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Notwithstanding its proximity (2km) to one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, Therasia has remained remarkably quiet and untouched. A visit to the island is a return in time: it gives some sense of what Santorini was like before tourism transformed it. The landscape is similar, but empty except for the pasturing animals—horses, donkeys and the mules which winter on Therasia after their summer’s exertions on the main island carrying visitors from the port up to Fira. The vegetation and birdlife is richer than on Santorini: larks fill the air in spring, with raptors circling above them. Fruit cactus and capers are abundant. The plentiful vines on Therasia are mostly of the white kritiko grape.
On the scarp above the waterfront at Riva, is the mid 19th-century church of Aghia Irini, sitting in a wide esplanade. An ancient column fragment outside the church is the sole reminder of an ancient presence in the area which, it seems most likely, would have occupied the spur of the hill to the south of riva, where there is a density of terracing and walls.
The two hamlets on the gentler, western slope of the island make a rewarding visit. Both Potamos and Agrilia (30mins by foot from Riva) are hidden in ravines in the is land’s western slope, giving them a compact and intimate feel. In Potamos, the rows of house-fronts belonging to the older dwellings carved deep into the rock form a variegated backdrop to the later dwellings in front which are vaulted and cubic in design. Plants burgeon in the ra vine’s meagre water. In Agrilia, the church of the Eisodia tis Panaghias (Presentation of the Virgin), built in 1887, has striking and colourful folkloric decoration on its façade, of a kind not seen on the main island.
Manolas (40mins by foot from Riva), the island’s chora, beetles along the eastern ridge of the island at 170m above sea level, mirroring Fira opposite, across the caldera. A steep crescent bay drops below to Korfos, the island’s primary harbour, lined with old, vaulted boathouses and fisherman’s dwellings. Manolas preserves much of its original patchwork of troglodyte houses whose doors and windows and projecting ovens create fascinating patterns in the flows and bulges of the natural pumice-rock. Most of the village’s churches were rebuilt after the earthquake of 1956. Some, such as the tiny chapel of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos with its prominent belfries, are a delight for theenuous gaiety of their decoration.
To the south of Manolas the track along the ridge leads past several rural churches built in small, fertile hollows to the monastery of the Koimisis tis Theotokou, panoramically sited on the southernmost point of the island, 200m above the water. In the southwest corner of the is land, south of the church of Christos, are the Alaphouzos pozzolana quarries, whose pumice was used in the preparation of a vitally important, impermeable cement for the construction of the Suez Canal. In 1866 a Greek scientist, Manolis Christomanos, observed man-made walls at the lower limit of the quarry and saw that they were pre-Greek, dating from before the pumice layers above were deposited. Alaphouzos, the proprietor of the quarry organised excavation of the site, from which a house with several rooms was uncovered, with associated pottery. Fouque also studied the site. This was the first intimation of the prehistoric importance of Thera, which was to lead eventually to Marinatos’s spectacular discoveries at Akrotiri.
Therasia Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.