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The world famous island of Santorini is a small, circular group of volcanic islands located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km south-east from the mainland of Greece, being the southern most island of the Cycladic group. Its surface area is 73 sq. km. and its population, distributed among thirteen villages, just exceeds thirteen thousand six hundred people, according to the census of 2001.
Santorini is not easy to describe and it is not comparable with any other Greek island. What makes it so different from any other island, is its imposing landscape, the caldera with its impressionistic contrast of colours, its terrifying birth....
The imposing landscape is given by a giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular and measuring about 12 km by 7 km is surrounded by 300 m (984 ft) high sheer cliffs on three sides. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the Mediterranean by another much smaller island called Therasia, also with cliffs. The lagoon is joined to the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest. The water in the centre of the lagoon is nearly 400 m (1,300 ft) deep, so it is an ideal safe harbour for even the biggest ships so the island's ports are all in the lagoon and there are no ports on the outside of the island. The towns of Santorini cling to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon.
In Santorini, every single stone has its share of glory. The present-day crescent shape of the island is a consequence of the activity of the volcano in prehistoric times. The island itself owes its very existence to the volcano. The last huge eruption of the volcano dates back 3,600 years, to the late Bronze Age. Thirty million cubic meters of magma in the form of pumice and ash were blown to a height of up to 36 kilometers above the island. Pumice deposits, dozens of meters thick, buried one of the most prosperous pre-historic settlements of that period, feeding the myth of the lost Atlantis. The mild activity of the volcano after this major eruption continues into the present (the most recent eruption occurred in 1950) building up two small islands within the caldera, Palea and Nea Kameni. These islands represent the volcano's most recent activity.
Santorini was named by the Venetians in the 13th century after Saint Irene, but this is one of many names given over time to this island. Santorini's first inhabitants were the Minoans in 3000 BC, also known as the early Cycladic period. Their society was largely influenced by the nearby Minoan Civilization on Crete, and wall-paintings found at excavated Akrotiri are similar, showing a link, to those found at the Palace of Knossos on Crete. At that time the island was called Stronghyle, or Strongili, which means round. The island was round before the volcano tore out the middle leaving only a horseshoe shape around the edge. In antiquity, the island was also called Kalliste, meaning the beautiful one. The Dorians renamed the island Thera (or Thira) in the 11th century BC, and they built their city of the same name high on the south-eastern side of the island. During the Peloponnesian war, Santorini sided with Sparta, but it later fell to Athenian control. In Hellenistic times the island's strategic position made Thera an important base for the war campaigns in the Aegean of the successors to Alexander the Great. Santorini was part of the Duchy of Naxos when under Venetian rule in the thirteenth century. In the years under Frankish rule, Santorini experienced the development of a thriving cotton cultivation and viticulture, but the island suffered as much from piratical raids as it did from the rivalries between the local Latin rulers as well as the Duke and the Sultan.
The Turks followed in the mid-16th century, when Santorini was one of the last of the Cyclades to fall to Turkish rule. In 1832, Santorini and the other Cyclades Islands were united to the New Greek State. Up until the beginning of the 20th century shipping, textiles, tomato production and viticulture were all flourishing markets, but the change from sail to steam-driven ships and the relocation of the island's factories to mainland Greece had a negative effect on the island's economy. After the 1956 earthquake there was a huge decrease in the population resulting in an economic catastrophe. Towards the end of the 1970s however, tourism began to develop, bringing economic relief to the island.
The marvelous dry climate and continuous sunshine create year around conditions which are perfect for tourism and it has been said that the sunsets in Santorini are the best in the world.
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