Thursday, August 17, 2017

Imerovigli in Santorini

Santorini Imerovigli view
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According to state files of the Catholic Bishopric of Thira, built-up web existed in the region from late 16th century. Imerovigli (or Merovigli) is a linear settlement which was developed on the edge of the cliff along the Caldera. It offers impressive view to the volcano. Fira and Imerovigli are just 3 km apart and there is access either from the asphalt road, or the cobblestone old path leading from Fira to Firostefani and Imerovigli.

The name Imerovigli comes from the words imera (day) and vigla (watchtower). Since it was at the top of the Caldera, it is possible that a lookout post for the pirates' ships once stood here.

Visitors admire the architecture of the picturesque and peacefull village, which attracts –as it happens to all the other settlments on the Caldera- tourism of a high level.


There are luxury hotels, cafes, restaurants and taverns, mini markets, travel agencies, rent a car and many more

Archives show that there has been a building network in Imerovigli as early as late 16th century.

It was the receiving for the inhabitants who were deserting Skaros castle and built the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) in 1816. The village grew linearly along the Caldera rim. From there a complex of narrow paths stemmed following the natural slopes of the ground. This constituted the circulation network of the settlement.

Before the 1956 earthquake, Imerovigli boasted the church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, or Panagia Malteza (Holy Virgin the Maltese), built in the end of the 19th century, in Byzantine style. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, large manors stood side by side along the homes of the locals.

The earthquake damaged a big part of the village and most churches were ruined (Holy Virgin the Maltese, Panagia Xeportiani, Stavros, St Anthony the New). Aghios Nikolaos monastery was repaired later on.

However, in the 1970s people returned and started restoring their houses. Many of them were sold in order to become hotels and villas.

Aghios Nikolaos monastery

The initial temple of Aghios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) was built inside the castle of Skaros and belonged to the Gyzi family. In 1651, the day of the celebration, it had been decided to transform the temple into a feminine monastery which by that time did not exist on the island. In 1674 it became Patriarchal- Stavropegic. Nuns settled in the building and the monastery operated normally until 1815. The nuns abandoned it after the departure of the last residents from Skaros.

The new monastery was founded in 1816 at the present day's spot between Imerovigli and Firostefani after the Patriarch had given the permission. Its catholic was a triunity. One chapel was dedicated to Aghios (St) Panteleimonas and the other to Zoodochos Pigi. The central of St Nicholas was decorated with a wooden screen, a donation of the Gyzi family. The nuns took care of the transportation of pictures and ecclesiastical objects from the old monastery to the new one.

In 1834 when a royal decree shut down private monasteries and those with less than 6 monks and their possessions were taken by the state, the monastery of Saint Nicholas having 18 nuns was not shut down, remaining the only feminine monastery in the Aegean. During that period even 40 cells were not enough to house the increasing number of nuns, who still used to weave cotton fabrics as they did in the old monastery of Skaros.

In 1849 it ceased to be private but remained in good condition. In 1888 it housed 6 nuns. In the 1956 earthquake it sustained some minor damage. 32 cells that were maintained in recent years are built in a square shape of a Π. Festivities take place on the Aghios Nikolaos, Aghios Panteleimonas and Zoodochos Pigi days.

The castle of Skaros

When people lay eyes on the Imerovigli Skaros they may think it's just another natural volcanic "sculpture". However, those familiar with the island's history know that up there, on this small piece of land, once stood an inviolable castle, with the public and private buildings of the island's medieval capital.

Skaros is the most important attraction in Imerovigli, an impressive rock seen also from Fira. The fortified settlement was presented for the first time in 1421 by the traveller and map maker Boundelmonti. Travellers of the 17th century report that its natural position rendered it impregnable to attacs. The only accurate surviving image of the Imerovigli Skaros is a pencil sketch belonging to Thomas Hope, housed at the Benaki Museum, Athens.

On top of the conic rock, one can see the fortified hub of the settlement, which was connected to the rest of the island via a movable wooden bridge. It was densely populated and had a labyrinth like path system.

As it appears on Skaros there were two castles. The older one, called Epano Kastro (Upper Castle, or Roka) was a fortified citadel on the top of the rock. The more recent one was called Kato Kastro (lower castle), but it suffered from the falling fragments of the rock above.

The older castle was built by Venetian Jacopo Barozzi, to whom Santorini was handed over in 1207. He and his noblemen used it as headquarters and residence. Space economy was what counted most in organising the settlement. The villagers exploited the very limited space to the utmost. Structures were packed tight, built in direct contact to one another. The basic building material was stone, which also served defence purposes.

Kato Kastro was built in the 17th century and people made use of the building materials from the castle of Roka to erect their houses. In 1642, part of the castle was set aside to build the bishop's residence. It was inhabited by Westerners, Catholics and, later on, Orthodox. There were the administration building, the residences of noblemen, the cathedral, churches, and monasteries. The Gyzi family founded here the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas).

People started to abandon Skaros in the early 17th century; by the end of the 18th century the transfer was completed. They moved to Fira whice became the new capital of the island. Among the reasons why Skaros was deserted were the hard conditions of living and transport, the destruction from falling rocks and the fact that the danger of pirate raids had ceased.

Today only few ruins of the medieval settlement are still visible on the rock.

-According to travellers of the 17th century in the middle of the Skaros rock there were 200 houses, deserted at the time and slowly crumbling down. The gates closed in cases of danger. Since it was situated very high it took half an hour to reach its walls.

-Skaros castle never fell during Venetian rule. It was severely damaged by the 1650 eruption of the underwater volcano of Culumbos.

 Walking around 

Taking a walk around the village you will notice the church of Anastasis (Resurrection) with the blue cupola. It is featured in many pictures of Santorini and a lot of couples choose it for their wedding. The church of PanagiaMalteza (Holy Virgin the Maltese) is near the main square with the war memorial, but it is usually locked. The one you see today was built in 1972, replacing the old one, which was destroyed by the earthquake. In the same year, the church of Ioannis (St) Chrysostomos was also built.

Early in the morning or at sunset, we suggest that you walk towards Skaros. Passing by the church of Aghios (St) Georgios take some time to admire the astonishing view from its yard.

On your way you will also see the small picturesque church of Aghios (St) IoannisKatiforis (which means "Saint John going downhill", probably due to the ground declivity). The church was rebuilt in 1966. On the west side of Skaros there is PanagiaTheoskepasti (Virgin Mary the God-covered), a church visible from the sea.

Walking in the opposite direction, towards Firostefani, you will come across the monastery of AghiosNikolaos (St Nicholas) enclosed with walls.

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