Santorini is famous for its iconic landscape that looks ethereal under the colorful tones of the sky at sunset. The island is on almost everyone’s “bucket list” of places to see. But glorious sunsets are just happy endings on days so full of potential. Among all the treasures of Santorini, five castles still stand to tell the tale of a glorious past of bravery and endurance.
Castle of Saint Nikolas in Oia
The Castle of Saint Nikolas is our most obvious choice as it’s located a leisurely 15-minute walk from Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa. It is very popular at sunset when travelers climb on what’s left of its ruined frame to capture the best photos of the legendary Santorini sunset. This castle traces its early stages to the 1400’s and the Venetian period. Also known as the “Kasteli of Aghios Nikolaos,” it was ravaged by different earthquakes that hit the island over the centuries. The earthquake in 1956 caused the most damage making part of the fortress crumble into the sea below. Sadly, resplendent sanctuaries such as the church of Agios Georgios and Panagia of Platsanis were destroyed by these same earthquakes. The castle once belonged to the Dargentas, descents of the Romanos Argyros.
The Venetian Tower (Goulas) of the former Castle of Akrotiri still stands – a beautiful landmark in use to show an exhibition of Greek folk instruments, but also for cultural events and concerts. In 1336 when it was erected, the Akrotiri Castle was given to the Gozzadini family by the Duke of Naxos Nikolas Sanudo. Back then, this fortress was impressive. It was subsequently damaged by a series of earthquakes, then occupied by the Ottoman Empire for a time.
Castle of Pyrgos
The Castle of Pyrgos was mighty and fierce once, and its ruins today are still enough to bring a sense of wonder if history is what fascinates you. Kastelli was damaged by the earthquake of 1956, but its ruins are a fantastic backdrop for the lights that illuminate the village in the night of the Epitaph. This iconic landmark is also a great spot to observe the magical sunsets of Santorini. Plus, it’s surrounded by significant Greek Orthodox monuments.
Castle and Tower of Emporio
Not far from Pyrgos, another “must see” village is Emporio (or Nimporio). Towards the western area of the village, a Venetian tower stands since the 1400s. This castle tower is said to have been built by the same monks that erected the Holy Monastery of Saint John, on the island of Patmos, in the Dodecanese. The Castle of Emporio is one of the best preserved on Santorini, and many of its original buildings have been restored. Visitors entering through the gate are met by a labyrinth-like array of narrow alleys made up of vertical stairways, bridges, arches, and domes.
Ducal Castle of Skaros
The most important castle on Santorini is now called the Rock of Skaros – but it was once a ducal fortress, virtually impregnable at the time. The fort was built to protect the islanders from pirates. According to history, the Rock of Skaros used to be a medieval village of the island, with a large population. The original castle, known as ‘Epano Kastro’ (Upper castle in Greek) or ‘La Roka’ was built in the later Byzantine years by the Venetian Giacomo Barozzi. The fort was also damaged by earthquakes through time. The medieval town was eventually abandoned once these quakes ravaged the fort and the town. Today there is only a small church and a few ruins of the once formidable castle, totally worthy of a visit.