Imerovigli to Oia
Although a separate community, Imerovigli (2.5km) is today almost a continuation of Chora and Firostefani. At 320m above sea level, it occupies the highest point of the perimeter rim of the caldera, with comparably commanding views. Its two principal religious buildings, the 17th-century convent of Aghios Nikolaos to the south, and the church of the Panaghia Maltesa on the main square, were both restored or rebuilt after the earthquake of 1956, though the latter still preserves the finely-carved wooden iconostasis of the church that it replaced. A stepped footpath leads west out of Imerovigli, across a col, to the red, eroded rock-stack of Skaros; this was the dramatic, and now abandoned, site chosen by the Venetian overlord, Giacomo Barozzi to build his fortress and ‘capital’ when he was given possession of the island by Marco Sanudo in 1207. Eighteenth-century engravings (Choiseul-Gouffier and Fauvel) show it as a populous settlement with reputedly 200 habitations, mostly for the Catholic and Venetian community. A bell on the sum mit warned of any imminent danger from pirates. In the 18th century, the erosion and impracticality of the site prompted the families to leave and settle further south at Chora and at Pyrgos. An English visitor in 1850 described the houses ‘perched one over another where a crevice in the sides of the precipice will admit, and in the most frightful positions’. He claimed there was then only one living inhabitant. Today the ruined walls of a few buildings, churches and the stepped street are all that remain of this extraordinary and courageous site.
The road from Imerovigli to oia (best taken in the early morning before the island is awake) follows the ridge of the rim, with superb views– over the slopes to the east, and at intervals down into the caldera. other islands are visible on all sides: Folegandros and Sikinos in the west, naxos and Ios to the north, and Amorgos and Anaphi in the east. The strata in the walls of the cliff beside the road are a visible history of the evolution of the great eruption. At the eastern extremity of oia is the separate community of Phoinikia to the north of the road: its small, rock-cut church of Aghios Giorgios, dates probably from the 13th century and contains murals from the same period, currently under conservation.
Oia– (11km; pronounced ‘Ee-a’), which commands the northern entry into the caldera, was the island’s principal commercial centre up until the Second World War. It is a quieter and more picturesque settlement than Fira, affording a different perspective on the caldera. As viewed from the church of Aghios Nikolaos, looking east, it is a unique tissue of habitation: its varied forms and colours of houses—some still derelict from the 1956 earthquake—flow along the summit of the ridge in a succession of half-cylinders, rectangles and occasional hemispheres, interspersed with the irregular flights of steps that link them. The appearance is more plastic and sculptural than linear. The houses are constructed in rough volcanic rocks, cemented with the island’s abundant pozzolana, and then thickly plastered to give a neat and uniform surface. At the highest level, there are several neoclassical captains’ houses, characterised by a substantial blind attic on the façade which serves to mask the high, vaulted ceilings behind which were designed to keep the interiors as cool as possible. In one of the finest of these mansions, towards the western end of the town, is the Nautical Museum (open 10–3 except Tues), contain a number of impressive carved ship’s figureheads, maritime memorabilia, models, watercolours, and ship’s equipment. on the point at the western extremity of the town is the 15th-century Venetian Kastro, with strategic surveillance to north and east, and over the entirety of the caldera to the south. Below oia, accessible either by road or by two flights of steps, is the Harbour of Amoudi, overhung by russet-red cliffs of lava. Boats depart from the quay here twice daily to cross to Therasia (see below).
An alternative, little-used route returns to Chora, via Tholos, Aghia Irini and Vourvoulos. The landscape is wide and open, and terraced for cultivating the legumes and pulses for which the island is famous, and which are able to resist the winds that hit this part of the island with particular force. The older churches in the land scape around Tholos (11.5km) are also sunk low into the ground for protection. The island’s northeastern slopes are creased with seasonal torrent beds that cut deeply into the soft soil in ravines. In one such ‘crease’ between the tiny harbour of Aghia Irini and Vourvoulos is the monastery church of Aghios Artemios: its broad catholicon, and the surrounding older buildings, cut and constructed into the hillside around an irregular space, give a momentary glimpse of how Santorini looked before the concrete boom.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.