Santorini has that kind of beauty that blinds you: everything is photogenic, from the blue domes of the characteristic churches to the flowers hanging from the balconies, from the omnipresent trellises to the churches with multiple bells, not to mention the white-washed houses crammed one against the other. These white "cubist houses" overhanging an impossibly blue sea are the trademark of the Greek islands. Even though images of Santorini are on every poster advertising holidays in Greece, to wander its cobbled streets that endlessly go uphill and downhill offering breath-taking vistas in every corner is quite another thing.
In Fira you will be tempted to sit down in one of the many chic bars overlooking the sea, or you will be invited to climb down the stairs to the small port on top of a donkey. I chose not to use the donkey because I felt sorry for him, all day up and down the stairs! In the end it was a bad decision, because the stairs to the port were never-ending and it was scorching hot. The stink from the donkey's "droppings" didn't help, ugh!
Once I climbed down the stairs, I found out that the small port in Fira is really nothing special, so go there only if you intend to do the excursion to the volcano, a very popular activity in Santorini. I didn't have that much time on the island, so I skipped it for this time. Luckily, I found out that there is a cable car (4€) that leads you back to the main town, and even though it was not cheap I took it.
One thing that fascinates me about Santorini is its history: there once was a Minoan settlement on the island, near Akrotiri, but a devastating volcanic eruption - one of the biggest recorded in history - has wiped out all traces of this civilization on the island, covering the site with volcanic sediment, like in Pompeii. The eruption - which occurred approximately in 1600 BC - made the centre of the island collapse and sink into the sea, forming the spectacular caldera. Today it is possible to make out the form of the original round island, and take trips to the volcano, which you can reach with a short boat ride to the island of Nea Kameni in the middle of the caldera.
It is said that Plato was thinking of Santorini (then called Thira) when he wrote of Atlantis and of a mysterious lost civilization, now under the sea. The eruption was also one of the causes of the decline of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. It is possible to visit the archaeological site of Akrotiri, which dates back to 4000-5000 BC, but it takes a lot of imagination to make out the houses out of the ruins.
This trip was first published on http://theitalianbackpacker.blogspot.it.