Castles (castelli) and medieval forts (gulas) unravel the history of another Santorini with their alleyways, houses of simple architecture and colorful walls –always gazing at the sea from where pirates would once appear.
Emporeio Castelli & Gulas
Passing by Emporeio, it is hard to imagine that the best preserved castelli of the island is situated right at the heart of the village. Built in 1450, it was the most “commercial” castelli of all, as it was here where the market of the island was located and all product trading would take place. Walking around the alleys with the houses stuck one with the other, the low doors and the even smallest windows painted in pastel colors is the best way to get to know the architecture of a castelli and take wonderful photos. Located nearby, the Gulas of Emporeio used to operate also as a place for storing the harvest and as a dependency of the Patmos Monastery, inhabited by monks.
Tip:After swimming on the beaches of Perissa, Perivolos and Vlyhada, you can visit the nearby Emporio Castelli.
The Castle of Saint Nikolaos in Oia
What has remained today from the castelli of Saint Nikolaos is one part of its gulas. It was built around 1450 and named after the church carved in rocks dedicated to Saint Nikolaos. It has a particularly rich history but the earthquake of 1956, that caused great disasters to the whole of Oia, also hit the castelli of St Nikolaos. However, this spot of the Oia Castle is probably the most famous site on the island. Every evening people from all over the world come to its black-reddish half-ruined walls to admire the sunset. It is exactly the same spot from where the Santorinians were keeping a watchful eye on pirates for three whole centuries (15th-18th century).
Tip:If you are not fond of crowds, avoid visiting the Oia Castle at sunset time. The view will equally reward you at all other times during the day.
Akrotiri Castelli & Gulas
It was built around 1335 and used to be called ‘Punta Castelli’ and ‘La Ponta’, which in Medieval Italian meant ‘the peak’. It was donated by Nikolas Sanudos, Duke of Naxos, to the Gozadini family, who kept the gulas under their power until 1617 even though the Turks had already invaded the rest of the island. There is also a second gulas at the Castelli of Akrotiri, a bit farther from the castle-city heart. Today the Akrotiri Castelli has revived, for a Museum and Workshop of Traditional Musical Instruments have been operating since 2012, while music nights from all over the world are being organized every Tuesday and Friday (see Agenda).
Tip:Walk up to the Castelli and Goulas in Akrotiri late in the evening, particularly when there are music nights.
Although the earthquake of 1956 let its vivid marks, the Castelli of Pyrgos has retained the mystic atmosphere of its era. Being the most recent of all Castelli in Santorini, it was built around 1580. In the beginning, at its top there was a tower that was later knocked down and the Monastery of St Georgios was built in its place. The walls of the houses composed the fortified surrounding wall of the castelli, while there was only one entrance. The settlement was built upon a sequence of underground roads aimed at being used as a shelter in case the settlement would ever fall in the enemies’ hands. Once Skaros was abandoned, the Castelli of Pyrgos became the capital of the island. Walking around its alleys, stopping by its churches and admiring the spectacular view over the whole island is an experience that no visitor of Santorini should miss!
Tip:No matter what time you visit the Castelli of Pyrgos, you will be enchanted by the atmosphere.
Skaros Castelli in Imerovigli
Whether looking over Skaros from some point of the Caldera or being at its top, it is hard to imagine that an entire castle-city was built on this rock with tortuous narrow cobbled streets, houses and churches. Skaros Castelli is the oldest castelli in Santorini, but today there is nothing reminding of its medieval prestige. The only testimonial for what the Castelli of Skaros looked like is a pencil sketch from the collection of Thomas Hopes exhibited at the Benaki Museum -the design of the castelli being attributed to L.S. Fauvel. It was built between 1205 and 1230, but was destroyed by the earthquake of the 17th century and gradually abandoned. The visitor today can enjoy the fantastic view offered by the location. The only structure remaining today at the spot where once the impregnable fortress used to be erected is a church dedicated to ‘Virgin Mary the Theoskepasti’.
‘Castelli’ means ‘small castle’. They were built in Santorini by the Latin colonists of the island during the period of Venetocracy (13th-16th century).
These were fortified settlements where the Santorinians would find shelter to protect themselves from pirate raids.
‘Goulas’ is the ‘defensive fortress’, the highest tower of every castelli, having a rectangular shape and many storeys. It was used both as an observatory and for defensive purposes against pirates.
Santorini had 5 Castellia and 4 Gulases.
The oldest castle is Skaros in Imerovigli and the most recent, the castle of Pyrgos village.
Saint Theodosia is considered to be the Protector-Saint of Castles. That is why at the front of every castelli there is a church dedicated to her.
- Dora Monioudi-Gavala, Santorini, Society and Shelter 15th-20th century. A publication of Lukas and Evangelos Bellonias’ Foundation.
- Αntonis Ν. Κontaratos, Santorini, Poria sto Hrono, Heliotopos Publications, 2007.