An Unexpected Treasure

Zeus clutches the heart of the island with force, ripping it from the sea. Leaving only five remnants of the landmass, he violently hurls his geologic projectile at the titans with the intent to destroy them.

The Greek archipelago of Santorini is the remains of this battle. Thera is the largest of the islands; and in my humble opinion, the most spectacular. The captivating culture and intricately placed blue and white architecture are breath taking, but it’s the geologic features that pose as the real reason I stand in awe and wonder of this place. As an avid hiker, recreational rock climber and all around outdoorsy individual, Thera left me speechless.

According to Greek mythology, Santorini became the well established, sophisticated caldera we are familiar with today after a battle between Zeus and the titans. The caldera, however, has endured a more complicated history. It started out as a much smaller island that endured a tedious and time consuming geologic process which resulted in its protrusion from the ocean floor.

The original landmass was created by a process that began with the compilation of sediments on the sea floor. Over time those sediments solidified and cemented together which became a sedimentary rock. That rock was then exposed to extremely hot temperatures and intense pressure which altered its primary composition resulting in a metamorphic rock. On top of this rock more sediment gathered (remember, we are still at the bottom of the the ocean when this is happening) and solidified, but avoided metamorphism. Through tectonic activity, the formation thrusted its way to the surface. Thus, Mt. Profitias Ilias, the highest location on the island of Thera was created.


Santorini took its modern shape after a volcano complex next to Mt. Profitias Ilias erupted, the surface of the land caved into its magma chamber and the entire island was blanketed in ash. As a result, most of the island is composed of volcanic material, which makes for terrible climbing and unsafe hiking due to poorly cemented, unconsolidated rock. It is the geologic processes of metamorphism and faulting that occurred on Mt. Profitias Ilias, however, that have created a statuesque landscape that put a continuous smile in my face.

Mt. Profitias Ilias stands 565 meters above sea level, and is composed of metamorphic phyllite and limestone. The mountain is one of few places where solid non-volcanic rocks can be found. This is why spartans built their settlement there, and this is also why the mountain houses the best rock climbing and hiking on all of Santorini. The metamorphosed paleo-topographic basement rocks are resilient to mother nature’s attempts to erode away its surface and pose as sturdy trails. As you reach the higher elevations of Mt. Profitias Ilias, you can see the outcrop of limestone deposited on top of basement rock. Limestone is a tough rock that is pretty resilient to erosion, but when it does weather, the water dissolves away features on its surface creating some amazing climbing holds. From solid jugs to tiny crimpers, this rock is incredible.

The view from the top of the mountain is impressive. This is where ancient Thera sits, and this is where the realization that you just hiked in the footsteps of Spartans hits you and the speechlessness begins…



(1) Friedrich, W.L., 2009, Santorini: Volcano, Natural History and Mythology, Denmark: Aaruh University Press, 9, 53, 89, 19 P.


10 thoughts on “An Unexpected Treasure

  1. That is so amazing what you guys are doing . It’s so beautiful there . Miss you so much michelle. Love you.

  2. MICHELLE!!! O M G!! It’s so beautiful over there! I can’t wait to hear about everything and see more pics! I love and miss you like crazy!!!! So proud of you!!!

  3. Thank you Michelle, for posting on mythology and Santorini’s geological formation. It is your post that provided the details that helped me understand the myth that must seem real for you there. Good amount of details and decent organization.

    I wonder, however, how your reconcile the myth with the science? Are you meeting locals who know about the myth? If yes, then what is the myth’s function today? What do you think its purpose was in the past? Do you find that many locals are well aware of the geology, or is it invisible and simply normal for them?

    I look forward to reading more posts, and I hope that you and your classmates will present on your experiences, findings, and reflections here at NAU.

    1. Thank you for reading my first attempt at a blog post! Witnessing both the mythological, and the geological formation of the island first hand is just incredible. As far as speaking with the locals about the mythology of Santorini’s present appearance, I have not. I did have a conversation with a local man while waiting in line for my gyro, about the geology of Santorini. He was unaware of the fact that the entire island complex is itself a volcano. Most locals here think that Nea Kameni, the active shield volcano in the center of Santorini, is the only volcanic island in the archipelago. I found this extremely interesting. This island has such a complex geological history that is unknown to many of the people calling it home. I will be thinking more about how to reconcile myth with science, and the result’s significance for the local people.

  4. Michelle, I really enjoyed your post! 🙂 It was nice to read more about the formation of the island and have a back ground of why Ancient Thira is useful in various ways, such has how you mentioned climbing. We both wrote about Ancient Thira but very different topics, and it’s cool to see how many ways geology can be connected to daily life!

  5. Michelle…Your amazing!!! What a place of pure joy and serenity…soak every moment up!! Leah says that she is going to go to that same exact place when she’s your age lol! Awesome blog…Hope your taking a ton of pics and journaling…I sense a scrapbook coming on!!;) Cant wait to see more!
    Love and miss you crazy….Praying for a new breathtaking moment for you today!

  6. This is awesome! It seems amazing there! I’m so glad you have getting to have this experience. I miss you and hope you are having lots of fun and learning everything you can! Love you!

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