built after the earthquake of 1956, in place of the temple of Panagia Belonis, which was destroyed by the earthquake. The Catholic Cathedral is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and, despite the serious damage it suffered in 1956, has been since restored.
The museums in Fira
The Archaeological Museum of Santorini, with exhibits artifacts from the Archaic to the Roman period, the Prehistoric Museum of Thira, which houses the “treasures” from the archaeological site of Akrotiri, Santozeum that hosts the exhibition of the paintings of the prehistoric settlement, the Folklore Museum Lignos and Megaro Gyzi, the Congress Centre P. Nomikos and the Belloneio Cultural Center are just some of the options of the visitors!