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Island of Santorini
 
     
The most particular and fascinating of the Cycladic islands emerged from the ashes and flames of a volcano, which came into being near the end of the Pliocene era (about 5 million years ago) on the pre-volcanic island (all in all, today's hill of Prophet Elias). After several thousands of years of turbulence and eruptions, the island of Stroggyli was created entirely by the accumulation of volcanic lava. This island was inhabited at the beginning of the Copper Age (c.2800-2500 B.C.) and, in time, its residents built fine houses and managed to prosper by trading goods with their neighbors in Minoan Crete and the rest of continental Greece. The best sample of the eminent civilization of the Copper Age in Santorini is to be found at the prehistoric town on Acrotiri, which was discovered by the distinguished archeologist Sp. Marinatos in 1967. The buildings of the town used to be decorated with exquisite mosaics (similar to those found in the Minoan mansions in Crete), had many fasciliites, and the impressive finds show that the inhabitants of prehistoric Santorini had been well off and prosperous; and as it turned out, they were able to sense danger very early, so, when the earth started quaking c.1500 B.C., they swiftly gathered their belongings and fled the island which was headed for disaster.
 
 
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  That volcanic eruption had been one of the greatest natural disasters in prehistoric Mediteranean resulting into the sinking of half of the island and creating the worlds greatest caldera (which means cauldron in Spanish). Above the deep blue abyss of the sea (initially 800 m. deep, today only 400 m.) their remained today's Santorini, Thirasia and Aspronisi. In the following years the eruption went on (on a smaller scale though), forming Old and New Kameni (where the craters of the legendary volcano are to be found today). Many years after the disaster, the shattered island was inhabited by Phoenician settlers, who were followed, near the end of the 12th century B.C., by Lacedaemonian settlers. Their leader, Thiras, gave his name to the island Lacedaemonians, being great warriors, chose to build their colony on the especially fortified hill of Prophet Elias on the site of Mesa Vouno. The excavations conducted there by the German archaeologist H.V. Caertringen in 1895 brought to light the town market, public buildings, the sanctuary of Karneios Apollo, a theatre, cemeteries, sanctuaries of Egyptian deities, bas-reliefs on rocks and numerous other ancient finds. From the tenth century A.D. on, Thira thrived considerably, attracting the interest of foreign investors, who occupied it in 1207 in quite a chivalrous manner for they were Frank knights under the leadership of the Duke of the Aegean, Marco Sanoudo. On their arrival, the Frank conquerors saw the very picturesque country church of St. Irini (probably in Thirasia or Perissa) and named the island Santa Erini, from which resulted the now famous name of the island, Santorini. For several years Santorini changed hands among the Frank families of Sanoudo, Barochi, Crispi and Pisani, until 1566 where it was finally passed on to the Turks, after it had been ravaged by the terrible visitation of the notorious pirate Hairedin Barbarosa. The Turks allotted many privileges of the people of Santorini who managed to prosper and form one of the most powerful fleets in the Aegean Sea. Santorini continued thriving after the Turks withdrawal in 1830. In 1956 the volcano erupted once more, causing a disastrous earthquake, which ravaged almost the whole of the island and caused the departure of half of its population.  
     
 
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Map of Cyclades Islands
Map of Santorini
 
     
  Yet, the very source of the islands past tribulations in its current cause of prosperity and breathtaking growth, namely, the volcano itself. The eruption and geological unrest of centuries, due to which the caldera was created, formed one of the most sensational sceneries in Greece. On the edge of the steep pit of the caldera, Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Ia settlements with a particularly well-preserved Cycladic architecture are today among the most celebrated destinations in the Mediteranian. Each day, thousands of visitors enjoy a very special stroll in the scenic, all white narrow alleys, or stand to admire the magical view of the deep blue waters of the caldera, and of course none can help but marvel at the sunsets of Santorini, probably the most famous sunsets in Greece (the most breathtaking sunset is supposed to be the one viewed from the castle of Ia, by the ruins of Goulas, the medieval castle, that is). In Fira, it is worth seeing the Archaeological Museum, with many of the finds from the excavations in ancient Thira on display, as well as the new and stunning Museum of the prehistoric Thira, with an excellent presentation of the finds in the ancient town in Acrotiri. Also very interesting is the exhibition of charts, gravures and folk artifacts in the beautiful Gizi mansion (built in 1700).  
     
 
 
 
 
     
  It is also worth seeing monuments from the islands Frankish past such as the Dominican Monastery, the Catholic Cathedral and, what's more, the medieval ruins in Scaros (near Imerovigli), where the Franks had settled on their first arrival.
Even though the visitors interest is monopolized by the settlements built on the edge of the caldera, there are many interesting and beautiful villages spread over the rest of the, rather more even than the caldera, areas, among wide vineyards, tomato fields and gardens. It is definitely worth taking a walk in Emporios with its fine medieval castle and the 16th century church of Palia Panagia, Vothonas with its many dug-in houses (the village houses of Santorini that are hewed into the soft volcanic rock), Exo Gonia with its very important Byzantine church of the Gonia Diocese, built by the emperor Alexios Komninos the 1st in the 11th century, Messaria with its old, fine mansions and early 20th century industrial movements, Megalohori, which is located in the midst of the famous vineyard of Santorini, and the scenic Pirgos with its many alleys and old churches.
 
   
   
   
   
   
 
 
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