Up in the interior of Santorini is the hillside village of Pyrgos (Pyrgos Kallistis). Pyrgos sits just below Mount Profitis Ilias, the island’s highest point. It is Santorini’s highest settlement with panoramic views of the whole island. It’s also a well-preserved cultural village, with some of the most unspoiled remnants of traditional life on Santorini.
How To Get To Pyrgos
Pyrgos is located around eight kilometers to the south of Fira and six kilometers from Santorini’s international airport.
Getting from the airport is easy as taking a seven-minute shuttle bus but getting from the capital at Fira can be a little harder. Non-express buses from Fira to Perissa stop outside the town hourly, though this means you’ll have to walk the final stretch yourself into Pyrgos village.
If you’re not keen on this, you can also take a taxi or hire car for a higher price.
Pyrgos means “tower” in Greek, a fitting name for a village that towers above the rest of its island. Although once said to have been the former capital of Santorini, the Pyrgos of today, with its quaint houses and sloping whitewashed streets, is a lot slower than touristy Fira.
Most histories of Pyrgos trace back to the early 16th Century when Santorini’s Venetian rulers began constructing a castle at this strategic highpoint.
By the time it was finished, the castle or kasteli became a key part of the island’s defenses, one of five such fortifications on the island.
Apart from its history as a military bastion, Pyrgos was also a holy town with a plethora of churches and chapels built in the area around Mount Profitis Ilias and its famous monastery.
As the star of the monastery and the village itself declined, lonely Pyrgos served as a place of exile for religious and political prisoners, right up into the Metaxas regime and the outbreak of the Second World War.
Santorini was a point of contention during this period and was the site of the devastating Raid on Santorini in 1944. Today, a small monument to Pyrgos’ dead stands in testament to the village’s sacrifice, both in that war and those that have followed.
In 1956 a huge earthquake caused much damage across the island of Santorini and struck Pyrgos hard, crippling the village.
While the design of the kasteli’s buildings and the soil in which they were built meant that Pyrgos suffered little initial damage, an incompetent and corrupt reconstruction process saw many undamaged buildings demolished or ruined.
Many locals sold their ancestral homes for whatever they could and abandoned the town en masse.
However, despite the earthquake and the ramshackle reconstruction, much of the old Pyrgos has survived and more have been restored since the tourist boom of the 1980s and 90s.
In 1995 Pyrgos was officially recognized by the Greek government for its rich heritage as a cultural village and declared a “protected settlement”.
Pyrgos has continued to balance its traditional way of life and its tourist economy with great success ever since.
The Old Kasteli
The chief attraction of Pyrgos is the ruins of the kasteli (castle) that sits at its center. Finding the kasteli is easy, for when leaving the main square and heading uphill, all of the village’s streets seem to lead towards it.
Like the other five Venetian castles on Santorini, the kasteli at Pyrgos is built around a central tower and church, with its outer walls comprising of hardy thickset houses.
A single small door affords entrance into the kasteli’s inner sanctum, and any attacker seeking to enter the kasteli would be forced to brave the anger of its defenders in this confined space.
Should you come to Pyrgos during Orthodox easter, you’ll have the privilege of watching the Epitaph, a funerary procession that sees the entire castle lit up on Good Friday night.
Celebrations are held in the town’s main square that includes the burning of symbolic effigies, fireworks, Santorini’s famous wine, and lamb cooked on the spit.
The Monastery of Profitis Ilias
If you’re after a spiritual experience that’s a little quieter than the Epitaph, then you’ve got a lot of options at hand. There are at least forty-eight religious sites around the village of Pyrgos and Mount Profitis Ilias.
Chief among these is the Monastery of Profitis Ilias itself. Constructed in the 18th Century, the monastery was a wealthy and influential institution even under Turkish rule.
At the height of its power, the monastery had its own ship, used to conduct business ventures with the outside world, and ran a Greek language school which played a key part in Greece’s cultural renaissance.
Excepting special occasions, the monastery is closed to the public and still serves as a place of spiritual devotion for a small group of resident monks.
That said, the walk to its venerable walls is beautiful (if a little arduous) and takes about an hour from Pyrgos’ main square.
On the way, you can call into Aghii Apostoli (the Church of the Holy Apostles) before taking in stunning views of the caldera and Santorini’s outlying settlements like Fira, Oia, and Messaria.
The Many Churches of Pyrgos
Apart from the monastery, the most important church in Pyrgos is the recently restored Panagia Eisodia, the largest church on Santorini and the focal point of the Easter epitaph ceremony.
Other key churches within the town include the blue-domed Aghios Nikolaos (built alongside the Panagia Eisodia in the mid-17th Century) and the Aghia Triada, now a museum replete with its own relics collection and rare religious icons.
Last but not least comes the tiny Theotokaki of Koimisis, possibly one of the oldest churches on Santorini, that dates back to either the 10th or 14th Century. However, Theotokaki is still under restoration and visitation is limited.
Fine Wines and Fine Food
Odds are that after all that hiking and spiritual introspection you’re more than a little thirsty. Luckily Pyrgos caters to these needs as well.
The Hatzidakis Winery and Santo Winery are located just outside the village, offering tours and tastings of their iconic local drops throughout the whole year.
In addition to these wineries, there are a number of restaurants and tavernas within Pyrgos that are well worth a visit.
These range from the casual and informal to some real purveyors of haute cuisine, offering caldera views to the tune of classical music.
Where to Stay in Pyrgos
Like the villages of Emporio and Megalochori, Pyrgos offers more spacious and private accommodation than in Oia and along the caldera edge.
The Aegean Sea, volcano, caldera, and whole of the island views, great prices, restaurants, tavernas, and wineries close by (and away from crowds of Fira and Oia) – what’s not to love about Pyrgos?
Here are the 3 best quality and value places to stay in Pyrgos Santorini:
Aeon Suites – Adults Only
Aeon is perched on the cliff just below the medieval castle.
Skyfall Suites – Adults Only
Cycladic-style with private pools or outdoor hot tubs.
Symphony Suites Santorini
Private pools and free private parking.
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