Santorini receives more and more distinctions over the last years, ranking it among the top world destinations.
This time, it was BBC that chose Santorini as the most beautiful island in the world, in the travel pages of its website. Santorini is followed by Bali Indonesia in the second rank, Cape Breton Canada in the third position, Boracay Philippines in the forth and the Great Barrier Reef Australia in the fifth position.
Santorini feels like no other place on earth.
Here, 120 miles southwest of mainland Greece, everything is brighter: the whitewashed cube-shaped houses, the lapis lazuli sea and the sunsets that light up the caldera, is the BBC comment for this distinction.
No doubt such recognitions from international travel guides and tourist associations have raised the number of tourists visiting Santorini every year and have extended the tourist season. In fact, the first cruise ships arrive in Santorini in late March/early April and keep coming till late November.
The history of Santorini is not just the history of people. It is the history of a place which has the unrealistic distinction of constantly evolving and taking shape by itself.
In order to understand this, try thinking back an Aegean with Cyclades but without Santorini. Then imagine the island one day emerging from the seabed, rising, drying out and gradually being inhabited to become the home of a major culture.
Next, picture another day on which half the island founders, taking its people and their achievements with it inder the ashes and the waves. When the turmoil dies down, new inhabitants come to the island, give it a name of their own and start again from the beginning . Now imagine another island rising from the sea, little by little, and taking the place of that which shank.
The history of Santorini is the history of a place which is not to be taken for granted and whose map must, from time to time, be scrapped and redrawn from the start. The first inhabitants of Santorini were pre- Hellenes who arrived around 3.000 BC.
The influence from Minoan Crete became clear when the excavations at Akrotiri began and an entire settlement with two -- storey houses containing wall paintings similar to those of Minoan palaces, was revealed beneath a thick layer of volcanic ash.
When this settlement was built, the island was called Calliste (Most Charming) or Strongyle (Round) because of its shape -- the volcano had not yet begun its catastrophic upheavals.
During the 13th Century there was a Venetian occupation on the island.
The Venetians fortified 5 different places on the island with Imerovigli as the capital. They chose Imerovigli because it is the highest point of the Caldera.
There is also a strange rock formation in the front of the village, called Skaros. Here is where they built their strongest of the five castles. The castle was destroyed in 1956 during a terrible earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale.
Santorini was united with Greece in 1912. Its major settlements include Fira (Phira), Oia, Emporio, Kamari, Imerovigli, Pyrgos and Therasia, and Akrotiri is a major archaeological site with ruins from the Minoan era.
The island’s pumice quarries have been closed since 1986, in order to preserve the caldera, while it remains the home of a small but flourishing wine industry, based on the indigenous grape variety, Assyrtiko ; vines of the Assyrtiko variety are extremely old and prove resistant to phylloxera, attributed by local winemakers to the well drained volcanic soil and its chemistry, and needed no replacement during the great phylloxera epidemic of the early 20th century. In their adaption to their habitat, such vines are planted far apart, as their principal source of moisture is dew, and are often trained in the shape of low spiralling baskets, with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds.
Also unique to the island is the red, sweet and extremely strong Vinsanto; white wines from the island are extremely dry with a strong, citrus scent, and the ashy volcanic soil gives the white wines a slight sulphurous flavour much like Vinsanto. It is not easy to be a wine grower in Santorini; the hot and dry climatological conditions give the soil a low productivity. The yield per acre is only 10 to 20% of the yields that are common in France and California, and the island’s primary industry is tourism, particularly in the summer months