The Upper Castle or… La Roka

Who is not fascinated by the sunsets in Santorini, Caldera, and Fira? But even for this famous island, there is a lot of unknown information you would like to know. For example, did you know that Sandori once had a capital that no longer exists today? A cliff that resists the passage of time is reminiscent of this important story. It’s called Skaros and it has been a bustling castle town. It had 200 houses, cobblestones, and churches. It was, in fact, the most important of the five fortified settlements in Santorini. However, not many parts of the settlement survive to this day.

The unknown capital of Santorini and its history

The original castle was also known as the “Upper Castle” or “La Roka”. This castle was built by The Venetian Giacomo Barozzi. In fact, its inhabitants were known as Kastrinoi. Skaros was the capital of Santorini until the 18th century. However, the evacuation of the settlement had begun in the early 17th century. The rock was repeatedly shaken by powerful earthquakes.

Earthquakes during the eruptions of 1650, 1701-1711, and 1866-1870 caused significant damage. It seems that the earthquakes in the period 1701-1711 are what prompted the inhabitants to abandon it permanently, combined with the fact that the era of piracy had passed and there was no reason for the islanders to be squeezed in steep and difficult places.

The history of Skaros begins in 1207, after the consolidation of the Venetian occupation of Thira and the accession of the island to the Duchy of the Aegean Sea.

Skaros, however, suffered major damages from the terrible earthquake of 1650. The inhabitants then decided to abandon this dangerous environment that Castle offered. It was now time to establish a new “metropolitan” center in Fira. This move to Fira was completed in the last decades of the 18th century. When the danger of pirates was limited.

The unknown capital of Santorini that today does not exist

The image of the city just before its abandonment – Drawing of the Thomas Hope Collection (1788) kept in the Benakis Museum.

The rock of Skaros as it is today

The rock of Skaros today is uninhabited. There is a small church dedicated to Panagia Theoskepasti and a few ruins of old houses in the settlement. Many monasteries were established within the Castle. One of the oldest is the monastery of Dominican monks of Saint Catherine of Sienna, which was founded in 1595 by Marinos Dargentas, the son of the Latinized branch of the Byzantine imperial family of Argyros.

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