The history of Santorini's volcano could be distinguished into two different eras: the pre-Minoan and the ante-Minoan era, as it seems that the so-called Minoan eruption determined its future development. Before the beginning of volcanic activity in Santorini, there was a big limestone mountain at the top of which today lies the chapel of Profitis Ilias. The volcanic activity started 1.5 million years ago and it was followed by a number of eruptions. The latter were first underwater and then terrestrial due to the rise of the island's surface. In the meantime, a number of volcanic centres were created in different parts of the mountain. This pre-Minoan eruptive activity resulted in the formation of a cone-shaped island which the ancient Greeks called 'Stroggili'. The so-called Minoan eruption, around 1600 B.C. (or the eruption of pumice stone) caused the explosion of Stroggili's volcanic cone and resulted in the formation of Caldera with 300m maximum width and 10km diameter.
This explosion affected the development of the rest of the settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The rather thick layers of volcanic ash that were formed after the Minoan eruption are known as Theraic earth. This land contains a large number of plant fossils.
Today Thera, Therassia and Aspronisi define Caldera's perimeter due to their cyclical shape. At a more central point lie the islands of Palea and Nea Kameni which were formed during the ante-Minoan volcanic activity.
The first such activity took place in 197 B.C. in the area where Palea Kameni is built today.
In 726, severe eruptions took place and they resulted in the production of huge amounts of pumice stone, ash and steam. There were a couple of other eruptions that took place in the coming years (1573, 1650, 1707-1711, 1866-1870, 1925-1928, 1939-1940, 1950) and they were the ones that determined the final formation of the islets of Palea and Nea Kameni. In these islets today you have the opportunity to discover some impressive lava fragments as well as other products of past eruptions, some of which have been identified as Greece's latest volcanic rock formations.
*Source Atlas of geological monuments in the Aegean Sea/Publication of the Ministry of Aegean, 2002, www.ypai.gr.
It is considered as one of the biggest and most impressive ones over the world as well as a unique natural monument. It stretches over 83km2 and it is characterised by steep cliffs and a maximum depth of 380m. The sinking and formation of Caldera was a multi-faceted structure and it was developed after several incidents of collapse. You can discover the unique geological structures of lava flows, slags and volcanic veins by enjoying a cruise around Caldera.
The Myth of the Lost city of Atlantis
The reference of the ancient city of Atlantis, that sank 9500 years ago, in the works of Platon "Timaeus" and "Kritias" initiated extensive research that was conducted in different parts of the world and it resulted in the development of a theory that explained its original location.
There are more that 200 places across the globe that claim to have hosted this mythical city. Due to the eruption of its volcano and the sinking of a big part of the island's initial land, Santorini has been even more likely to claim this title.
According to Professor Antonis Kontaratos, in 1966 a team of scientists headed by Professor A. Galanopoulos and oceanographer-engineer J. Mavor visited Santorini in order to conduct their research and collect all evidence they needed so that they could prove the validity of Kontarato's theory according to which Santorini was the lost city of Atlantis. Their findings were published and were rather well received. This theory associates Santorini with Atlantis based on geological and mythological facts as well as on bibliographic data (discovered in Egyptian scripts and the Old Testament).
In 2003 the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR), after receiving private sponsorship, conducted research in the western side of Santorini aiming at identifying the potential signs of the ancient city of Atlantis. The findings demonstrated that even if there is a true historical relation between Santorini and Atlantis, it is rather difficult to discover traces in the seabed due to the immense density of the volcanic silt. The research project covered an area of 25km2.
A visit to the Volcanoes
By decision of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, the islet of Nea Kameni has been denounced as a place of "historic and unique natural beauty". It is, also, the latest volcanic land in Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Its earlier rocks are 430 years old and its latest ones 50 years old.
You can visit the volcanoes by boat or you can rent your own craft and sail around the volcanoes with your family or friends. The boats set sail from Athinios (new port) or Gialos (old port of Fira). Besides Nea Kameni, where you can climb up to the crater, you can see Palea Kameni and even enjoy swimming in the Hot Springs. The boats usually head towards Therassia and then turn back following a beautiful route aside Caldera'a foothills giving the visitors the opportunity to take pictures of the magnificent volcanic rocks.