Mesaria, Episkopi Gonias and Kamari
The road east from Chora towards the airport descends to Mesaria (3km), which grew up as an important agricultural centre for wine production on the island. At Vothonas, to the south of the settlement, is a Wine Museum, created in the underground caves of a winery, displaying some of the technology and history of wine-making on the island since the 17th century. Landmarks of Mesaria are its grand, early neoclassical mansions built by the is land’s entrepreneurs and merchants in the late 19th century—the decaying Saliveros Mansion, and the recently restored Argyros Mansion, built by a successful wine merchant in 1888, whose interior is open for public visits, from May to october (information: T. 22860 31669). East of Mesaria the road continues to the airport (4.5km) and to Monolithos (6km) which takes its name from the conspicuous landmark of a high outcrop of rock, visible to the east of the airport. The rock appears to have been the focus for a Mycenaean presence on the island in the 12th century bc.
The right-hand branch at the principal junction between Mesaria and the airport leads towards Kamari and Ancient Thera, passing east of Vothonas and Exo Gonia which are interesting settlements for their stacked, traditional, troglodyte architecture. In the area there was an Archaic heroon to Achilles in antiquity. At Episkopi Gonias (5km) another right branch leads one kilometre up to the church of the Panaghia Episkopi– on the lower slopes of Mount Prophitis Elias. This is the most interesting and important church on the island and contains paintings and architectural features comparable with the finest on Naxos . The church, which was the seat of the orthodox bishop of the island in the Byzantine period, is built on the base of an Early Christian Basilica of the 6th century, and may have served as the catholicon of a monastery which no longer exists. It was badly damaged by fire in 1915, but a number of the most important paintings have fortunately survived.
The existing structure was founded in 1115 by Alexius I Comnenus of Byzantium, who had also sanctioned the building of the Monastery of St John on Patmos. The small, domed, inscribed-cross design is built on the area of the sanctuary of the Early Christian basilica; the apse and synthronon of the earlier building are maintained in the 12th-century structure. The church is entered through a barrel-vaulted narthex; two openings lead into the naos which is compact and high. In its centre are two columns supporting the dome which are probably unchanged in position from the early basilica, and are composed of several elements: the column to the north stands on an ancient altar as its base, and has an unusual, Early Christian, Doric-style capital; that to the south has, in addition, a second altar with carved garlands and bucrania incorporated just below the capital. The side aisles have a mixture of fluted and plain antique columns.
The majority of the wall paintings– are in the south side; they date from the early 12th century and are in a highly individual style, characterised by clear, sharp forms, minimal design, and pale colours. The eyes of the figures are unusually widely-spaced. On the south wall of the south bay is the Dormition of the Virgin, in which Apostles, animated by dis may, look on; to the left (east wall), is a Virgin of the ‘Blachernae’ type, with a strikingly young and princely Christ; to the right is the Resurrection. In the arch over the passage into the south bay the subject is Salome with the head of the Baptist, and Herod enthroned, in which the faces and costumes are executed with remarkable delicacy. There are less well-preserved murals in the north side, and figures of Apostles in the conch of the sanctuary. In the southwest corner of the naos is the famous, 12th-century processional icon of the Panaghia Glykophilousa (‘Tender loving Virgin’). The shadowed eyes and highly stylised faces are set off by a rich, red background: the angels and figures in the border are also of particularly fine execution.
The most unusual element of the interior is the rare, keromastic decoration of the marble templon screen. The spaces between the outlines of the abstract and foliate decorative patterns have been carved out, and the cavities filled with a paste made from (iron oxide) earth-pigments and wax. The surface has then been polished, giving an effect of great richness and beauty.
Many ancient spolia are included in the exterior of the church: outside the northeast corner is a section of trabeation with metopes and triglyphs, and pieces of cornice, as well as one massive, ancient threshold block in red volcanic rock made into a table, supported by two Early Christian templon elements.
East of the turning for the church of the Episkopi, the road continues to Kamari (7km) an expanding resort set behind a long beach of black volcanic sand. on several plots in the town, where archaeologists have been able to make salvage excavations before building has begun, traces of the port of ancient Oea have come to light. Theodore Bent visited Kamari in 1883 and remarks on seeing ‘the remains of a roman temple, some statues of inferior workmanship, and the foundations of houses’. Oea was founded in the 8th century bc as the out-port for the main settlement of Ancient Thera which crowns the mountain to the south.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.