It seems to be one of the foibles of human nature to want to be higher than everyone else. In Antigua, where the bungalows of the rich dot the tops of the hills, the guides point out “That one is the summer home of Whitney Houston.That one belongs to… ” In California, the higher the elevation, the more expensive the dwelling. People build on hillsides, their dream houses sometimes precariously cantilevered out over the canyons. And, everywhere, a penthouse apartment is a sign that one has arrived.
Why this obsession with elevation ?Is it some vestigial primal instinct that equates height with power and safety? Is it a validation of worldly success ? Or is it just the view ? Maybe I’m analyzing too much. Perhaps it’s just the view.
I’ve had my share of wonderful views from a variety of vantage points. From atop the Eiffel Tower I’ve gazed across the Seine River at the Palais de Chaillot . I’ve climbed Vindhyagiri hill at Sravanbelgola in Mysore to see the giant statue and look down at the patchwork of fields, temples and tanks at the foot of the hill. I’ve enjoyed the view from the top of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, the latter now only a sad memory.From the top of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona I’ve peered down at the workmen still toiling away . These have all been memorable experiences but nothing comes close to the view from the cliffs of Santorini.
Santorini ‘s topography is unique. Circa 1650 BC, there was a gigantic volcanic eruption and the center of the island then known as Kalliste vanished forever . A column of volcanic debris was thrown 20 miles into the air and the resulting tsunamis wiped out the thriving Minoan empire on Crete , 70 miles away. The sea rushed into the circular depression or caldera ( cauldron in Spanish) giving the area it’s present configuration. Today, Santorini ( named for Saint Irene) consists of a ring of islands around a central lagoon 8 miles long and 4 miles wide and 1,300 feet deep at it’s deepest point. This gives you some idea of the size of the eruption that created it.
We stayed at the Volcano Villas on Thira on the outskirts of the village of Oia.The back of the villas overlooked the caldera and our favorite pastime was to sit at the edge of the property and drink in the view. As dusk fell, a beacon would be lit on the island across from us. Later at night, the inky blackness was relieved only by the pinpricks of light from the cliffside houses and the lights of the cruise ships moored in the harbor on the far side of the caldera. The view by day was even more enthralling. From our vantage point, perhaps 1500 feet above sea level, the deep blue water looked as smooth as glass and we could not even see the wake of ships crossing the caldera on their way to the open sea. The ships themselves seemed to be standing still and it was only when we closed our eyes for a couple of minutes and opened them again that we realized that they were indeed in motion.Except for two black clad women picking rosemary leaves from the plants that grew wild on the hillside, there was no sign of life. Sitting there in the mild sunlight, cooled by gentle breezes, we could almost imagine ourselves to be gods on Mount Olympus looking down upon a pristine Mother Earth, unspoilt by man.