01 Jun Santorini – Emporio Village
The Castles of Santorini-Emporio village
The larger towns on Santorini were fortified by the Castles, “Kastelia”, equiped with gateways and “goulades” watchtower. They were built at Skaros, Oia, Pyrgos, Emporio and Akrotiri.
Emporio is the largest village in Santorini. It has had an important place since ancient times. Emporio is standing in the midst of the plain of the same name, and it is picturesque, with narrow alleyways, old neighborhoods and according to the 2011 census, the community of Emporio has 3,085 permanent inhabitants. The name of the village, it is related to the English word “emporium” and the ruined windmills which can be seen on the hill opposite bear witness to its commercial activities in the past. After all, its name reveals that it was the center of the island’s trade. It is located on the south side of the island, 12 km from Fira, at the foot of the Mount Profitis Ilias.
Once upon a time in Emporio
With the Crusaders’ victory over Constantinople in 1204, the Crusaders moved into the Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea. Starting from the 1204 till 1600, Santorini gained a rich mixture of cultures. The Crusaders imposed a feudal system in the Cycladic islands; seas routes through the region became safer; and maritime trade flourished. Despite such grand ambitions, the Aegean remained full of risk. The Santorinians found themselves caught between disputations Byzantines, Venetians, Catholics, Orthodox, Spaniards and Turks on a watery battlefield. In addition, pirates from different origin continued to be a threat, as they repeatedly conducted a raid on Santorini and on the Aegean islands. Among them were pirates from North Africa, in the 16th c. Albanians, Maltese and other Christian pirates, such as Hugues Crevelies,”the Hercules of the seas”.
In the center of Emporio there is a traditional settlement, Kastelli. Such like other “castles” on the island, it is not exactly a castle, but a medieval settlement. Its architecture and development placed special emphasis on its defense function. In order to prevent the danger of the pirates, the inhabitants built their houses, even churches and chapels, underground. Therefore, many families had over their roofs the fields , vineyards and gardens that they cultivated.
Why the Castles of Santorini are unique?
The castle has many peculiarities comparing to other medieval settlements in Greece: The basic raw material is the volcanic soil that gives the constructions an unusual shape with “plaster cast” for the exterior surfaces. In addition, the settlement is not abandoned. There are many churches and houses inside, many of which have been restored by the owners in a very beautiful way and they are inhabited – although not all year round. In general, it is an impressive architectural monument that has not undergone major changes and disasters and it is in good condition.
All these elements in combination with the Aegean character make the castles of Santorini unique in their kind. “Castles” are not only in Greece but all over the world.
Like all the castles of Santorini, Emborios is a remnant of the Venetian period. It began to be created in the 15th century, around 1450. As we mentioned, the necessity of creating and developing castles was basically the danger of pirates. It belongs to the type of fortified settlement created by an original core around which the fortified enclosure developed. The exterior houses formed an inseparable row. They constituted something like a wall.
Characteristic of the castles was that the houses were built in a row, glued to each other, in a perimeter arrangement, with windows and entrances from the inner side of the settlement. This architecture protected the inhabitants from enemy attacks. Usually in each castle there was a unique entrance. However, in Emporio the castle of Emporio has two entrances and still exist today and the locals call it Porta.
Get lost in the labyrinthine lanes criss-crossing Emporio
By booking “The Hidden Villages Tour“, you will discover Emporio Village. Its interior is a small labyrinth with alleys, steps that rise almost vertically, tiny doors in a row and even smaller windows. There are arches, overhead bridges between the houses, domes – all structured with the plasticity of the easy-to-work volcanic ash. Irregular, molded shapes and earthy soft colors create an incomparable composition.
Within the settlement there are many picturesque churches, of which the church of Palia Panagia or Panagia Mesani stands out, probably built in the 16th century, with one of the most beautiful bell towers on the island.
In all the castles of Santorini, just outside the entrance or a short distance from it, there was a church of St. Theodosia. We consider her the patron saint of castles. What is not perhaps evident at a first glance is that the villagers also engage in fishing. Perissa is their home port and they keep their boats there.
The Castle of Emporio must, historically, have been the most important since it was the commercial center of the island. As happened in the other castles of the island, after the end of the piracy era, the settlement was later expanded outside the fortified enclosure. Before leaving Emporio, take your time and drink a Greek coffee at one of the two traditional kafeneios.