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Santorini & the art of survival.

The island of Santorini has written one of the most beautiful stories about the eternal struggle of man with nature. As Santorini is strongly associated with the action of the volcano, the people of the island always needed to find ways to survive and to create. Yet they never lost courage.

” The island of the pure” 

In a barren land, difficult to cultivate and too poor to feed its inhabitants – let alone animals -, the inhabitants had to earn their life struggling hard. Many had given Santorini the name “Island of Absolute Poverty”. The struggle with the earth was tough and what it gave them back was hardly enough to support their families. Shoes and clothes were kinds of luxury, and even bread on the table was considered as wealth. Children used to go with their parents in the fields very early in the morning and as soon as they heard the bell of the school they ran to be on time.

Ιn the shadow of the volcano

The co-existence of the inhabitants with the volcano was harmonious. Through the years they had learned not to be surprised. It was the friendly giant who protected the island with his shadow and who sometimes woke up from his long sleep.
Older residents remember till now the interest of all of the Islanders for the waking of the volcano. It was stunning to see it at night, they say. We went out, to the courtyards, streets or terraces and we admired it. It was like a feast.
Everyday life, however, remained the same during an eruption. In fact, there were only a few things they could not do: like fishing or sailing in the open sea. And women couldn’t hang the clothes out or to put tomatoes in the sun because of the volcanic ash. Their few plants were also covered by ash, and that was a disaster. But they faced it calmly. They respected the volcano, and in turn, it did not harm them further.

Ο σεισμός και ο “σωσμός” ( = Τhe earthquake & the “salvation”)

The disaster was born by the earth’s innards when the earthquake of 1956 caused significant damage to the island changing the course of the island and its residents forever; since then many residents left the island. The deadliest earthquake of July 4th happened at dawn and caught the Islanders in their sleep. The 50 dead (adults and children) and 100 injured were huge numbers for such a small island.
The then prime minister of Greece, during his visit to the island, played in a very smart way with the words sismos and sosmos. His saying is to be remembered until today, as it was prophetic. He called this earthquake (GR: sismos) a “salvation” (GR: sosmos), thinking perhaps of the reconstruction that would follow and which would bring work to everyone and of course better living conditions. And the future appeared not to contradict his saying. After the reconstruction, the island seemed much better than before and concerning the inhabitants, they, without being rich, had a better life.

The first road and the arrival of “Lords”

Excavations in Akrotiri also gave the island that time some reputation and that was a good reason for the German Chancellor Adenauer to visit the island. Especially for his visit, the first road was opened and this way, besides the donkeys the first car-taxi appeared on the island. The pictures made the round of the world.
And they attracted the first foreign visitors who arrived by sailboats. These were noble travellers and the locals called them “Lords” because in their eyes, somebody who could travel and could be dressed that way, could be only one thing: extremely wealthy.

From the era of donkeys to the touristic miracle

And that was the beginning. More and more known and unknown people arrived on the island. Hotels did not exist, but there were courtyards, terraces, and the residents never denied the visitors a seat, even at their table.
And the time flew… Santorini evolved into a tourist miracle. The donkeys, which once were the only means of transport due to the non-existent roads, became an attraction for the tourists. Nevertheless, the inhabitants – and especially the oldest – know well that nothing is given for free and they often remember with nostalgy the time of lost simplicity.

                                          © Lato,
Het Griekse Taal– & CultuurCentrum van Amsterdam

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