1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Santorin

SANTORIN (corruption of St Irene; anc. Thera), a volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, the southernmost of the Sporades. In shape Santorin forms a crescent, and encloses a bay on the north, east and south, while on the western side lies the smaller island of Therasia. The encircling wall thus formed, which is elliptical in shape and 18 m. round in its inner rim, is broken in two places—towards the north-west by a strait a mile in breadth, where the water is not less than 1100 ft. deep, and towards the south-west by an aperture about 3 m. wide, where the water is shallow, and an island called Aspronisi or White Island lies in the middle. The cliffs rise perpendicularly from the bay, in some places to the height of 1000 ft.; but towards the open sea, both in Santorin and Therasia, the ground slopes gradually away, and has been converted into broad level terraces, everywhere covered with tufaceous agglomerate, which, though bare and ashen, produces the famous Santorin wine. Towards the south-east rises the limestone peak of Mount Elias, the highest point of the island (1910 ft.); this existed before the volcano was formed. In the middle of the basin lie three small islands, which are the centre of volcanic activity, and are called Palaea, Mikra and Nea Kaumene, or the Old, the Little and the New Burnt Island; the highest of these, Nea Kaumene, is 351 ft. above the sea. Owing to the depth of the water there is no anchorage, and vessels have to be moored to the shore, except at one point in the neighbourhood of the modern town, where there is a slight rim of shallow bottom. The cliffs of Santorin and Therasia are marked in horizontal bands by black lava, white porous tufa, and other volcanic strata, some parts of which are coloured dark red. The modern town of Thera (or Phera, as it is more commonly pronounced) is built at the edge of these, overlooking the middle of the bay at a height of 900 ft. above the water, and the foundations of the houses and in some cases their sides also, are excavated in the tufa, so that occasionally they are hardly traceable except by their chimneys. Owing to the absence of timber—for, except the fig, cactus and palm, there are hardly any trees in the island—they are roofed with barrel vaults of stone and cement. Both wood and water have occasionally to be imported from the neighbouring islands, for there are no wells, and the rain water, collected in cisterns, does not always suffice, The largest of the other villages is Apanomeria, near the northern entrance, which is, crowded together in a white mass, while the rocks below it are the reddest in the island.

Santorin is closely connected with the earthquake movements to which the countries in the neighbourhood of the Aegean are subject. It is hardly accurate to speak of the basin which forms the harbour as a crater, for most geologists support the view that the whole of this space was once covered by a single volcanic cone, the incline of which is represented by the outward slope of Santorin and Therasia, while the position of the crater was that now occupied by the Kaumene Islands; and that owing to a volcanic explosion and the subsidence of the strata the basin was formed. The Kaumene Islands arose subsequently, and that of Palaea Kaumene is considered to have been prehistoric. The principal eruptions that have taken place within historic times are that of 196 B.C., when, as we learn from Strabo (i. 3, § 16, p. 57), flames rose from the water halfway between Thera and Therasia for four days; that of A.D. 726, during the reign of the Emperor Leo the Isaurian (on both these occasions islands were thrown up, but it is supposed that they afterwards disappeared); that of 1570, when Mikra Kaumene arose; that of 1650, which destroyed many lives by noxious exhalations, and ended in the upheaval of an island in the sea to the north-east of Santorin, which afterwards subsided and became a reef below sea-level; that of 1707, when Nea Kaumene arose; and that of 1866, when Nea Kaumene was extended towards the south and enlarged threefold.

In the southern parts both of Santorin and Therasia prehistoric dwellings have been found at some height above the sea, and there is no doubt that these date from a period antecedent to the formation of the bay. This is proved by their position underneath the layer of tufa which covers the islands, and by these layers of tufa being broken off precipitously, in the same way as the lava-rocks, a fact which can only be explained by the supposition that they all fell in together. The foundations of the dwellings rested, not on the tufa, but on the lava below it; and here and there between the stones branches of wild olive were found, according to a mode of building that still prevails in the island, in order to resist the shocks of earthquakes. Very few implements of metal were found. Some of the vases found were Cretan ware which had been imported; and the correspondence between these and various specimens of the native pottery proves that to some extent this primitive art was derived from Crete.

In Greek legend the island of Thera, was connected with the story of the Argonauts, for it was represented as sprung from a clod of earth which was presented to those heroes by Triton (Apollon., Argonaut., iv., 1551 sq., 1731 sq.). According to Herodotus (iv. 147), a Phoenician colony was established there by Cadmus. Subsequently a colony from Sparta, including some of the Minyae, was led thither by Theras, who gave the island his own name, in place of that of Calliste which it had borne before. But the one event which gave importance to Thera in ancient history was the planting of its famous colony of Cyrene on the north coast of Africa by Battus in 631 B.C., in accordance with a command of the Delphic oracle.

The ancient capital, which bore the same name as the island, occupied a site on the eastern coast now called Mesavouno, between Mount Elias and the sea. Since 1895 this place has been excavated by Baron Hiller von Gärtringen and other German explorers. There are extensive ancient cemeteries. A steep ascent leads from a Heroum of Artemidorus to the Agora; in its neighbourhood were the Stoa Basilice, a vast hall with a row of pillars; a temple of Dionysus and the Ptolemies, which at a later period was dedicated to the Caesars; and the barrack of the garrison of the Ptolemies and a gymnasium. The names which occur here remind us that Thera, as a member of the League of the Cyclades, was from B.C. 308 to 145 under the protectorate of the Ptolemies. The main street has narrow lanes diverging from it to right and left; one of these leads to the sanctuary of the Egyptian gods. Near the street there is a small theatre, beneath the seats of which a vast cistern was constructed, arranged so that rain-water should drain into it from the whole of the auditorium. The way then descends south-eastwards first to the temple of Ptolemy Euergetes III., and then to that of Apollo Carneius; finally, at the point where the rocks fall precipitously, there is a gymnasium of the Ephebi. Numerous rock-carvings and inscriptions have been discovered, as well as statues and vases of various periods. Near the western foot of Mount Elias is the temple of Thea Basileia, which, though very small, is perfect throughout even to the roof. It is now dedicated to St Nicolas Marmorites.

Tournefort mentions that in his time nine or ten chapels were dedicated to St Irene, the patron saint of the place; the name Santorin was given to the island after the fourth crusade, when the Byzantine empire was partitioned among the Latins, and the island formed a portion of the duchy of the Archipelago. Santorin is prosperous, for, in addition to the wine trade, there is a large export of pozzolana, which, when mixed with lime, forms a hard cement. Santorin (officially Thera) is a province in the department of the Cyclades. It is divided into 9 communes (see Cyclades), with a total population of 19,597 in 1907.

Bibliography.—L. Ross, Inselreisen (Stuttgart, 1840, vol. i.); C. Bursian, Geographie von Griechenland (Leipzig, 1872, vol. ii.); F. Fouqué, Santorin et ses éruptions (Paris, 1879); Neumann and Partsch, Physicalische Geographie von Griechenland (Breslau, 1885); J. Th. Bent, The Cyclades (London, 1885); H. F. Tozer, The Islands of the Aegean (Oxford, 1890); Hiller von Gärtringen, Thera (Berlin, 1899 foll.); Baedeker's Greece, 3rd Eng. ed. (1905).  (H. F. T.)