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.