With a gap in my theatre going schedule, I headed off to see this famed island of Atlantis. Previously I had avoided this excursion due to the intense popularity of the place as a tourist destination. However spurred on by the call of Plato and his descriptions of Atlantis in Timaeus, I purchased a two day tour which I extended by a further day. I never cease to marvel at the way tour companies organise your travel and just turn up to collect you, deposit you at the ferry, have your name on a card waiting at the other end and so on and so forth. I am mightily impressed especially in a place like Santorini where Internet is temperamental to say the least! Arriving after a 5 hour ferry ride, I quickly check into my rustic hotel, book a tour to Akritori for the next day and then head off to discover the locale of Kamari. A somewhat predictable summer resort with the same sort of shops as every other seaside resort, I saw a huge queue for a bus and following the advice of the local travel agent jumped on board to get a bit of night life in Fira.
At E1.20 the bus ticket was the best value ever. It felt like we travelled about k30 across these volcanic hills to reach the most precarious city one could imagine. Perched on the edge of the volcano’s caldera, 980 ft above sea level, shops, hotels and restaurants abound through the steep little lane ways. And there it was – one of the famous sunset scenes that we get on friends’ postcards. The depth of the caldera at 400 meters enables all but the biggest of ships to anchor in its protective harbour.
So what is it that makes Santorini so spectacular? Firstly it’s a place of unbelievable contrast. The empty, rocky landscape with pumice stone and lava innocently sitting amongst stunted grapevines, tomatoes, aubergine, wild capers and pistachio trees. And then there is the Aegean Sea that never fails to deliver that extraordinary deep, deep blue with the little white caps – the colours of the Greek flag.
Then there are the cave houses and churches, said to be 365 of them, one for every day of the year. But without a doubt, the highlight for me was Akrotiri. Said to be the second most important site in Greece after the Acropolis in Athens, Akrotiri, only discovered in 1967, is considered to be the lost city of Atlantis. At the entrance gate there is a 70 ton volcano stone and this sort of volcanic evidence is everywhere.
The stunted vegetation being so because of the sea winds and not needing to be any higher because of the richness of the volcanic soil. And the taste of the fruit and vegetables is spectacular. As is Akrotiri. A Minoan Bronze Age settlement the volcano is thought to have occurred 1627 BC.
On entering the archaeologically protected site, one is struck by the white lava powder that covers almost everything. Excavations on this site were discontinued because of the Greek austerities but there is enough evidence to indicate that a city with a 5 storied bastion existed here. With city streets, plumbing, houses, shops, bathroom accoutrements, bedrooms and beds, olive oil jars and household decorations significantly intact, the somewhat eerie thing is that there is no evidence of any dead bodies or funerary apparatus which suggests that the people just left.
It appears that even though the site displays earthquake protections, somehow the inhabitants seemed aware of the approaching volcano and gathered up their belongings and went who knows where. When I asked about archeologist’s faith in Plato’s account of the city, the beautiful, engaging and highly intelligent tour guide turned up her nose and claimed a lack of chronological veracity. I was somewhat saddened by that as I was always intrigued by Plato’s description of a racecourse in the city.
The famous frescoes of the Boxing Boys, the Spring fresco, the mother and daughter and more have been removed and placed in museums elsewhere. This was an intriguing visit and with years perhaps even centuries of excavation still to go, who knows what else might be discovered. The remainder of the day was some sightseeing with a tour guide, a fabulous lunch of local Santorini fare, a visit to the famous Santorini winery and then, for me, dinner with a charming Canadian I’d met the night before.
Next day an 11 hour ferry trip back to Athens was exhausting, arriving at 11.30pm at new hotel digs and a total wipe out.