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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in July 2007.


Santorino (Thira)

Key dates:
1207 Marco Sanudo, a Venetian adventurer, conquered Nasso and the nearby islands including Santorino.
1566 The last Duke of Nasso, Jacopo IV Crispo, was cashiered by the Sultan, but the Venetians included Santorino in their Kingdom of Candia
1579 Santorino became part of the Ottoman Empire.
1645-69 During the War of Candia the Venetians often controlled the Cyclades including Santorino.

Site of Skaro, the old Venetian town

Santorino (or Sant'Irinni) owes its Venetian name to a church dedicated to St. Irene: of its other names Strongyle (the circular one) is perhaps the most appropriate one, because it describes the shape of the group of islands which were left at the end of one of the largest volcanic eruptions known in history. Santorino, the major of these islands has the shape of a crescent.
The caldera of Santorino (the sort of lagoon at the centre of the islands) with its deep waters was an excellent natural harbour and the Venetians built Skaro, a small fortified town, at the tip of a cape from which they were able to control both the southern and the northern entrances to the caldera.

Cape Skaros, the site of the old town seen from the sea

In the XVIIIth century in line with what happened on many other islands, the inhabitants of Skaro felt they did not need any longer to live in a location which was chosen for defensive reasons, but was difficult to reach and to live in and they gradually moved to a village which was still on the edge of the caldera, but in a more convenient position. The buildings of the old town gradually crumbled and the earthquakes (a very severe one hit the island in 1956) completed the destruction of Skaro.

View of Thira and of the caldera

On many Cycladic islands, even after the fall of the Dukes of Nasso, the families of (very remote) Venetian origin retained a prominent role in the local communities: when the inhabitants of Skaro moved to Thira, their new town (a village previously known as Pyrgos due to an existing tower), the Catholic families settled on higher ground: this is still visible in today's Thira: the Catholic quarter with several churches and monasteries (on the left in the photo shown above) is clearly distinct from the Orthodox one built around a very large church.

Ghisi house and relief at the entrance of the Dominican nunnery

Very few buildings did not collapse during the 1956 earthquake: as it often happens some of the oldest houses held fast while more recent constructions fell apart. The tower/mansion of the Ghisi family (also spelled as Chigi or Ghigi) is the largest surviving building of Thira.

Venetian heritage: (left) altar in the Dominican church; (centre) funerary inscription celebrating Giuseppe Delenda in the Catholic cathedral; (right) Venetian bell in the Ghisi house

Vincent Clarence Scott O'Connor, who had a career in the Indian Civil Service, travelled extensively in the Cyclades in 1929: in his book Isles of the Aegean (published by Hutchinson) he described his meetings with families of Venetian descent living on Santorino:

Santorin, in the wave of Latin conquest which brought new masters to these isles, came under Spanish as well as Italian influence; its great families bearing such names as Crispo, Barozzi, Da Corogna, Delenda, and De Cigalla; whose coats of arms in marble and their blazoned tombs may still be traced in the island.
(..) They are poor these families, and they are fallen from their great estate ; but they retain the great houses they built to maintain their pride ; their heirlooms and signet rings and genealogical trees ; and those courtesies of life which, if they can be acquired, are none the less the product of time.
I was accordingly lodged at the house of Madame Baseggio, who showed me much kindness ; with a concern for my welfare that was not included in the small price I paid her as her guest. I was presented to all the members of the family, and for a few days I lived their life. It was a big house built across the ridge that is here the watershed of the island ; Italian in its style, with a barred iron gate like that of a Venetian palazzo, leading into a vast basement ; marble stairs and a salon, large enough to receive a hundred guests, with the remains in it of old furniture and family portraits, but otherwise bare.
(..)" We live in these great houses," said Madame Baseggio, " but we cannot keep them up, for we are poor. On dit ` Nous sommes des grandes familles, il faut avoir les grands maisons.' Mais quoi bon ?" She has a clear sense of reality and a frank outlook on life. She laughed gently at these pretensions, while sorrowing at the decline of the old Latin families, steadily diminishing now in the islands. She spends her life meantime in acts of charity and goodness, a faithful daughter of the Church. She gave me a room off her great salon, very simply furnished, but with a rich coverlet of silk to the bed ; and she saw to it that I lacked nothing which the limited resources of a Greek island home can furnish. Her family consisted of five daughters, of ages from twelve upwards, the eldest of whom is recently married. They all speak French fluently, and earn a little money discreetly, by working in a knitting-factory established by the Church. There are no sons ; and the women have twice the wits of their menfolk. A very ancient lady, her mother, with a wax-white face and silver hair, moved about the house like a ghost from the vanished past. Her brother-in-law who for many years was British Vice­Consular Agent at Santorin, maintained a bolder front. He wore a signet ring with the arms of his family engraved upon it. He had them also embroidered on silk after a copy made by him from the heraldic Archives at Venice whence his family originated.
(..) There are scarcely two hundred Catholics now in the island, in which they once possessed five great Castles, and of which for so many generations they were the lords. Their greatest castle of all at Scaros has vanished into the sea.

Other locations: Emporio

Emporio: views of the fortified village

Emporio is a village located on the southern part of the island at a certain distance from the sea. The houses of its older section were built one next to the other with only two small gates leading to the village main church. Although Emporio has now expanded in all directions, from a nearby hill it is still possible to figure out its old fortified appearance.

Emporio: the Ottoman tower

Santorino is the southernmost island of the Cyclades: when the Ottomans acquired it Venice still retained Candia which is located some 60 miles south of Santorino; the new rulers built a large tower on a hill near Emporio in order to detect the arrival of a Venetian fleet early: the Ottomans hoped to check the enemy's attempts to land. However, during the 1645-69 War of Candia, the Venetians for many years had such supremacy at sea that the tower was useless. Santorino and the other islands paid Venice the tribute (a periodic payment made as a sign of dependence) which they were supposed to pay to the Sultan. Also during the war for the possession of Morea (1685-99) the Venetians were able to challenge the Ottoman rule over the Cyclades: only at the Peace of Carlowitz did Venice agree to give up her rights to these islands (with the exclusion of Tine).

Other locations: Pyrgos

View of Pyrgos

Pyrgos means tower: in the case of this village, it would have been more appropriate to use the word Kasteli (castle), which the locals reserve for the buildings inside an enclosure at the top of the hill.

Pyrgos: (left to right) entrance to the castle; house above the entrance; a fragment of an ancient statue

Very few people live inside the castle, notwithstanding the fine views it offers over the whole island.

Other locations: San Salvador (Ia/Oia)

View of Ia (S. Salvador)

Old maps identified this village in a very Venetian way: San Salvador (in Italian it would have been Salvatore), probably with reference to the name of a church. The village is located at the very northern tip of the island and the photo of the caldera is taken from here (it includes a blue dome in the foreground -
see it in an external link).

Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses

Pages of this section:
On the Ionian Islands:     Corfų (Kerkyra)     Paxo (Paxi)     Santa Maura (Lefkadas)     Cefalonia (Kephallonia)     Asso (Assos)     Itaca (Ithaki)     Zante (Zachintos)     Cerigo (Kythera)
On the mainland: Butrinto (Butrint)     Parga     Preveza and Azio (Aktion)     Vonizza (Vonitsa)     Lepanto (Nafpaktos)     Atene (Athens)
On Morea:     Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra)     Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza     Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata     Modon (Methoni)     Corone (Koroni)     Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavā and Chielefā     Mistrā     Corinto (Korinthos)     Argo (Argos)     Napoli di Romania (Nafplio)     Malvasia (Monemvassia)
On the Aegean Sea:     Negroponte (Chalki)     Castelrosso (Karistos)     Oreo     Lemno (Limnos)     Schiatto (Skiathos)     Scopello (Skopelos)     Alonisso     Schiro (Skyros)     Andro (Andros)     Tino (Tinos)     Micono (Mykonos)     Siro (Syros)     Egina (Aegina)     Spezzia (Spetse)     Paris (Paros)     Antiparis (Andiparos)     Nasso (Naxos)     Serifo (Serifos)     Sifno (Syphnos)     Milo (Milos)     Argentiera (Kimolos)     Santorino (Thira)     Folegandro (Folegandros)     Stampalia (Astipalea)     Candia (Kriti)

You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.

Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to the Venetian fortresses and to other locations (opens in a separate window)