1. Nature - Enviroment
Thirasía or Thirasiá is part of the Cyclades island group. It is located west of Santorini. Thirasia, Santorini and the islands Aspronisi, Palaia and Nea Kameni form a small complex. These islands were formed after the volcanic eruption, when the water rushed into the newly formed caldera, covering part of the island’s surface. Hence, the pre-existing island, which during the Classical period was called Strongyli, was shattered into five smaller ones, with Santorini being the largest, followed by Thirasia.
The island is oblong in shape, stretching in north-south direction, and has a surface area of no more than 9,3 square kilometres. The ground morphology is very similar to that of Thera (Santorini): volcanic materials, like ash and pumice, from the last great volcanic eruption (ca. 1650 BC) cover the largest part of Thirasia, occasionally reaching a height of many meters. In certain areas, the erosive power of strong winds or water has removed all recent volcanic materials, revealing the underlying rock surface. In that case, too, the rock consists of volcanic lava in various colorations, also used for house construction in the island’s few settlements.
Thirasia used to be an autonomous municipality, however it has recently been included administratively in the community of Oia. The island is now sparsely populated. According to demographic evidence, until 1895 the population was steadily increasing (amounting to 855 inhabitants), whereas today, especially during the winter, the number of inhabitants is probably not higher than 150. Only two villages are currently populated: the traditional settlement and capital of the island, Manolas (Thirasia), built along the steep eastern coastline, and Potamos, situated in a gully on the western part of the island. There are also two abandoned settlements, Agrilia and Kera.
Two small harbours service the island, Riva on the north end and Korfos, the seaport of Manolas. The first, Thirasia’s main harbour -also known as Santa Irene, named after the chapel which is situated there- mostly services boats coming from the harbours of Oia and Athinio in Santorini. The second operates mainly in the summer during the tourist season. Both harbours are sparsely inhabited.
3. History - archaeological monuments
No specific information exists on the origin of the island’s name. According to tradition, it is thought to originate from mythology, from king Theras’ younger daughter Therasia, to whom he offered the island and for whom he had a palace built in a conspicuous location (the area presently known as Kavos-Korfos).
The limited archaeological research carried out so far provides evidence of habitation on the southern part of the island at least contemorary to the well-known prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri (17th century BC). More precisely, architectural remains and a small quantity of pottery dating from the same period as the Santorini settlement were discovered in the now abandoned Alafouzos Mines in Thirasia. The architectural remains located on the north part of the island belong to the Classical period.
The island has traditional rock-cut dwellings, which are cool in the summer and warm in the winter; they also have an arched superstructure for reasons of stability. Due to scarsity of water, each house has its own cistern, also hollowed out of the natural volcanic rock, which the inhabitants make sure to fill with water during the sparse winter rainfalls.
The island is dotted with churches. The monastery of Panagia (“Kera”), situated on the headland of Trypiti, on the island’s southern edge, constitutes a meeting place for believers on the 15th of August; it consists of ten cells and is famous for its woodcut icon screen.
5. The island during the last years
The living conditions gradually forced the inhabitants, especially the younger ones, to migrate. The main activities of the inhabitants were agriculture and fishing. In Thirasia thrived specific crops, due to the particularity of the volcanic soil: certain vine varieties, baby tomatoes, fava (yellow split peas), white aubergine and katsouni (a variety of fava). The majority of men who lived on the island were mariners who worked aboard the vessels of big boat owners from Thera, and women were mainly engaged in agricultural work. One can still see the mining installations that used to operate on the island, as well as on that of Santorini until the ’60s, processing the volcanic materials, ashes (aspa) and pumice, a building material in great demand.
Nowadays, agriculture has languished, large tracts of land have been abandoned and the few remaining inhabitants are mainly engaged in tourism. However, the proximity to a place as famous as Santorini limits the scope for development.