Friday, August 27, 2004

Santorini, Greece--August 27th

A view of Fira, Santorini, from our ship. This photo was taken about 6:30 in the evening so the western face of the cliff (which you are here looking at) is well-lit. In the morning, the 220-meter-high cliff was shrouded in fog and shadow. . . . If you look toward the left, you will see a large white box-like object close to the water. That is the base station for the Santorini cable car (a "cable car" is the equivalent of an enclosed ski lift gondola). A bit to the right of the cable car, you can see a light zig-zag line running from the bay to the top of the hill. That is the old stone stair footpath. You can walk the path or pay for donkeys to carry you. Or pay for the cable car. We opted to take the cable car first thing in the morning.

The island of Santorini is really the eastern portion of a large volcanic caldera. Our ship is here shown at rest in the midst of the caldera. I took this shot from the gondola of our cable car during our ascent to Fira. Fira is the capital of the island.

Looking south from the top platform of the cable car. It's about 7:30 in the morning. The fog still softens the light.

The top of the 500-some steps heading down to the bay--the only way one used to be able to get from the bay to Fira.

Gorgeous white houses along the cliff-tops. (Fira, looking north, in the early morning light.)

As we walked north along the main roadway out of town in the early morning light, we saw this gorgeous chapel down the hill to the east. . . .

It was about 8 in the morning. We saw about 8 people emerge from this church. I so much wanted to go in and take some photos, but this was the first Greek Orthodox Church to which we got close enough to enter and I wasn’t sure how people would feel about me snapping pictures inside their place of worship. Several congregants were busy dusting icons and replacing flowers. They studiously avoided noticing our presence, and I was uncomfortable about even attempting to speak to them, since we had yet to say hello to even one person from the community that morning. So this was the only shot I took.

Later in the day, we visited Agios Ioannes [St. John] Basilica, a gorgeous Roman Catholic church building.

Agios Ioannes Basilica, looking up toward the ceiling.

Agios Ioannes Basilica, the altar.

After heading north, we turned around and came back down along the western cliff-edge. Eventually we found our way to a point where we headed east back toward the main part of the city. As we clambered through some back streets, we came across this narrow alley or roadway. We wanted to make it to the church with the blue domes, but got sidetracked before we arrived. . . . Down this alley, we found the shop of the jeweler I describe in my narrative for today. . . .

No motorbikes/no motorcars beyond this point. It really got narrow! And there was no exit at the other end.

After spending time in Fira, we decided to visit Kamari which, according to our map, was only a kilometer or so away from Ancient Thira. And Ancient Thira was just at the end of the Kamari Beach. Well, here we are! No Ancient Thira to be seen, but the water offered some respite from the heat. We were struck by how pebbly the beach was. And this is supposed to be one of the nicer beaches on the island! . . . And, yes, as so many beaches in this part of the world, if you look closely, you’ll realize it was a “clothes optional” place.

Sarita standing in the water at Kamari Beach. The water grew deep quite rapidly.

Well, as I note in my narrative, we eventually found our way to Ancient Thira. This is a view from atop the mountain where Ancient Thira is situated. We "couldn't believe" how, from this location, the beach looked like asphalt, and the beach umbrellas like stripes on the highway!

Ancient Thira. (Read my description of how we got here in the narrative that lies above this series of photos.)

Looking southwest. Amazing piles of rock . . . or should I say, stone walls.

Ancient Thira, upper city (looking west and a bit north). Notice the "guardhouse" on the horizon t the north (on the right side). There were men in these booths. They weren't there to be of interpretive service to visitors. It was their job to ensure no vandalism took place.

Pretty stunning that you have these square-cut large stones (middle background) mixed with rather irregular, smaller stone (foreground and far background). Were they created this way due to having been manufactured in different eras? Due to different classes (wealth)? I have no idea.

A few pedestals in a large room. . . . In the upper area of the dig.

No useful interpretive guidebooks for this hike, and no "rangers" or "docents" to help you!

Looking almost due east (perhaps slightly north). You can see the sea in the distance, down the cliff. I can't imagine living up here! Where would you get your water? What would you DO by way of making a living? The land is SO rocky and barren!

Further to the right (or south).

Next set of buildings. (Note the structure in the upper portion of this photo in the previous photo.) We're looking almost due east, down the mountain. The floor is perhaps 25 feet below us.

View further to the right. Looking south, and slightly east, down the cliff.

The amphitheatre. Notice the rope at the lower right edge of the photo. You couldn't go down. The theatre is probably 200 feet below us, then the sea is over the cliff beyond. We're looking east and slightly south. It's just past 1 in the afternoon and very hot and dry.

An area that has recently been excavated. I actually had Sarita "cross the line" (see the rope in her right arm) so we could get a halfway decent picture. . . . There is no explanatory text anywhere. Very frustrating for us completely inexperienced archaeologists.

Closer view.

Current dig area, roped-off so you can't enter. Indeed, most of Ancient Thira was roped off.

The guys over toward the left are engaged in current digging. Looking off in the distance, toward the radio towers on top of the mountain, you get a good idea of the barrenness of this island!

An early Christian basilica, circa 400 AD.

Approaching the doorway.

Just inside the door; slightly to the left, looking in.

Looking straight forward.

Further right.

Just inside the doorway, to the right. Reminds me of one of the chapels we saw on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland a year ago. Very small, very primitive, and in the midst of a very barren landscape.

Toward the end of our sojourn in Ancient Thira. This was the first time it fully struck me (even more than at Pompei) how much DIRT archaeologists have to move! See the dirt in the foreground, on the left? That's how much someone had to remove in order to open the rooms you see in the background, next to Sarita! Before the archaeologists went to work, this hillside looked just as it does at the upper left and in the background: weeds and dirt forming a big hillside!

View from the window of our bus as it made its way from Kamari back to Fira. If you look carefully, you can make out a medieval basilica at the top of the hillside, just to the left of the middle.

More road pictures on the way back from Kamari to Fira.

There is so much white in Santorini. Someone asked me why I thought they painted the bases of the trees white. "To provide additional reflectance for drivers at night," I suggested.

Entering Fira once more. Very different trees from what we're used to!

We spent a bit more time in Fira (see my story about the icons in my narrative, above). But then it was time to return to our ship. As I noted in our first photo of the day, you could get up and down the mountainside either by cable car gondola (as we did in the morning, going up), or by walking the 500-some-odd stairs, or by riding donkeys up or down the stairs. We decided to walk down and save the Euros. As we walked, about a 100 steps down, we came upon this group of weary travelers, who were just ready to begin their descent. The woman in the rear (at left), was not comfortable at all to be perched on the back of a donkey! We walked past them, but they soon passed us again. (See next photo.) The woman’s donkey was happy to oblige her fears. He did nothing serious, but, as we observed, he provided her a few extra "thrills" in the traffic jam to come. . . .

Rush hour! (Look at the larger version of the picture; there’s a group coming up.) A minor traffic jam ensued.

End of day. Fira Harbor. As we left the dock, this other boat came in. If you look closely, you can see a soldier in camouflage up on the roof of the skipper's cabin, leaning on the orange crates in the back of the boat. I had noticed the soldier was holding a submachine gun, but my camera wasn't turned on when I first saw him, so I couldn't take a picture till this moment. Why was the soldier carrying a gun? I have no idea. It felt weird to see, however!
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