We couldn’t see the Caldera from the main road. The manager of our hotel was waiting for us with her dishy looking assistant, who hoisted our (very) heavy bags casually over his shoulders and sprinted across the narrow path to their gate. We followed him past the gate to the top of the stairs, and gasped! There it was! We had never seen anything as spectacular! Brilliant white houses clinging to the sooty cliff face and embracing that ‘cauldron’ of incredible blue!! Breathtaking doesn’t come close.
Known variously as Kallisti (the most beautiful) and Thera (after a king of Sparta who retired here), its present name is derived from its patron Saint Eirene, also refered to as St. Irini. The official name though is still Thira!
Part of the Cyclades, this incredible archipelago is a remnant of some of the worlds largest volcanic eruptions that fragmented what used to be a single island (called Stroggyli meaning ’round’). The eruptions, some 3500 years ago, collapsed the centre of the island and the sea rushed into the resulting hollow creating the gigantic lagoon called the ‘Caldera’.
The massive eruption also destroyed the Minoan civilization, leading to speculation about this being the site of the legendary Atlantis! The archeological site of Akrotiri – where one can get a glimpse into the life of the Minoans – was unfortunately closed during our visit.
The volcano is still active, last eruptiing in 1950, causing an earthquake that destroyed many surrounding villages. We went up close to one of the deceptively benign looking craters on Nea Kameni, an island in the middle of the Caldera! You get to it by boat from Fira, the beautiful but very crowded town on top of the cliff.
Oia was much less crowded, the cave houses delightful and the food surprisingly good! The wine too! We gorged on amazing seafood and delicious green tomato keftades!
Truckloads of tourists converge on Oia in the evenings to witness what is considered one of the the most spectacular sunsets! But the sun did play truant on this day and they all trooped off disappointed, returning us to the peace and remarkable stillness on the edge of the only inhabited Caldera in the world.