Throughout its history, the Greek island of Santorini has been shaped by volcanism. The island first appeared about two-million years ago when volcanic craters emerged from the Aegean Sea. Initially, the craters united into a small round island with a caldera in the center. Herodotus tells us that the island’s first name, Strongili (meaning “the round one”), came from that formation. Regular eruptions increased the size of the island, and eventually settlers arrived from other Cyclades islands like Naxos, Paris, and Mykonos. These “pre-Greeks” built Akrotiri, which became the island’s most important city.
Around 1450 B.C., Santorini suffered one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded on Earth. The Theran eruption, as it is known, broke the island into three pieces, allowing the sea to rush in and flood the caldera of the volcano. The flourishing town of Akrotiri, often referred to as the “Minoan Pompeii,” was simultaneously destroyed and preserved by ash from that massive eruption. It lay buried and forgotten for centuries, until it was rediscovered by archeologists in the middle of the 19th century.
To date, about 30 buildings (an estimated ten percent of ancient Akrotiri) have been excavated in what would have been the the city’s main port. The architecture of the buildings was advanced. Many were three stories high, built of carved volcanic stones and held together with mud cement. Homes were equipped with inside toilets and many walls were decorated with intricate frescoes that depicted scenes from distant lands, proving that Akrotirians were well-traveled. Read More
The cute neighborhood known as Little Venice in Mykonos Town is named for its unique houses, cafes, and shops, many of which jut out over the Aegean Sea. In centuries past, when seafaring was a major industry in the area, sea captains built grand mansions along this shoreline. Later, it was a favorite haunt of writers and artists, many of whom featured the colorful setting in their paintings and books. In recent times Little Venice has become mainly a shopping district, with dozens of designer stores lining the crazy cobbled streets. Read More
I was more than a little puzzled when I first saw the Windmills of Kato Mili on the Greek island of Mykonos. This tiny speck of granite in the far eastern Mediterranean seemed an unlikely place to find windmills. Eager to know more, I climbed the low hill from the neighborhood of Little Venice to where five historic mills stood white against a robin’s egg blue sky. Although their heavy cotton sails have been removed, the structures are otherwise in excellent condition, right down to their conical thatched roofs.
I later learned that these five (six, if you count one that is missing its top) are only a small portion of the original windmills of Mykonos. The Kato Mili complex, originally consisting of 10 mills, was the largest grouping, but from the 16th century on, there were an estimated 28 mills scattered across the island. My first clue to why they were built on Mykonos came when I learned that the island had come under the direct rule of Venetians by the end of the 14th century. Read More
Today the Temple of Zeus stands in ruins, its 34 massive columns toppled and scattered in pieces around the Sanctuary of Ancient Olympia. But in 457 B.C., it was one the ancient world’s great structures. Built to honor the Greek god Zeus, the temple stood 68 feet high and was crowned with sculpted front and rear pediments. The eastern pediment depicted the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus while the Western pediment memorialized the battle of Centaurs and Lapiths, with the god Apollo pointing to the Lapiths to show his preference for a human victory. Inside stood a 43-foot high gold and ivory statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Read More
The itinerary for my Greek tour with Collette included a day in Olympia Greece, site of the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the original race track and the ruins of the magnificent temples and shrines that once surrounded the sports facilities (read more about the earliest Olympics and see more photos in this article). But it was the Archeological Museum in Olympia Greece that left me at a loss for words. In a dedicated room rear the rear of the museum, surrounded by burnished copper walls, stood this stunning statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus. Read More
I turned my nose up at the offer of a map. The narrow, stone-paved streets of Mykonos begged to be explored randomly. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. So far, my Greece tour with Collette had explored authentic sites on the mainland and the Peloponnese peninsula, but there were whispers among our group that the islands had been taken over by the rich and famous. Everyone was wondering, “Is Mykonos overrated?”
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I caught the early morning shuttle bus from my hotel, hoping to experience the island’s capital city of Chora Town before the tourist hordes descended. At the Old Port, I followed a path tucked between a seawall and the intensely turquoise Aegean. At every turn, another gorgeous view emerged. Tangled thickets of magenta Bougainvillea spilled over the stone retaining wall. Gentle swells Read More