Among the many things you still need to find out about the island is that there are incredible castles to explore and see, also offering impressive panoramic views on the volcano and the neighboring islands, due to their strategic positions. The purpose of the castles was to protect the inhabitants from the marauding pirate invasions, which during the Byzantine era and the Frankish occupation were frequent at the coasts of the Aegean Sea and the whole Mediterranean.
The Castle of Pyrgos
The Castle of Pyrgos is located in Pyrgos Village, a really picturesque location and the highest village of Santorini, with the most astonishing panoramic views on the island. Pyrgos was the capital of Santorini in the mid 18th century, and before Fira, which is the capital of the island today!
The castle was built for protective purposes in order the residents to get protected by the invasion and for that reason it counts just one entrance. In many cases, the residents could throw boiling oil to those that tried to invade. Getting into the castle you will see the church of Saint Theodosia and on the western side you will see another church ‘Isodion’ of Theotokos (Koimisis of Theotokou), which probably dates back to the 10th century and treasures very valuable and historical icons and a wooden iconostasis. A third church which is located at the highest point of the castle, is the church of Virgin Mary (Eisodion of Theotokou), built in 1660.
The Castle of Skaros
The castle of Skaros is located close to Imerovigli village, offering some amazing views of the caldera and the volcano. It is also a great choice for hiking and trekking.
Built in the 1200’s, it is the most important castle of Santorini built to protect the island from the pirates that conquered the coasts of the Aegean Sea during the late Middle Ages. Its strategic position offered panoramic views on the shores and the connection with the rest of the village was feasible through a mobile wooden bridge.
The Rock of Skaros used to be a medieval village of the island, with a dense population, which was repeatedly damaged by strong earthquakes. The historians claim that the earthquakes from 16th till 18th century caused significant damage to the village and at the end the village was abandoned. Nowadays, the rock of Skaros is completely uninhabited. There is a small church with great views on the northwest side and a few ruins left by old houses.
The Castle of Akrotiri
The castle of Akrotiri is located towards the south of the island, very close to the Red Beach. Built in 13th century, during the Venetian period in the Middle Ages it was called ‘Punta Castelli’ and ‘La Ponta’ which in Latin means ‘the peak’. During the Ottoman period the tower was called Goulas from the Turkish “kule” which means “Tower”.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the crusaders, the sovereigns distributed the provinces of the empire. The Cyclades were awarded to the Venetians, and in 1207 Markos Sanudo founded the Duchy of the Archipelago. In 1336 N. Sanudo granted the building to the family Gozzadini, which had originated from Bologna. The fact that Gozzadini hailed from Bologna and not from Venice, which was at war with the Ottoman empire, in addition to the castle’s fortifications allowed the family to maintain possession of the castle for a long period, even while the rest of the island fell under the Turks in 1566. Akrotiri came under Ottoman control in 1617 and remained in their possession until 1822, when it finally passed into the hands of the Greeks.
Today the Akrotiri Casteli has revived and a Museum and Workshop of Traditional Musical Instruments have been operating since 2012. It also hosts events featuring music from all over the world.
The Castle of Agios Nikolaos
The Castle of Agios Nikolaos is located in Oia and is the best spot on the island to experience the world unique sunset of Santorini. It is the ultimate touristic attraction of Santorini and make sure to arrive there at least one hour before the sunset to get a nice spot. This old Venetian castle is named after a beautiful church carved in a rock, dedicated to Agios Nikolaos.
In the Middle Ages, in the period that Santorini was a Venetian possession, Oia was one of the ‘Kastelia’ (fortified settlements) of the island. It was “Kasteli of Agios Nikolaos”. The castle is mentioned in a document dates in 1480. Oia suffered severely in the earthquake of 1965 and much of the traditional settlements fallen into the sea below the caldera. Resplendent sanctuaries such as the church of Agios Georgios and Panagia of Platsanis were completely destroyed and only a small part of the castle remained.
Spending an evening on the castle, anticipating the sunset is an absolutely lifelong experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The Castle of Emporio
The Castle of Emporio is located in Emporio village, and is the most important attraction in Emporio. It is well preserved and a masterpiece of architecture.
As Emporio village was the commercial center of the island, the castle was built to safeguard the trades and the inhabitants from the pirates during the Frankokratia in Cyclades. The castle in Emporio was constructed in the mid-15th century at the center of the village. It was very well fortified and structured and it is said that was built by the same monks that erected the Holy Monastery of Saint John, on the island of Patmos, in the Dodecanese.
After going through the gate, different narrow alleys give shape to a small labyrinth with vertical stairways, bridges, arches, and domes. The typical tower Goulas was built outside the castle only within a stone’s throw. The utility of this defensive tower was to store the crop and was also used as a refuge. There used to be a small chapel inside it and a tunnel that connected it with the castle. It is a square building that still stands at the north part of the village with obvious decay.