Santorini, as the most southerly of the Cycladic Islands is usually known in English - to the Greeks, it is Thera - lies some ninety miles west of Crete, at the same latitude. It is an unforgettable island to approach from the sea. A partially submerged volcanic crater, its cone dormant but not extinct, its volcanic cliffs are crowned with cubic houses of dazzling whiteness under a turquoise sky. We anchor inside the half moon of petrified lava that serves as the island’s harbour in preparation for our visit to the celebrated archaeological site Akrotiri. When excavations were undertaken, latterly seeking connections between Santorini and the legend of Atlantis, it became clear that an advanced society had been destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption in the second millennium BC very much in the manner described by Plato. A stroll through the archaeological site, now roofed over, reveals the extent of the destroyed city, its pattern of streets with their two-storey houses preserved by a thick layer of pumice. Huge storage jars, known as pithoi, stand evocatively where their owners left them. It has been estimated that the volcano blew the centre of the island thirty miles into the air with a force four times that of Krakatoa. The city was buried to a depth of fifty feet and the effects of the eruption would have been felt over a wide geography in the ancient world. It is now thought that it was the eruption on Santorini that caused the sudden demise of Mycenean civilisation on Crete.
Since the earliest times Santorini was prized for its obsidian, a naturally-occurring volcanic glass formed by the rapid cooling of volcanic lava and highly prized for its sharpness when fashioning tools. It’s not inappropriate, therefore, that visitors should come to Santorini today to visit the high-class jewellery stores on the main drag of the island’s principal town of Fira which hangs above the crater like a balcony. The volcanic soils are cultivated to produce the local dessert wines and liqueurs, best enjoyed in the shade of a grass-roofed taverna overlooking the harbour before re-embarking Panorama to set sail northbound for Naxos.
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