Pyrgos commands a view of the whole island. The highest village in Santorini, horizons extend to Oia in the north, Anafi Island to the east, and Thirassia to the west. In winter, you might see Pyrgos covered in a light dusting of snow. Native Pyrgians are proud of their village; for the most part, it has managed to escape the influx of mass tourism and retained its original character and charm. A couple of coffee shops, frequented by locals, encircle the small square. From there, winding paths lead upwards past closely meshed dwellings and churches, and the occasional art gallery, to the Kasteli.
Within the castle walls at the very top, one can find Franco's Cafe, a magical spot for sunset watching to the sounds of classical and opera music, cocktails and wine. Wear good-grip walking shoes and take a jacket - Pyrgos is chilly in the evenings.
Pyrgos Kasteli began life as a monastery; with the advent of the Venetians (early 13th C.), it grew into a fortress settlement with two and three-story houses formed into a strategic labyrinth of densely packed structures. The outer walls served as a shield against pirate raids. A single gate - the 'Porta', bolted at sunset, was the only way in or out. Above the door jutted a square structure called a 'fonissa' (murder hole) that had an opening at the bottom from which inhabitants could pour boiling water or oil on invaders. Beneath the castle was a network of passages used for protection or escape.
With time piracy dwindled and was eventually abolished; the pirates had become the rulers (Ottoman Empire.) Residents were no longer under siege, and the stronghold was extended beyond the castle walls, creating a new neighbourhood, the Kseporto - 'Outside The Gate.'
The square in front of the castle entrance, called 'Ypsilos Kafenes' or 'The High Up Coffee Shop', became a meeting place where Venetian aristocrats gathered to socialise and discuss the business of the day. Today, there is a memorial for those who fell in the Balkan and Greek Turkish wars of 1912-1921. The church of Agios Nikolaos is in the square.
As with other fortresses in Santorini, a church was built near the castle entrance. It was named Agia Theodosia, after the patron saint and protector of castles. Constructed originally in 1639, the church collapsed in the 1956 earthquake; a new one was erected almost a decade later (1965) on the same spot. There are over 40 churches in Pyrgos. Several are private chapels, owned and maintained by generations of Pyrgian families.
An iconic Greek Orthodox Easter custom is on Good Friday: the lighting of candles on Pyrgos' hillside during the Procession of the Epitaph. The Church of Eisodeia of Theotokou, found at the highest point of the castle, holds the most important service of the Lamentations.
After the abandonment of Skaros Kasteli in the mid-18th century, Pyrgos became the ruling seat of Santorini. It was later replaced by Fira, the capital of Santorini today.Pyrgos Map
Near Franco's Cafe