The Colors of Santorini

We have been in Santorini for a total of 20 days, 480 hours, learning about the Santorini Volcano by day and dancing the night away. As our trip comes to an end, my mind is racing. Thinking about our first days in the field, creating stratigraphic columns with the sun beaming down on us and the sweat dripping down our faces. To our last field day roaming the Aegean Sea, traveling to Nea Kameni, and looking down into a dark-black hole, known as the drop-off of the caldera. I started to realize that I have been so focused on all the interior geological aspects that has made Santorini what it is today, that I haven’t had time to take in the exterior beauty of the island. I took a step back, closed my eyes, and let the views of Santorini wash over my body, getting the chills as I think of everywhere we’ve been. We have explored and hiked through a great amount of this island and it was filled with the most unique and breathtaking colors that you would have to see with your own eyes to get the feeling that I had.

The first week and a half was all about stratigraphic columns. This isn’t just sitting in a class at a desk.  This is going outside and doing actual fieldwork. I got ready every day, put my hiking boots on one foot at a time, plopped my hat on my head and walked out the door with no expectations of how the day was going to go. Every strat column was somewhere different. We went to Cape Plaka, Caldera Beach and Fira Quarry. Each place was full of white-tan Minoan pumice and black lithic fragments all at various sizes. They had similarities, but the differences in the color of each of them is what told us the story of the Santorini eruption.  To an average person, this means nothing. It’s just rocks that look cool. To a person with a trained eye, you could understand that these fragments were once forcefully blown outwards , that the different layers were part of different phases of an eruption. Every rock has a story. The color is a good indicator. You are able to look at the color of the rock to determine the explosivity. If the rock is lighter,  it is called felsic, which means it was more explosive. Rocks that are darker are mafic and tend to be less explosive. 

Figure 1: A wall of pumice, ash and lithic fragments at Fira Quarry. 

After our long days of stratigraphic columns, we traveled to a couple of beaches throughout our time here, but one that is most known is Red Beach.  Red Beach is made up of volcanic flow and cinders. It is overlooking this cinder cone that is made up of a striking red color in the center and black cinders on the outside. The red color is caused by oxidation, which is caused by steam that originates from the vent. As we walked up to the beach, I was expecting this bright red sand and the water being a crystal-clear blue. Sadly, we went on not such a great day. It was gloomy. The sun was barely out. The colors to my eyes seemed faded. The sand was black and the water was this grayish-blue that did not entice me. I would recommend definitely going on a sunnier day to see the natural beauty that it has to offer.

Figure 2: Red Beach

For our last day in the field, we went out on a boat from Oia to Nea Kameni. Nea Kameni, is an active dome volcano. I am sitting on this boat seeing us get closer and closer, waiting patiently and very anxious to step on to it. As we get to the dock, I feel minuscule, like an ant. This dome is incredibly humongous. We start to walk towards the top, learning about this bulky, glassy, dacitic rock.

As we approach the top, I begin to see that Nea Kameni is not just a singular dome. There are multiple volcanoes here with multiple eruptions.  There have been multiple occurrences of volcanic activity  at Nea Kameni in the last century. In 1866 there was a lava flow that built up the island. From 1925 to 1926 there was a steam explosion with fountains of ash followed by lava flows. 1939 to 1941 brought more eruptions, creating more lava domes and lava flows. In 1950, there was an intense volcanic eruption, creating a flat-dome.  

The dates are pretty far apart. A way to look at the oldest to the youngest is looking at color.  If there is more green on the surface, it is considered older. By green, I mean vegetation (plants). As we walked through the trail, you see these bright yellow flowers on hills, but not others. You know what that means, that the area is older.  

Figure 3: 1950 eruption to the left and 1866 lava flows to the right.

After our time at Nea Kameni, we take a trip to the murky, turquoise hot springs, going across Therasia, onward to Thera, towards the caldera drop-off. As we head back to the port, I let everything sink in. All the sweat, sunburns, the ups, the downs, and all the joyous times have been worth it all. Being able to look down and see the clearest mix of light blue and sapphire water to looking out and seeing the ravishing white buildings and blue rooftops that make Santorini so appealing, I take it all in. It’s what you see in every Greece postcard and what comes to your mind when you think of Greece, but I’m standing right in front of it, looking at it with my own eyes. The colors of this city are what people come here for.


Figure 4: Oia, Santorini, Greece

I’ve come to find out that the colors aren’t only in what you see, but also in who you meet.  Santorini is filled with a completely diverse array of people. From tourists that are here for two days to the people who have lived here their whole lives are full of color. People who ooze the color red; showing passion in what they do. People who exude confidence, bursting with the color blue. The color I have seen the most for the duration of my time here has been yellow. Every individual I’ve met has been shining with a bright yellow, giving off a great amount of positivity and happiness. These people started to rub off on this group of geology students. With the singing and dancing going through the streets, waving at every person you pass, and feeling a part of a community that you have only been around for 3 weeks is extremely comforting.  Santorini is not just a place with tons of souvenirs and gorgeous red-orange ombre sunsets. It is more than just a pretty view, it’s a beautiful story in itself.

As I sit in the plane looking out the window crossing the Aegean Sea. I look down at this breathtaking island and all of my emotions ball up into one. I am immensely grateful. Being able to walk through Santorini and have the colors imprinted into my brain is all I could ask for. The color of Santorini has history, it has depth, and is full of so much life.


2 thoughts on “The Colors of Santorini

  1. Hi Briana,

    The topic of color is a very interesting approach to discussing your time in Santorini, and this idea immediately caught my attention. Your narrative was strong throughout this post, and your consistent focus on explaining to your audience the geological explanations for the variations of colors was especially intriguing. The approach of explaining these topics in chronological order of when you visited also provided a nice structure to your post that was easy to follow along with.

    I was also able to easily follow along with your discussion of geological topics. It shows that you kept your outside audience in mind by making sure to define vocabulary. Your shift to discuss the diversity of the Santorini population was one I wasn’t expecting, but it was interesting to read your reflection about how you not only interacted with the landscape of Santorini but also the people. This portion added to the overall feel of reflection laced throughout your post. Your reflection of what you’ve learned and seen is very interesting to me as I’ve been follow your class’s journey the last few weeks!

    Overall, this is a strong final post with a strong and reflective narrative. Your images were especially vital to this post about color, and they gave me great insight into what you have seen these past few weeks.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences!


  2. Hi Bri – In these three weeks we have been here, we have all said many times that we have “no words” to describe how we feel about this place. In this post, you have excellently narrated what it feels like to be here on Santorini. You’ve captured the geology, the beauty of the landscape, and the spirit of the people. I believe you are Greek now!

    Thank you for this. It warms my heart that you feel the same way as I do about this special island. Before we departed you heard me say so many times that you have to BE here to understand. I’m so happy that I was able to share Santorini with you.

    All the best – Lisa

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