Pure white buildings cascade the small island. The blues domes of churches shine royal blue just as the ocean does reflecting the sun’s rays back to itself. Shoes are filled with a blend black, red and white sands from tracing foot prints into beaches. Streets are lined with cobble stones, stores crowd the pathway, smells of roasting meat and fresh baked pastries waft from restaurants. Cruise ships bring sunburnt beings, selfie sticks, and the clap of feet to enjoy gyros, Zorba music and unforgettable sunsets. This is Santorini.
I walk through the busy streets looking for gifts for my family. One woman begins to show me lava stone necklaces and states “They are from the volcano.” I assume she means Nea Kameni, but just to make sure I ask “Which one?” For this entire island is made of many volcanoes. She gives me a confused side glance and repeats “The volcano,” pointing in the direction of the Kameni.
I then realized the people that make their homes and living on this island most likely don’t know the actual hazards of it. Everyone I talk to assumes that the “volcano” is Nea Kameni because this is the only active volcano on the island. However, the entire island is made up of massive shield volcanoes, composite and cinder cones. There are also dome complexes which is what Nea Kameni is.
For class one day we made our way to Red Beach. Here the maroon red inside of a cinder cone is exposed. Cliffs of red oxidized cinders hang above the beach. The sand is tinted red with the crimson cinders. It shocks me how daringly people lay out towels underneath the shade of the cinder cone. Why would they risk a landslide for some shade from the sun? I have to then remind myself that people often don’t understand the danger.
There is a sign before you enter the beach giving warning about landslides. However, people looking to escape reality for a bit don’t take the reality of landslides seriously enough. The cinders that make up this volcano are unconsolidated gravity or a large gust of wind, not to forget strong storm surge or seismic activity, could cause them to fall.
A few days later class was held during short hike at the base of Mt. Micro Profitis. At the beginning of the trail there is a beautiful bed and breakfast facing the inside of the caldera. It’s white outer shell and sparkling blue pool over looking the ocean make it stick out amongst maroon and grey rock around it. It’s named “The Architect’s Villa”. The villa is in a prime location to see Santorini Sunsets and snooze through sun rises. It is also in a prime location for fault movement.
Movement along a fault, or when two massive pieces of land move past one another, will produce a shift in the ground. In this case, a shift will cause one piece of land to move up and another to go down. Movements along faults will cause earthquakes as well as landslides, which doesn’t play in favor of the Architect’s Villa. In a landslide or earthquake the villa would drop down or perhaps fall into the sea.
The new villa sits on a graben in the Coloumbos fault. A graben is a chunk of land that is offset down by two normal faults. The Coloumbos fault is still active and prone to earthquakes and landslides. Our professor had explained this to the builders and like most people he had no idea. No idea that one day the bed and breakfast could crack and crumble all due to the fact that they didn’t understand the geology of the land on which they built upon.
Although these hazards do pose a great risk they also provide a means of creativity. The Athenias port has a switch back road that leads back to the top of the island. Ferries dock here everyday transferring people from one island to another. This causes hundreds of cars drive the switchback everyday, carrying eager tourists in tow. While making our way up the road to Fira I thought nothing of it other than it had a pretty view of the sea waves coming and leaving the shore. However, the road is actually built on a major landslide. I never would have thought that a hazard would end up being beneficial for a civilization but Santorini used this to their advantage.
The Cycladic cities sit perched proud on the caldera rim. I could spend forever wandering the winding streets that somehow always seem to lead you back to the rim. Back to a place that allows you a view of swaying waters, “the volcano” and pristine white houses boastfully built on staggering cliffs. A place where people are blissfully unaware of the geological hazards around them as they sip Greek coffee and lap up gelato. But the question I ask myself is do I tell them? Do I tell the store women and sun bathers at the beach that this paradise is a hazard zone? That all around them there is a cause to worry. No, for now no. I’m unsure to whether they would even care to understand the dangers as they continue the search for souvenirs and dinners with a view. For now, I will sit on the uneven stairs of Fira and enjoy the last few sunsets I have here.