The Rambling Writer Returns to Greece, Part 16: Farewell to Santorini

Join us in one more stroll along the caldera-edge walkway for last glimpses of this spectacular volcanic Greek island. And after a peek at artifacts of the ancient Hellenic settlement of Thera, a ferry ride!

NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.

Getting ready to board the ferry to our next island destination of Naxos, Thor and I took a last walk to enjoy the views before visiting the small Archaeological Museum of Thera. This time we headed north, looking toward the village of Oia at the tip of the caldera.

Again, we’re struck by the contrasts here– pristine white buildings like honeycombs clustered along the raw volcanic cliffs. And lots of luxury hotels with infinity pools to refresh visitors to this hot, arid island. (Some locals are not pleased with this water use, though the economy depends on luxury tourism.)

The charming small museum in downtown Fira gave us glimpses of the island’s history after the devastating 1600 BC eruption that buried ancient Akrotiri. In the 8th century BC, Dorian settlers from Sparta arrived to build a new town and port across the island on the eastern shore. It remained a backwater until the 3rd century BC, when the Ptolemaic wartime fleet for the Aegean was stationed in the harbor, and the city was rebuilt with imposing buildings in the Hellenic style. Later, the Romans occupied the port, and then it became part of the Byzantine empire (the usual history in these parts). In 726 AD, the volcano once more had its way with a relatively minor eruption that nevertheless covered the city with a layer of pumice and ash, and the city was abandoned.

Thor and I didn’t make it across the island to visit the excavations, but I’ve borrowed a photo from Wikipedia:

Again, a contrast struck us, as we considered the difference in styles between the Minoan-influenced art of Akrotiri, with its peaceful scenes of dolphins, flowers, and lovely ladies, and the Mycenean/Dorian depictions of warriors. This is a kylix, or drinking “cup,” much larger than what we would call an individual cup:

And here is its lower rim:

This is classic black-figure decoration used around the 5th to 6th centuries in Greece. These large kylix held wine mixed with water, usually used for male-only symposia. As the drinker gradually lowered the wine level, the scene inside the bowl would be revealed. Sometimes these were humorous or sexually-provocative images designed to add to the festive occasion.

In the museum, we also saw several images of the humorous, phallic Silenus figure, akin to satyrs and said to be a drinking companion of Dionysos:

This Silenus seemed to be enjoying his donkey ride!

And, yes, Dionysos is still alive in the spirits of the Greeks, as well as an important force in my novel-in-progress with its mythic roots. This nearby restaurant joins him with the theory of Santorini/Thira as the lost island of Atlantis:

Some pottery vessels in the museum took the shape of animals or mythical beings, such as this Harpy or Siren. The half-woman, half-birds sometimes symbolized dangerous storm winds, and Odysseus on his journey encountered them.

This vessel is shaped like one of the wild boars that were the object of dangerous hunts using dogs and spears, and providing a prized catch for feasts and offerings to the gods. In my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Peter Mitchell finds himself forcefully thrown into just such a wild boar hunt with the fierce Corybantes on the slopes of Mount Parnassos.

And the gentler Hellenic images were also present, like this lovely red-figure vessel with love-goddess Aphrodite and winged Eros:

And this classic marble relief profile:

This marble lion calls to mind the lions of the sacred island of Delos:

And, speaking of the contrasts between Akrotiri and Thera arts, I realized that in an earlier post (#14) I forgot to include the following discussion of the Akrotiri fresco techniques from that museum. As some of you have expressed interest in the historical evolution, I’ll add it here:

And, of course, those lively blue monkeys:

Pondering the riches of the past, Thor and I enjoyed our last al fresco sunset dinner overlooking the caldera.

And the next day, after a terrifying shuttle ride down precipitous switchbacks, we joined the throngs waiting to board the giant ferry to Naxos on our quest to visit the stomping grounds of  Dionysos and Ariadne. These were the passengers unloading. Seriously, the throngs kept pouring out of the ferry for about five minutes. It seemed impossible that the boat could hold so many, or that all the passengers would find transportation to the top of the cliff.

Since my years-ago previous trip to the islands had involved some funky, crowded conditions on local ferries, I had booked ahead on this one to get “business class” for a few dollars more. We hadn’t expected a luxe bar and lounge:

From the windows we waved farewell to Santorini.

A last toast to this fascinating island of geologic and historic drama. “Chairete!” Rejoice!


You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at

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