Santorini Volcano / Kameni Islands
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Santorini Volcano / Kameni Islands

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Santorini Volcano : Evolution of the Kameni Islands

Palia Kameni 21st Century
Photo : Klearchos Kapoutsis

The Kameni Islands

The island known as Palia Kameni 'Old Burnt' was the first to be formed after the Minoan eruption. Written sources indicate that activity started on Palia Kameni around 197 BC, while there is evidence that it was considerably larger in the past. This is shown most clearly by the steep cliffside on its northwestern side. The break up of Palia Kameni seems to have occurred between 1457 and 1458. From 1570 until about 1573 a new island was formed in the sea approximately four kilometers northeast of Palia Kameni. Having risen with 'fire in the sea', it was given the name Mikra Kameni - small burnt island.

Palia Kameni : The Eruption of 46-47 AD

Towards the end of the year 46 AD and the beginning of the year 47 AD the volcano reawakened. Huge quantities of molten rock (magma) spouted out of the sea two kilometers southwest of Lera, creating the islet of Palia Kameni. At that time the island had a circumference of 5,550 meters, as the Roman historian Aurelius Victor registers in his work Historia Romana. It gradually acquired its present shape through fragmentation by great cracks and faults and the collapse of its shoreline in many places.

Palia Kameni : The Eruption of 726 AD

During the next seven centuries the volcano remained dormant. It became active again in the year 726, this time extremely violently. Numerous explosive events spewed pumice and volcanic ash several kilometers into the air, sending it drifting across the Aegean and into Asia Minor. This eruption seriously disrupted the economic and social life of the Aegean, and was interpreted as an indication of the wrath of God caused by the Iconoclastic Controversy which was then lacerating the Byzantine Empire. Great quantities of volcanic tephra spewed out in this eruption can still be seen on Palea Kameni. The viscous magma which later filled the crater now appears as a black tongue of lava with a rough scoriaceous surface on the northeastern shore of Palea Kameni, forming the north side of the bay of Agios Nikolaos.

The eruption of Nea Kameni in the years 1866 to 1870 presented a spectacular display that was seen by numerous spectators. The fireworks were especially grandiose during the night. (From Illustretet Tindende 1866, Copenhagen).

The Appearance of Nea Kameni : 1707-1711
The eruptions of 1701 to 1711 inside the caldera were of great geological interest, because it was one of the rare cases in which a volcano was observed to emerge for the sea. During the eruptions of 1707-1711 Skaros Castle was still inhabited. From there one could observe the growth of the new island. On the 21st May in 1711, three days after a strong earthquake, a white island was seen rising to the west of Mikra Kameni. It continued to grow, and after a few days inhabitants of Santorini went and discovered black lava, pumice and marine life that was still living on it. The island grew slowly, reaching a width of 500 to 600 meters and a height of 70 to eighty meters. On the 5th of June fire was seen and a new black island appeared to the north. By September 12th the black island was so large that it united with the white one. By the time that activity ceased in September 1711, Santorini and Mikra Kameni sank by as much as a meter or more. The new island, Nea Kameni measured 910 meters long in the south, 1650 in the west and 1440 meters to the east. It had reached a height of 106 meters.

Mikra and Nea Kameni Unite : 1866-1870

The eruptions of 1866 to 1870 created the Georgios volcano and caused the smaller Mikra Kameni to joined be to the larger Nea Kameni.

Kolumbo Submarine Volcano
The Kolumbo Submarine Volcano rose from the sea during its period of activity between the years 1649-1650. Kolumbo is now totally submerged. The Kolumbo volcano is situated 7 kilometers of the northeastern coast of Santorini. The cone measures 4 by 8 kilometers with its long access oriented parallel to a north east trending tectonic structure known as the 'Kolumbo line'. The highest point of the crater lies 18 meters below sea level. A caldera is formed in the central part that reaches a depth of 512 meters below sea level.

Theophanis the Chronicler recorded about the Eruption of 726 AD :
"In the summer of that same year of the eighth "Indiction', steam as from a fiery furnace bubbled up from the depths of the sea between the islands of Thira and Thirassia for several days, and in a short while, after it had increased and hardened by the furious heat of the blazing fire, the smoke began itself to seem like fire, and on account of the thickness of this solid matter, large pumice stones were spewed out all over Asia Minor and Lesvos and Abydos and towards those parts of Macedonia which overlook the sea".

Observations about Eruptions in the Caldera by Jesuit Father Goree : 1712
"At this time the White island which seemed to be higher than the Lesser Kameneni (Mikra Kameni) and could be seen from the first floor of the houses in the castle of Skaros, had now sunk so low, that it could not be far from the second floor".

A New Island called Nea Kameni appears in 1707

The Jesuit Priest Father Goree eyewiitnesses the eruptions of 1707-1711 from Skaros Castle.

"And it is between this little Island of the Great Kammeni, that on the 23rd May in the Year 1707, at the break of Day, the New Island, of which I am now going to speak, was first discovered".

"Howsoever it was, some Seamen discovered this Island early in the Morning; but not being able to distinguish what it was, they imaged it to be some Vessel that had suffered Shipwreck, and was driven thither by the Sea. As soon as they found that it was a New Island, they grew afraid, and returning as hastily back again, spread the report over the whole Island; which was the more readily credited, because all the Inhabitants knew, and several of them had themselves seen what happened in the Year 1650".


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