Santorini is unlike any other island in the whole world and it owns this uniqueness primarily to the volcano of the island.
This is one of the most important volcanoes worldwide and it attracts dozens of scientists who visit the island along with the other tourists in order to observe it carefully. The volcano was ‘born’ from the sea and has significantly affected the geological form of the entire eastern Mediterranean – as well as human life and activity in the region.
The volcano of Santorini is active and was created millions of years ago. It is part of the Aegean volcanic arc (along with the volcanoes of Methana, Milos and Nisyros) and was formed by the movements of the African tectonic plate as it sinks beneath the Eurasian plate. The large eruption that took place in the Prehistoric Era and is known as the Minoan Eruption, is considered the largest in world history, together with the eruption of the Tabora volcano in Indonesia, in 1815. Since then, the volcano has erupted many times over the centuries, constantly changing the image of the island, creating and destroying several small islands in its perimeter.
What the locals mean today by volcano, is the small island of Nea Kameni, situated almost in the center of the circular perimeter formed by Santorini, Thirasia and Aspronisi. It is only logical, since on Nea Kameni one can see the fumaroles emitting steam from the depths of the earth, and a part of the island was formed only 60 years ago, during the eruption of 1950. The adjacent island of Palea Kameni was formed almost 2000 years ago, during the eruption of 47 AD.
Both islands of the volcano are open to the public and you can even walk upon them and visit the fumaroles of Nea Kameni or swim in the warm waters of Palea, where sulfur colors the water with a yellowish hew. Scientists from a wide range of disciplines closely monitor the volcanic activity, since the Santorini Cluster, which includes both of the volcanoes of the Palea and Nea Kameni and the submarine volcano, Kouloumpo, are considered to be the most active part of the Aegean volcanic arc.
The “Minoan” eruption
During prehistoric times, the volcano of Santorini was shocked by a tremendous explosion. At that time the island had an almost round shape – it was called Stroggili (round) and today we estimate that it covered the area “formed” by Santorini, Thirasia and Aspronisi. The explosion engulfed and dissolved the biggest part of the island, creating the caldera of Santorini as we know it today. It is considered one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history and the scientists only compare it to that in Indonesia in 1815. It was called “Minoan” because for many years scientists had adopted the theory of archaeologist Spyros Marinatos, that the volcanic eruption and the huge tsunami it caused were the reasons behind the destruction of the Minoan civilization on Crete. But according to modern methods of radiocarbon dating, the eruption of the volcano occurred in the late 17th century B.C. and more specifically in 1613 B.C. The Minoan civilization, on the other hand, held on for at least another century, even though it was already declining.
The volcanic eruptions throughout history
Even though not all the historical sources have survived to this day, we know that the volcano of Santorini has erupted several times during the centuries – even though none of these explosions could match the severity of the Minoan Eruption.
- 197 BC, when a small island emerged, which today is considered submerged
• 46-47 AD when Palea Kameni was created
• 726, when Palea Kameni grew in size
• 1570, when Mikri Kameni was created – today it is part of the Nea Kameni
• 1707 and for the next four years, when successive eruptions created Nea Kameni. The narration of the eruption by the Jesuit wonderer father Tarillon is a great opportunity to understand, for those who have never seen one in person, what exactly is a volcanic eruption
• 1866-1870, when the Castle of Skaros was finally abandoned
• 1925-1928, when Nea Kameni grew in size
• 1939-1941, when a large number of scientists arrived to examine the phenomenon
• 1950, when Nea Kameni took its current shape.
A visit to the volcano
Today the visitors of the island have the opportunity not only to gaze at the volcano from the cliff of the caldera or to take a closer look from the sea, but also to hike it, and visit the places where even today steam is emitted or swim in the warm waters around both the Palea and the Nea Kameni. The boats that go to the volcano start from Gialos, the old port of Santorini situated below Fira, from Athinios, the modern port of the island, but also from Ammoudi, the port of Oia. The first stop is in Nea Kameni, where visitors can descend and walk the crater – as long as you are prepared for both the hike uphill and for the very high temperatures, equipped with the necessary hat, sport shoes, sunscreen and water. The island, as well as Palea Kameni are both protected under the NATURA program. Subsequently, the boats usually depart for Palea Kameni, where guests can immerse themselves in the warm waters with the yellowish hew, because of the sulfur. These tours are usually completed with a stop in Thirasia, before returning to Santorini.