When everyone focuses on the cliff villages, I recommend you head to the beautiful village of Emporio, Santorini. The maze in the old section is fascinating with shapes and colors that create a fantastic playground for photographers. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit.
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Why visit the village of Emporio in Santorini?
Santorini is famous for its white villages on the rim of the caldera, overlooking the deep blue sea. And I agree the sights are magnificent, for example in the village of Oia.
But then, the heart of the island is totally overlooked.
Emporio is the largest village on the island. During the Venetian occupation, it was one of the 5 castles and a trade center, with its port at Perissa.
It has a long history, and walking in the old town is like traveling back in time (much more than in the other villages, in my opinion).
Plus, as you can see in the picture above, its narrow alleys are colorful and full of angles and shapes. So this is really a fun playground for photographers and a maze that will please everyone.
The village is easy to access from all areas of the island and then. Once parked, you can explore and get lost in the alleys 🙂
In Greek : Εμπορείο - its name means "trade" - you may find some books refer to it as Emborio.
Wondering where to stay in Santorini?
Check out my article to find the best areas depending on your criteria and discover inspiring accommodation suggestions
Planning Tips - Emporio Santorini
How to get to Emporio village
- Emporio is located in the South Center of Santorini, not far from the famous black beach of Perissa - You can see it identified on the map below.
- It is easily accessed by car and by bus (a stop on the route Fira to Perissa)
- If you plan on renting a car, check out my article about driving in Santorini
- Thera (Fira) to Emporio = 20min drive (without traffic)
- Oia to Emporio = 45min drive
- Perissa to Emporio = 10min drive
- Kamari to Emporio = 20min drive
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Visiting the old Emporio
- Park at the bottom of the old town, for example near Panagia Mesani, the main church (you can't miss it)
- Plan 1 to 2h to explore the old town. 2h is better to have time to get lost
- Don't wear heels! The floor is uneven with rock mosaics
- There a some slopes and stairs as you explore
- You can find a few bars and taverns in the old town, but most facilities are around it
- Staying in Emporio can be a cheaper alternative than staying in the white villages or at the beach - you can find hotels and traditional houses - check out the best rated accommodations in Emporio
Exploring the Emporio old town
As you park in the city center, you can see signs that point you in the direction of the Kasteli (little castle).
Just follow and start exploring the maze.
The alleys in the old village are very narrow with traditional houses. They are really well maintained and it is a pleasure to admire the architecture with arches and angles.
What is special in Emporio compared to the villages on the cliffs, are the tunnels and arches you walk under. It is a real exploration, wondering what you will see as you exit or take a turn.
Some people have taken liberties with their houses, not sticking with the white. It was a welcome change to see shades of earthy tones and yellows. It is even more a pleasure to photograph.
Take your time!!!!
Stop and look at all the houses' entrances. They are fun with intriguing doors and staircases.
At one point, I even wondered if I had landed on a fantasy town in a sci-fi movie. The shapes and many openings on the picture below are so fun. What do you think?
Emporio Castle (Venetian Castle)
But Emporio is mostly famous for its castle. You will see a few signs indicating the castle. Otherwise look for the highest tower.
The Kasteli was one of the 5 fortified castles on Santorini, and today it is the best preserved one.
It was built in the heart of the village probably during the 15th century. Thanks to its strategic location, the castle was used to guard the residents and the trade center.
Inside the castle (closed with a fence), you can see a church that dates back to the 16th century or earlier. The tower is well preserved and is quite surprising in the middle of the low architecture. It really sticks out.
I have not found its official name, some people call it Panagia Mesani, but it is the name of the main church down from the old town, so I am not convinced.
The whole fortified village can be called 'castle' by some sites (it covers the fortifications and around 80 houses), but the area around the church tower is what I really call the castle with tall fortified walls.
There are other ruins of the medieval times. A little outside of the maze you can see the tower of Nimborio also known as The “Goulas”. It was a square watchtower. I did not go see it.
The churches of Emporio
Like every other villages in Santorini, Emporio is full of churches. The Ecclesiastical architecture is significant. I have read that before the 1956 earthquake, there were around 260 churches. But I can't confirm.
At the bottom of the fortified village is Panagia Mesani, a large orthodox church.
I am sorry, I don't seem to have taken a better picture than this one, which is strange...
But as you explore the maze, you will also find smaller ones, easily identified by the domes and the bells at the front.
Those are just a few. But I let you explore and be surprised...
Want to see more of Santorini?
Will you go off the beaten path?