They come from all corners of the planet and when you see Santorini you can understand why. Of all of the Greek Islands, Santorini is often claimed to be the most awe inspiring. The population, for the most part, resides high up on the crest of this crescent shaped island. The views of the volcanic caldera below are magnificent. It is no wonder that beautiful Santorini is one of the top wedding destinations of the world.
This nuptial hot spot has been a long time in the making. Santorini became volcanically active around 3 million years ago but it is the eruption of 1600 BCE that was historically significant. This massive explosion blew away much of the island leaving the crescent of land we see today. Some scientists think that the Crete-based Minoan civilization was destroyed by the tsunami that ensued. Some more romantically oriented suggest that this is where the legend of Atlantis came from. Indeed there are the remains of a great civilization here.
The Akrotiri Archeological Site on the island’s southern tip is probably the Aegean’s most intact ancient settlement. Just prior to the big eruption the residents of Akrotiri fled. They were probably warned by a series of earlier earthquakes that something very bad was going down. Soon after they left, the island blew up covering Akrotiri with a thick layer of ash and rock. It stayed covered until 1845 when digging started to reveal the site but the big dig started in 1967. Archeologists found the town very well-preserved, much as the population had left it.
Perhaps most remarkable are the frescoes depicting the daily life of the inhabitants. There are images of well-dressed women preparing for rituals. In one, a fisherman proudly shows off stringers of mahi-mahi. Other paintings show the environment with swallows swooping above hills bursting with crocus flowers. The frescos are displayed in the main town of Thira (also called Fira) at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.
As busy as Santorini was in the late Bronze Age, it is nothing compared to the crowds that cover this narrow band of real estate now. As with Mykonos, this is one of the most touristed of the islands. As aggravating as battling the crowds is, it is understandable why they’re here. White-washed, cubist buildings, tastefully accented with pale azure trim, are precariously perched on cliffs. The cliffs overlook the vast bowl of the caldera.
All day long buses full of gawkers unload at every town and shutters start to click. In the evening thousands line the narrow cobblestone streets for the big show. Sunsets here are a spectator sport and every chair at every restaurant on the cliff looks out on the blue and red show out to the west.
The whole island of Santorini is like a giant photographers backdrop here and many of the subjects are brides. Some are European but for the most part they are Chinese. One innkeeper told us, “in October, it is all Oriental brides here.” A starter wedding can cost as little as $800 with more elaborate shindigs reaching easily $12,000. Adding Greek dancers and Orthodox clergy runs up the bill.
Photographers’ studios are plentiful but a lot of couples haul around their own gear, and they are very high-end Nikons and Canons! You can’t turn a corner without seeing a bride whip off her trench coat to reveal a white gown and go into a dramatic posing session. I asked a few times if I could take a photo and they were always flattered. They’d thank me, turn away from their photographer and start posing for me. I found it pretty hilarious but why not, the weather was great, the scenery was beautiful and the brides, of course, were beautiful too.