The island’s crescent shape is the result of multiple volcanic eruptions, the most cataclysmic of which occurred around 1600 BC, destroying the island’s ancient Minoan civilization. The center and opposite rim of the volcano collapsed and the crescent remained.
After settling in at our central hotel, we joined tourists from many countries to stroll the cliff edge promenade lined with restaurants, and shops featuring exquisite gold jewelry and other treasures, their staffs all speaking excellent English. Somehow keeping our funds largely intact, we ended up at a restaurant overlooking the caldera for a fine dinner.
The next day began with a tour of the ancient Minoan ruins at Akrotiri, which, like Italy’s Pompeii, was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash in the eruption in the 1600s that blew apart the island. A small part of the destroyed city has been carefully excavated by archaeologists, revealing frescoes, elaborate buildings and an advanced underground plumbing system.
In the afternoon, we took a short boat ride to one of the small islands in the caldera that have formed over the centuries and are still somewhat volcanically active. Our feet were warmed by the heat rising from the black soil, while steam vented from below.
Another short boat ride returned us to the shore at the base of the steps to the exquisitely beautiful little town of Oia, pronounced EEyah. The 200 steps are not particularly difficult, though one of the smelly dusty donkey caravans bearing passengers up the stairs almost bumped one of us walkers over the side of the cliff. The town sparkles in bright white and blue, with its own collection of restaurants and shops with stunning views. There are also hotels harking back to the time when homes and hotels were built as caves into the cliff walls.