Santorini: For a touch of history this summer

Santorini: For a touch of history this summer

Santorini, the poster child for Greek tourism with its domed churches and sugar-cube architecture, has been such a victim of its own success, that the joys of vacationing here were the privilege of everyone else, except those living in Greece. This summer offers a singular opportunity to holiday on an island that has captured the collective imagination of wanderlusts and Instagrammers – and to relive the magic of a quieter, more romantic Santorini. It coincides with the launch of Robert McCabe’s collection of stunning photographs from the ’50s. Insider suggests two heritage hotels, member of the Historic Hotels of Europe and Yades Greek Historic Hotels, steeped in history, to explore the island from: Aigialos in Fira and Esperas in Oia.

Santorini: The Portrait of a Vanished Era

The latest book from Robert A. McCabe, the celebrated photographer of Greece, who was made an honorary citizen in February 2020 in recognition of his contributions to the Greek cultural record through over sixty years of photography. The book is a unique conduit to experience Santorini as it was before tourism, through a decade of black-and-white photographs depicting idyllic landscapes and traditional island culture.

When photographer Robert McCabe and his brother arrived there in 1954, they were the only visitors on the island.

The book by Robert A. McCabe and Margarita Pournara presents a collection of stunning photographs from 1954 to 1964―reproduced as tritones of surpassing quality― which reveal the hardscrabble, yet often romantic, life of a vanished era. Picturesque white-washed houses dug into the volcanic pumice; the harvest of the island’s famous cherry tomatoes; the winding road to the ruins of ancient Thera―all this was captured by his lens. Narrative captions bring each image to life, from recounting the island’s first phone call to the United States to the discovery of Akrotiri, a virtually intact city preserved since the sixteenth-century BC under 100 feet of volcanic ash—Santorini’s Minoan “Pompeii.” Not long after McCabe’s first visit the island suffered a devastating earthquake, which damaged or destroyed 85 percent of the structures on the island, making these images a unique testament to the island both as it once stood and during its reconstruction.

Reliving Santorini’s sepia-tinted glory

Long before it became a mecca for tourists, with a million tongues spoken animatedly in Santorini’s alleyways, Santorini was a coveted capital by marauding Venetians, Genoese, Turks and Catalans. Those cosmopolitan influences, its economic prosperity as a maritime stronghold, and the subsequent destruction of the island’s weaker structures after its devastating earthquake in 1956 have all defined the island’s vernacular architecture.

The best-preserved manors that survived were the fortified homes of wealth sea-captains, and before long, Oia was dubbed “the village of the captains.” Aigialos in Fira and Esperas in Oia, are two hotels that hark back to a different time.

Visit Santorini around July 18, when Robert McCabe will be presenting his book with Margarita Pournara, journalist and Santorini native, whose vivid commentaries, bring alive Santorini’s storied history over the past 70 years. Stay at our recommended hotels and travel back into a time-capsule.


Right next to Santorini’s most photographed church, the 200-year old Byzantine church of Christ, Aigialos is a complex of 18th and 19th century captain residences renovated to superbly appointed guest suites with lavish marble bathrooms, and spacious verandas. Overlooking the volcano and the Aegean Sea, Aigialos’ cobbled walkways; stunning views and island elegance offer an inimitable private escape. Ranking among the finest traditional luxury hotels and a prestigious member of the Historic Hotels in Europe, the Aigialos Luxury Traditional Settlement interweaves authentic Neoclassic aesthetics with traditional Cycladic elements offering stunning views overlooking the volcano and the Aegean Sea.

The 200-year old Byzantine church of Christ

Situated in the quietest neibourhood of Fira, the Aigialos relishes the privacy of the spacious suites with private terraces, ideal for sunrise peaceful moments, or signature dishes from the awarded Aigialos restaurant in the moonlight.The restaurant of Aigialos, overseen by awarded Chef Konstantina Faklari, is a proud winner of the 2020 Historic Hotels of Europe Gourmet Award.

Fira, 84700 Santorini
Tel: +30.228.602.5191-5


Perched on the edge of a cliff at the village of Oia, the Esperas is an oasis of serenity and wonderment in absolute privacy and just a few minutes from the famous Oia cobbled walkway. All of the lodgings, originally carved into the rock as fishermen houses, have been meticulously restored preserving their unique architectural characteristics. Spacious and tastefully decorated with elegant island furnishings, they all have a private terrace with breathtaking views of the world famous Santorinian sunset, the volcano and the Aegean Sea beyond. Esperas is a handpicked member of the Historic Hotels of Europe with lodgings originally carved into the rock as fishermen houses that have been thoughtfully redesigned to an oasis of personal enrichment and relaxation.

Oia, 84702 Santorini

 Tel: +30.228.607.1501, +30.228.607.1088

Santorini: Portrait of a Vanished Era

By Robert A. McCabe and Margarita Pournara,

Abbeville Publications, USA

ISBN-13: 978-0-7892-1366-2

Hardcover • $50

Available at Patakis bookstore.

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