The culture and history of Thira in Santorini

The handsome white buildings clustered up the cliffside give an instantly recognisable appeal to Thira. The city is the capital of Santorini, and as such, provides some of the most compelling holidays the island can offer.

Santorini Cultural Holidays

The western gem

Perched atop some of the island’s most distinctive cliffs, Thira makes for a remarkable capital city, yet thanks to its island home, also one where relaxation and laid-back living rule the day.

Its white buildings with pale blue accents are as evocative of the region as it gets, with narrow streets decked with stairs that lead up and down beside waist-high white stone walls.

Thira is located at the western edge of Santorini. Its legacy is tied to the caldera and the ancient volcanic eruptions of the island, which went on to form the basis of the city as it stands today. The city has less than 2,000 people, making for a real community feel, and has enviable views of the sea some 260 metres below.

Architectural influences

Thira draws its architectural inspiration from a number of sources. It’s distinct in all of Greece, yet nonetheless retains that classic Greek look.

Many of the domes and houses, and especially churches, were constructed when the island was under Venetian rule. The same applies for verandas and promenades that make the most of the sublime sunsets you can enjoy here.

Some of the best examples of religious buildings in the city are the striking Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, the church of Agios Minas and the Panagia ton Dominikanidon monastery. Each showcases Cycladian architecture at its finest, with broad arches and proud domes, together with vibrant white walls that always look as clean as the day they were built.

However, you can find a few pockets of Venetian influence elsewhere too, such as at the Catholic Cathedral of Santorini, whose peach-coloured walls and clock tower evoke far more Mediterranean flair.

At the heart of Thira is its archaeological museum, and it’s here you can expect to enjoy a real delve into the city’s past, as well as that of the wider island. Sculptures and scripts dating back to the Roman era, and even beyond, make up many of the exhibits here, as well as marble figurines and pottery dating back to the Hellenistic era.

The museum also hosts a number of objects from Akrotiri too, which deserves its own mention as a series of ruins south of Thira.

Folklore galore

While facts and history are one thing, few can argue with the cultural importance of local myths and legends.

Thira recognises that by paying homage via the Folklore Museum of Emmanuel A Lignos, located a little way out of town in Kontochori. It’s pretty distinctive, not just for its Venetian architecture, but because the entire place, and all six of its exhibition rooms, are tucked into a cave.

The museum is laid out as a demonstration of how typical Santorini homes looked at the start of the 20th century.

Wine barrels and pottery wheels adorn the space alongside photographs and intricately painted portraits. You can find textiles and handicrafts among the intimately arranged furniture, together with musical instruments and books telling fables of old.

Visit the volcano

It’s safe to say that Santorini’s fortunes are interwoven with those of the island’s volcano, and it’s worth a visit. After all, it’s the reason why Thira exists as it does today, as the eruptions of the volcano in centuries past morphed the island from its round shape into its current more crescent form.

Thira sits in the western caldera bay of Santorini today as a result of those changes, and learning about Santorini’s volcanic past gives a great insight into Thira’s present.