Pyrgos, with its Venetian castle, is 7.5 km to the east of Fira and recently, it has become a significant attraction of the island. Built at the foot of Mesa Vouno, it is one of the most beautiful settlements of Santorini and stands out from a distance along many of the routes visitors can follow.
In 1995, it was declared a “preserved monument”. Thanks to its 600 permanent residents, who are mainly involved with tourism, commerce, vineyards and agriculture, it is one of the few places on the island that remain vibrant all year long.
Dozens of visitors come every day to this tidy and welcoming village that is surrounded by whitewashed churches and vineyards with their typical Santorinian vines. They go up to the castle, explore the cobbled streets with the Cycladic and the neoclassical buildings, many of which have been rebuilt, drink coffee or soft drinks at coffee shops, enjoy their lunch or dinner at the settlement’s restaurants and taverns, see the sunset over the caldera at the top of the castle or on the terraces of the winery of the island’s Wine Producers Association, visit the museum of Aghia Triada and the Cultural Village entitled “I Santorini pou efyge” (Santorini of the past), do their shopping at the village’s shops.
The hotels that operate within the village or around it are also top-notch, so many visitors choose the settlement for their stay and enjoy the serene environment, the magnificent views over the island and the genuine hospitality.
For those who love walking, besides the cobblestone streets, there is also the surrounding nature they can explore, following the old path that leads from Pyrgos to Emporio (1 hour and 30 minutes).
Above the settlement rises the impressive monastery of Prophitis Ilias, which is worth visiting if one wants to admire the magnificent views and see the catholic and its small ecclesiastical museum.
A custom revived every year on Good Friday is another reason why Pyrgos never fades from the memory of visitors. The thousands of cans placed on all rooftops and courtyards are lit by the village’s children a few minutes before the procession of the epitaphios in the castle and around the alleys. The scene is truly spectacular and the ceremony is solemn: a rare experience worth living.
Pyrgos’ castle at the foot of Mesa Vouno was one of the five castles built by the Venetians in the 15th century (the other ones were those of Akrotiri, Skaros, Aghios Nikolaos in Oia and Emporio). It followed the style of a settlement fortification with a subsequent yard: around the core, in the centre of which there was a tower initially and a church at a later stage, a fortification yard was later developed, consisting of the external walls of the houses.
In its centre stood the small square with the churches of Panagia and Aghios Georgios. Around the square, four more residential pockets were developed, while the (now demolished) public bakery stood to the north.
As far as everyday life in the castle of Pyrgos is concerned, written evidence dates back to the early 17th century. They reflect people’s anxiety about their fate. Representatives were authorized to offer pirates money or other things in exchange, or fool them so as to not loot their homes. What is more, at that time, the great eruption of the Kolumbo volcano in 1670 was still very recent, so the countryside and the people were faint. The destruction inflicted by Kolumbo terrified residents, as it caused massive tidal waves that hit the beach of Perissa near Pyrgos. Poisonous gases made lots of animals, birds, fish and people die, and that period is known as “the time of evil”.
BEFORE THE 1956 EARTHQUAKE
In its initial form, the settlement had a solid, building tissue and a fortress-like structure. Quite possibly, it started as a monastery complex around the church of Panagia.
When the danger of pirate raids was over, the settlement expanded outside the castle, thus the outer buildings that constituted the “enceinte” opened outwards, acquiring doors, windows and outbuildings, many of which took the form of roofed balconies – the so-called iliaka.
Researchers do not know much about the changes that have occurred inside the settlement after that period, but due to dense structure, the two-storied and three-storied houses stretching over the streets and complex ownership, probably there weren’t any significant changes.
The densely populated district outside the castle was named Xeporto. The first School of Thera operated here from the early until the mid-19th century, in a big building known as Pera Scholio.
An important milestone in the history of the castle – as of the rest of the island – was the earthquake of 1956. The buildings suffered severe damage and later on, its form was defeatured upon interventions by the state authorities. The most important one was the demolition of the upper floors. Demolition materials were used to fill up the ground floor of the houses and seal the top surface (in many cases, with concrete). Many ground floor buildings were also encased in reinforced concrete.Sources:
1. A study on the castle of Pyrgos, by architect Clairi Palyvou.
2. Santorini Koinonia kai Xoros, 15os-20os aionas (Santorini, Society and Space, 15th-20th century), Dora Monioudi Gavala, a publication by the Loukas and Evangelos Belonias Foundation.