While island-hopping in Greece recently, one day I took a high-speed ferry boat from the island of Naxos to the island of Santorini. My hotel room in the Imerovigli area of the island was perched on a sheer cliff facing the deep-blue Aegean Sea. Right in front, a rock formation and collection of ruins, known as the Skaros Rock or the Skaros Castle stood on an attached small island.
It has been postulated that the formation of the rock was created through the volcanic activity around 65–70,000 BCE of the nearby caldera and has since been further shaped by erosion and earthquakes. Historically, the elevated position of the rock made it a preferable location for defensive fortifications. The site was initially fortified in the early thirteenth century by the Byzantine Empire that employed a Venetian architect to construct a fortress around the promontory. The initial structure was known as “La Roka” (“Upper Castle” in Greek). The settlement subsequently grew, with many homes, businesses, and further fortifications being built in the area. A church complex was built at the base of the formation, as was a small harbor. By the time of the Venetian Republic’s takeover of Santorini in mid fourteenth century, the place was a bustling settlement. As Skaros was the largest settlement on the island, the fortress became the de facto capitol of Venetian Santorini. In the mid sixteenth century, a series of escalating wars between the Ottoman Empire and Venice resulted in Santorini being the target of numerous attacks, eventually fallen to Ottoman Empire. Skaros remained a prominent settlement until the Santorini volcano became active and began to erupt in mid seventeenth century. This eruption caused several strong earthquakes which collapsed part of the town into the sea. The volcano continued to go through periods of activity, spanning next two centuries, causing most of Skaros’ residents to flee the area. The old Venetian fortress subsequently fell into disuse, and by the early eighteenth century consisted of only a few weathered ruins.
On an early morning, I came down approximately 100 steps from the cliff-top of the main island, crossed the connector passage, and arrived at the base of the rock. A posted sign warned the visitors not to proceed beyond that point due to “Access to Skaros Castle after this point is extremely dangerous and is strictly forbidden.” However, there was no security guard, so visitors and hikers willfully disregarded the sign, getting on to the hiking trail, created by the past adventurers. Initially, the trail was flat for several meters. Soon the path began to rise upwards snaking around natural boulders (Image 2). While hiking, I took regular breaks to soak into the surrounding scenery. Finally, I arrived at what seemed to be an old stone gate (now blocked with fallen boulders), most probably a past entrance to the castle. The final ascent to the top of the rock needed crawling up on the jagged stones around that gate (Image 3). I carefully began to climb, making sure not to misjudge any footing. Near the end, a helping hand of a fellow hiker pulled me up to the rock top. I was already breathless from the hiking, but now the view of the surrounding nature from the top stunned me (Image 4). Mother Nature displayed her full glory with the blue sky above and the blue water below with two cruise ships slowly entering into the channel, while a passenger ferry boat speeding forward and all encircled by ancient volcanic islands. A mild breeze started to blow soothing both the body and the soul.