Minor eruptions have been the norm in Greece’s earthquake-prone history, but Santorini has a definite history of overachieving – eruptions here were genuinely earth-shattering, and so wrenching they changed the shape of the island several times.
Dorians, Venetians and Turks occupied Santorini, but its most influential early inhabitants were Minoans. They came from Crete some time between 2000 BC and 1600 BC, and the settlement at Akrotiri dates from the peak years of their great civilisation.
The island was circular then and was called Strongili (Round One). Thousands of years ago, a colossal volcanic eruption caused the centre of Strongili to sink, leaving a caldera with towering cliffs along the east side – a truly dramatic sight. The latest theory, based on carbon dating of olive-oil samples from Akrotiri, places the event 10 years either side of 1613 BC.
Santorini was recolonised during the 3rd century BC, but for the next 2000 years sporadic volcanic activity created further physical changes that included the formation of the volcanic islands of Palia Kameni and Nea Kameni at the centre of the caldera.
As recently as 1956, a major earthquake devastated Oia and Fira, yet by the 1970s the islanders had embraced tourism as tourists embraced the island, and today Santorini is a destination of truly spectacular global appeal, drawing honeymooners, backpackers, the jet set, cruise-boat passengers, Chinese bridal parties (in part due to the success of Beijing Love Story, filmed partly on Santorini) and everyone else, too.
For better or worse, Santorini and Mykonos have become the poster children for the Greek islands. As well as bigger crowds, that also means considerably higher prices.