If I were to summarise in just one word the week I`ve recently spent in Santorini, that word would be amazing. The combination of perfect weather, beautiful surroundings, generous history, good food and kind locals made for an unforgettable week on this Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
I was reminded once again that I was somehow born to live in a Mediterranean place, as that`s where I feel the happiest.
Here is what I loved most about Santorini, as seen through the filter of the book I was reading while on the island – “Oia in Santorini, a Journey in Space and Time” by Kadio Kolymva – where all the quotes below are from.
“The visitor to Oia cannot fail to admire the village`s unique architecture. Already since nineteenth century the village was divided into two large architectural unities: the houses of the more affluent inhabitants, such as ship captains and masters, the kapetanospita, and the houses of the less well-off, the hyposkapha, that were carved in the rock and spread along the entire cliff face. To this day, the main street is the boundary between these two unities. The street, which unites rather than separates them, is known as Marmara, because in the nineteenth century the Oian shipowner D. Nomikos paved it entirely with marble flag-stones (marmaro: marble). This is an indication of the great prosperity of the village, which also proves the love of the Oians for their homeland.”
“The kapetanospita (captain`s house) are the large two-storey residences along the left side of the central street, as you walk from west to east (in the photo above, on the right, nowadays serving as shops or art galleries.). The interior of these houses, with the wide floorboards from Romania, the cross-vaulted ceilings and the painted murals, were adorned with elegant furniture, carved mirrors and lamps, all brought back from voyages to far-away places such as Odessa, Venice, Bucharest and Alexandria. These were the homes in which generations of captains, generations of mothers, siblings and spouses were born and brought up. In those homes they made merry at celebrations and at the reception of good news, inside them they also mourned their dead, drowned in the raging foam of the Black Sea.”
“Gold and silver flowed in, precious coins were carried in barrels, the captains` mansions were wealthy and there was happiness in the homes of boatswains and the seamen. And there was celebration that lasted from one night to the next.”
“The simplest form of house in Oia is the hyposkapho, carved in the rock. A house big enough to fit in and a field long enough to see, said the villagers, who, rich in rocks and poor in land, dug their dwellings in the ground. These hyposkapha were mainly the homes of the crew. The floor was of earth, like the surfaces of the wall. From their clean, whitewashed vaults and from the flat roofs, locals used to collect rain water.”
“In July 1956 a new earthquake dealt the village its final blow. Oia died, it collapsed into ruins. The people left for Piraeus and the once wealthy town of 2500 inhabitants became a small village of 300 souls. For twenty years the north wind whistled and pounded the deserted square, passing through the ruined hyposkapha and captains` houses.
In 1976, twenty years after the disastrous earthquake, Oia was chosen by the Greek state to participate in the new programme of traditional settlements, the aim of which was to restore the ruined buildings and convert these into accommodations for tourists. Repairing begins. The traditional settlement of Oia was born again. Life returned to the neighbourhoods, the courtyards and stairways filled again with people. Oia today is a listed traditional village with specific building regulations and strict rules on the operation of various pensions, hotels, houses and shops, as well as on aesthetic interventions.”
“Oia`s relationship with the sea epitomises the history of men and maritime activities in the Aegean. As on every island, only certain villages are involved with seafaring and in the case of Santorini, this village is Oia, with a continuous rise in Greek shipping from the late eighteenth until the mid-twentieth century. Its fleet of sailing ships was at its zenith in 1880s. Santorini was the fourth major maritime island in the Aegean, with some 170 sailing vessels, out of the total of 2500 that the Greek fleet comprised.”
“When the Oian entrepreneur of the sea returned home after long voyages to Odessa, Alexandria, Marseille or London, he lacked for nothing.”
3. The peace to be found in the less touristic places, such as Pyrgos. Here, one can also see the vineyards grown on the island in order to produce the sweet wine of Santorini called Visanto (meaning Vin Santorini)
“The excellent subsoil of Santorini, the crumbly earth, the dry cultivation, the unique sunshine as well as the great art of Santorinian vine-growers create to this day wine of great quality.”
4. The bays of Armeni and Ammoudi, with their pristine waters, traditional tavernas and old buildings dating from the times when they served as main harbours for the ships coming to or leaving Oia
“Ammoudi and Armeni were the harbours of Oia during the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Here the island`s products (mainly the renowned wine) were loaded on sailing ships to travel all over the world. For this reason, the Oians had dug various structures out of the rock, the so-called magazia (shops), some of which were used as warehouses – where, in addition to merchandise, various equipment of the ships was kept – and others as seasonal dwellings so that those loading cargoes could live temporarily with their families near the harbour. These magazia were also – and still are – used as summer houses. That is the Oians came down and lived in them in the summer, so that they could bathe in the sea. We should not forget that before the paved road was constructed, this trip up and down was only made by mule, donkey or on foot.”
“In the small harbour of Armeni there were seven shipyards in the nineteenth century, where the sailing ships known as Panomeritika kavaria (Oia`s ancient name is Pano Meria: Upper Side) were built. We should remember that the Cycladic islanders were the first to build ships capable of undertaking long voyages, way back in the third millennium BC. The boatshed closed in 1994, closing within its cool environment all those mythical tools: huge planes and saws, wooden mallets and wedges, large compasses, as well as all those yellowing papers with the design and the numbers of the shipwright`s craft, needed for constructing a seaworthy vessel.”
5. Greek food: unpretentious dishes (Greek salad, moussaka, fava, plaki fish, baclava) whose great taste comes from the freshness of the ingredients rather than from a “secret” recipe
“Nowhere in Oia, or in Santorini for that matter, which has so many visitors for at least five months of the year, does the foreigner feel foreign. The most ancient sense of hospitality is always vital in Santorini. It seems that this very old relationship with the sea and voyages, this familiarity with other cultures, moulded the idiosyncratic nature of the islanders, open-minded and well-intentioned, and of their small communities, accepting and assimilating everything different.”
Next time I go to Greece, most probably on a different island as there are so many left to see, I would like to rent a villa on a remote beach and spend a week in the company of family and friends, all day cooking, eating, reading, telling stories, in other words living the most simple and yet happiest life.