Santorini’s Caldera

Are you daredevil enough to go into a Greek volcano? Or would you get scared out of your Sisterhood-of-the-Traveling-Pants?

You can only get away with using “caldera” as a synonym for “sunset” or “view” for so long, so what exactly is every restaurant advertisement and earth science geek talking about? Technically, a caldera is a volcanic crater—like a cauldron formed when an explosion causes the peak of a mountain to collapse. Technically, Santorini is a collection of five islands formed by various eruptions of the same volcano.

The main island, known as Santorini but actually named Thera, earned its half-moon shape in the eruption you’ve already heard so much about—the spectacular one that occurred 3,500 years ago, buried the flourishing Minoan civilization at Akrotiri, and probably altered climate patterns for a bit, as eruptions are wont to do. Thirasia and Aspronisi, two islands on Thera’s periphery, were also shaped by this eruption, while minor volcanic activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries gave rise to the two Kameni islands in the caldera’s center

The island has since recovered; however, since it rests above one of the most seismically active places in the world, another quake is, technically, only a matter of time.

Wait, does this mean that modern-day Santorini rests on the lip of a living volcano? Indeed it does. There have been numerous earthquakes and smaller eruptions since the behemoth that dispelled Akrotiri, some more deadly than others. Since humans resettled on Thera, at least 11 smaller eruptions have toppled homes and scared people back to the mainland. The most recent event occurred in 1956, when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake—one of the biggest ever recorded in the Aegean region—struck Santorini and seriously damaged its cliff-side villages. Over 300 homes were destroyed as landslides decimated the towns of Fira and Oia. The island has since recovered; however, since it rests above one of the most seismically active places in the world, another quake is, technically, only a matter of time.

If this freaks you out a bit, good! The earth is powerful. But don’t worry too much—scientists track the area for signs of eruption, and crafty Greeks have reinforced their buildings with steel and concrete to better withstand the next quake. You’re far more likely to enjoy the cliffs of Santorini with a strong cocktail than strong tremors.

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