Explore Santorini's Jaw-dropping Skaros Rock
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
One of the most breathtaking hikes in Greece is located on the island of Santorini, and its otherworldly beauty is the result of violent volcanic activity over the millennia. For now, the volcano sleeps peacefully and visitors can enjoy the popular walk starting in the bustling main town of Fira and ending in the postcard-pretty town of Oia (pronounced E-yuh), which is famous for its sunset views. The rewarding and somewhat strenuous trail between the two towns finds you meandering along the edge of a volcanic crater known simply as the caldera. Caldera comes from the Latin word calderia, meaning cauldron or boiling pot, and refers to the large cauldron-like hollow formed by the so-called Minoan eruption that transformed the geology of the island ca 1600 BC. Just beyond Fira is the lovely town of Imerovigli, home to the focus of this article: a spectacular promontory that juts out into the Aegean Sea called Skaros Rock. It's a massive, natural rock formation created by volcanic activity, and is believed to have been formed during a powerful explosion that occurred at around 68,000 BC. If you don't have the time or energy to walk the entire trail between Fira and Oia, why not just hike from either Fira or Imerovigli out to Skaros Rock and back? It's a great alternative with plenty of epic views along with a rich historical background to explore.
It took my breath away when I first caught sight of Skaros Rock from Imerovigli. If the village were an amphitheater pitched out over the sea, then this incredible rock formation would certainly be its star performer. I felt giddy from excitement and the elevation as I carefully made my way down narrow steps and winding streets in search of the footpath that would take me out onto the promontory. In the caldera villages of Santorini, I often get the sensation as if the island itself were an unmoored mountaintop set adrift upon the endless blue sea. There is a slight aspect of terror nestled inside the beauty, but mostly it is sublime.
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Imerovigli is a whitewashed village that seems to have emerged from a Cubist's imagination. Its dwellings and churches are huddled tightly together in what is often charmingly referred to as sugarcube-style architecture; a typical feature throughout the Cycladic islands of Greece. Like Fira, it’s perched on the edge of the caldera's rim. It’s impossible to miss the conical landmass of Skaros Rock as you wander the winding streets of Imeriovigli. The trail down to Skaros Rock is easy to find as the promontory is clearly visible throughout the town and the trail is marked with a sign.
Keep in mind that the Ministry of Culture and Sports has posted a sign warning that going beyond a certain point is "extremely dangerous" and "strictly forbidden". It is also an ongoing archaeological site of great interest, so thousands of human feet wandering these ancient pathways is not exactly helping to preserve the crumbling ruins left by the Venetians. That said, I very carefully wandered the site and did not to leave any trace behind. But for the reasons mentioned, I feel conflicted by recommending this portion of the hike to anyone who happens to be reading this. If you go ahead with it, please treat the place with respect and exercise caution as the footpaths are rugged and the site dangles precariously close to the caldera's sheer drop into the Aegean Sea.
Now for a brief history lesson:
The site was initially fortified in the early 13th century by the Byzantine Empire. The settlement subsequently grew, with many homes, businesses, and further fortifications being built around the promontory. By the time of the Venetian Republic's takeover of Santorini in 1336, the settlement consisted of over 200 homes and had several hundred inhabitants. As Skaros was the largest settlement on the island, it became the capitol of Venetian Santorini. A series of escalating wars between the Ottoman Empire and Venice in the mid 16th century resulted in Santorini being the target of numerous raids. Skaros' fortifications and position high on the cliffs of Western Santorini protected the town from raiders. However, the island's trade-based economy suffered, resulting in the ruling families of Santorini severing ties with Venice and signing a non-aggression treaty with the Ottomans. Eventually all of the island's settlements, including Skaros, accepted these terms, and the island became an Ottoman possession. Without the threat of raids to keep rival settlements in check, Skaros was eclipsed in importance by the towns of Fira (which became the new capital of the island) and Oia.
Skaros remained a prominent settlement until the Santorini volcano erupted in 1650. This eruption caused several strong earthquakes which collapsed part of the town into the sea. The volcano continued erupting from 1701 to 1711 and again from 1866 to 1870. The 18th century eruptions were notably impactful, as they caused most of Skaros' residents to move to Fira or the nearby village of Imerovigli. The old Venetian fortress subsequently fell into disuse, and by the early 19th century consisted of only a few weathered ruins.
When I was here just a few months ago this past spring, wildflowers were blooming in abundance. During my time on Skaros I came across maybe a dozen tourists, though I imagine the site is likely to be busier with foot traffic during the summer months. If you have a little extra time to spare, be sure to trek down a little further to the iconic blue and white church known as the Chapel of Panagia Theoskepasti. If Santorini were a great ship, here you feel like the captain at its helm and are surrounded by the deep blue sea on every side. It's a very relaxing place with an unforgettable view. While I was there, several tourists climbed on top of the church to snap photos. I personally find this disrespectful and recommend enjoying the views of the beautiful churches in Santorini from the ground. Though perhaps this sounds a bit hypocritical, seeing that tourists aren't supposed to venture out this far at all.
A few notes: The hike out to Skaros Rock is not difficult, though it does require a little stamina seeing that you go up and down various inclines and steps. Many of the paths are concrete, but if you wander off you'll find that the dirt footpaths can be quite rugged. This is why wearing good, closed-toe shoes is important. If you're a regular walker who is relatively fit, you'll find it enjoyable and easily accomplished. Be sure to bring a bottle of water with you. I recommend setting aside around an hour to get out to Skaros Rock and back to the village. The area is ripe with endless photo opportunities and makes for a great place to stop, relax, and simply take in those magnificent caldera views!
Next up we'll hike from Imerovigli all the way to Oia. There's lots more to share with you, so please sign up for the newsletter to be notified when the next part of this Santorini series is released. In the meantime, here's a short preview video for you about my recent adventures in Greece. Come along with me!