Few islands in Greece are mentioned as often
in ancient literature and myths as Santorini. And during the
course of time even fewer have repeatedly changed not only
shape but name.
Through the ages, Santorini has been known as Strongili
'The Round One', which was the first name, Kalliste 'the Fair
One', Filitera or Filotera, Kalavria, Karisti, Tevsia, Thirameni
and Rineia. When the Turks occupied Greece (1579-1821) during
the time of the Ottoman Empire, they called the island 'Gozi',
'Dermetzik' or 'Dimertzik' (the latter means small mill, so
it is likely that name came from the small windmills on the
After the liberation of Greece in 1821, the name 'Thira'
was established as the official name of the island. In spite
of this, maps abroad had the island marked as 'Santa Irina'.
Until today Greeks still refer to the island as Santorini.
|The first Volcanic craters began to form about
2,000,000 years ago southwest of where Profitis Ilias is today.
Over time the craters broke through the sea and then united
to form what is now Akrotiri.
Later volcanic activity would create other craters to the
north of the already existing island. The volcanic cones,
and the rocky islet pre-dating them, slowly began to unite,
due the volcanic matter spilling out during the eruptions.
Eventually one island was formed. Herodotus tells us that
the island’s first name came from that formation –
or 'The Round One', a name that dates back to 1500 BC
Buried under layers of ash and volcanic residue for centuries,
the island shows no sign of colonization until around the
middle of the 3rd millennium BC (Early Cycladic period).
The settlers are said to have come from the Lelegian tribe,
who set up colonies on other Cycladic islands.
The Middle Cycladic Period followed, from approximately 2000/1900
BC to 1550 BC. Evidence has been discovered of settlers on
both Santorini and Thirassia, communities of both farmers
and seafaring folk.
In the following years when Minoan Crete had become a maritime
empire, Cretans came to settle on the island and intermarried
with the locals. Evidence from the Akrotiri excavations show
that this civilization was abruptly terminated at its peak,
with the massive volcano eruption of 1550- 1500 BC. Somehow
forewarned about the imminent disaster, probably with the
earthquake which proceeded the eruption by one year, it seems
that they left and did not return, since Akrotiri has yielded
nothing of worth (i.e. jewelry, official seals, skeletons
All that remains of Strongili today is Santorini, Thirassia
|Mythology tells us that on their homeward
journey, Euphemos, the son of the god Poseidon, received
a clod of white soil as a gift from Triton. After leaving
Anafi, he received a warning in the form of a clap of
thunder and threw the soil into the sea. From this was
formed the island of Kalliste, the most fair, which was
later called Thera.
|But according to Herodotus, the Phoenicians
were so enthralled by the beauty of Santorini that they
settled there and gave it the name 'Kalliste' or 'The
|The name Thera comes from the commander Theras,
son of Autesion of Sparta, who, as Herodotus of Alikarnassos
(484-424 BC) tells us, had lead earlier colonists to Kalliste.
|"There were in the island now called
Thera, but then Calliste, descendants of Menbliorus the
son of Poeciles, a Phoenician; for Kadmus son of Agenor,
in his search for Europa, had put in at the place now
called Thera; and having put in, either because the land
pleased him, or because for some other reason he desired
to do so, he left in this island, among other Phoenicians,
his own kinsman Membliarus. These dwelt in the island
Kalliste for eight generations before Theras came from
Lacedaemon was the correct name for Sparta. The modern
day name is Lakonia which is situated in the Peloponnese.
| For many years, it was thought that Santorini
was given its name by the Venetians in the 13th century
at the time of the Crusades and the fall of Constantinople
in 1204. It is a reference to Saint Irene - 'Santa Irini'
(from the Greek word 'ei - ri - ni ' = peace).
|Photo : Klearchos Kapoutsis
| The Venetians had a landing place at Riva
on the island of Thirassia, where they erected a chapel
in honour of Santa Irini (Saint Irene), who had become
a martyr in Thessaloniki on the 23rd March in the year
303. Nowadays there is strong evidence that the Basilica
of Agia Irini at the base of the mountain of Mesa
Vouno gave Santorini its name, and not the chapel of Santa
Irini in Thirassia.