Saturday, May 11, 2013

Santorini, Greece: Life on the Edge

No Snow Here, Just Beautiful Santorini
Snow capped mountains.  Cruising into Santorini, that's what it looks like: short rugged mountains covered in snow.  As you get closer and closer you can see the outline of the the pure white buildings and the signature blue domes of the Greek Orthodox Churches.  It is truly breathtaking, but not quite as amazing as the view from the top.  

After walking up the 600+ stairs from the port to Fira Town at the top of the cliff, we decided that when we come back we will pay the four euro each to take the cable car from the port.  This isn't because it is a
long walk and not something we could physically handle again.  It is because the entire way you are dodging donkeys...and everything that comes out of donkeys.  Nothing quite like a 30 minute climb through that smell to wake you up.
Eyore and a Few of His Closest Relatives Cascading Down the Steps

The View...'nuff said

The climb could not have been more worth it.  The stark white contrast of the buildings against the brown cliffs, blue domes, shutters and doors is beautiful.  The view of the other islands is amazing.  We made our way to Oia, another town on the island, that was even more beautiful.  This is where the quintessential  white building and blue dome pictures of Santorini are taken.  I was immediately struck by the beauty of these towns, however as a Landscape Architect I have so many questions.

The town is set on the top of a cliff and has been built actually constructing from the top down the side of the cliff.  Talk about a feat of engineering!   I can only imagine the amount of reinforcement that must go into tying the buildings back into the cliffs.  Additionally, not only is the town built on a clifftop, but it is actually the edge of a gigantic volcano caldera that erupted thousands of years ago.  As nature is completely unpredictable, this seems like risky business to those who originally settled here.  

Built: From the Top Down
View From the Top...Down
Stone and Concrete Retaining Wall
I am also amazed at the amount of site grading that must have had to go into the construction.  Although a typical grading plan as we know it probably doesn't exist for construction of this town, I would love to see it in all of it's complexity.   For example, finished floor elevation of one dwelling would have to equal the elevation of a second floor stair landing of another.  In another area, one ramp would have to tie into another staircase leading to the entrance of a restaurant.  And so on and so on.  
Stairs, Ramps, and Walls, Oh My!
The buildings in many locations have been carved into the side of the cliff.  There was one building currently under construction and at this point in the process was a series of caves with the cut rock still resting in the base of the cave.  At this point the construction process there is more cave than building giving it a very primitive appearance.  Even the finished buildings painted in pure white come across as simple but elegant.  This selection of basic materials and color helps to create a place that appears simply beautiful while underneath it all is beautifully complex.

The Building Under Construction is at the Center of the Image
This Gives you an Overall Idea of the Complexity of Oia
There is no doubt in my mind that we will return here...sooner rather than later.

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