Santorini’s novel Atlantis Books

Crowded narrow street of Oia
On a Santorini lane, so narrow you jostle with strangers for for elbow room, I pass Atlantis Books, a cave of treasures below street level. Greece’s clifftop town of Oia has many more obvious attractions of course, and the tide of tourists is heading up tiny alleyways towards the best vantage points to drink the local wine and photograph the sunset – one of the things you do on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Oia, Santorini
But I never could resist a bookshop, so I turn against the human wave and walk down a steep flight of steps and into a world of words, created in the subterranean level of a typical island house partially carved into the volcanic cliffs. The vertiginous and rocky geography (although some of the island is almost flat) must be a challenge for building anything. 

Eclectic reads

Inside the shop you can negotiate an even steeper flight of steps up to the shop’s roof, and that’s the view (pictured above). Atlantis has books in multiple languages: English, Greek, German, French, Italian and Spanish. The contents of the floor to ceiling shelves include fiction, philosophy, biography, travel, poetry, drama, with authors ranging from Cavafy to Wodehouse. Contemporary Greek authors translated into English always sell well, particularly Nikos Kazantzakis. 

Exterior of Atlantis Books
Owner Craig Walzer opened Atlantis Books 10 years ago with fellow American Oliver Wise when they were travellers in their mid-20s looking for a good book to read while holidaying on Santorini. Supported by a collective of writers and artists, it’s done well, although now, like most other independent booksellers worldwide, it faces the tyranny of the Amazon factor. That and the persistent melancholic state of the Greek economy which kept traveller numbers down for several years. This year is a lot brighter in terms of visiting numbers, at least.

Interior of Atlantis Book, Oia
You won’t find Fifty Shades of Grey here. Craig has standards. “No shit is allowed into the shop,” he says.

Atlantis Books in Oia

Donations are welcome

There’s a pre-loved section for 5 euros a book. A couple of coin buckets are strategically placed, for donations to help keep the shop open, and feed and care for the island’s many stray animals. I give the young woman behind the counter 5 euros, telling her there’s a litter of kittens, with no mother cat in sight, in a rear garden of an abandoned house up the street. The next day I pop in again and give euros to Craig as well, and he promises to alert the veterinarian.
Atlantis Books' plea for donations to help the animals, Taste for Travel

“We’re the poorest shop in town, and the Greek economic crisis hasn’t helped, but we’re hanging on,” Craig says. “We always have somebody here and we’re open all year round.”
Pre-loved book, Atlantis Books, Taste for Travel
Atlantis Books held the 2nd Annual Caldera Arts and Literature festival in June. This year 100 people turned up which filled the tiny shop already densely populated with titles. Events included movie screenings, readings by authors, a workshop on the art of hand-binding books from in-house Paravion Press, and even a chess tournament which pitted visitors against the brightest minds of the Assos Santorini Chess Team, aged under 14. I wonder who won?
Browsing in Atlantis Books
The book I read while on the island is Atlantis Never Lost: The Story of Santorini by George Koukoulas who is the air traffic safety electronic engineer at Santorini Airport. He’s an unlikely novelist – born in Athens, he studied electronic engineering at university and went on to do post-grad studies in communications and data networks in the UK. The book moves between the present and Santorini’s tumultuous past, when ancient volcanic eruptions destroyed a civilization. While the English translation is plodding at times, it’s still a fascinating read into the island’s history and how it holds the attention of archaeologists today. Atlantis Never Lost is available at Atlantis Books, naturally. Price: 15 euros.

If you’re visiting Santorini, don’t walk past, and do drop a few coins into the donation buckets. Or just buy something. I’d hate to see Atlantis Books get lost.

More info:
www.atlantisbooks.org
www.atlantisneverlost.com

4 thoughts on “Santorini’s novel Atlantis Books

  1. Hello I have just found your website and love it! I know this is an old post but have to tell you that you’ve captured this place to a T. Every time I vist Oia I spend hours at this book shop and always find fascinating books. When I lived in Crete ( for nearly 10 year in the late 1980s, I used to catch the ferry to Santorini regularly on a Sunday and spend the day there. Then hop on the ferry coming back at 4pm. Such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday!) Going back again next year and I can’t wait, because some things – like this book shop – never change. Cheers for now F x

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    1. Hi Francesca, Thanks for your lovely comment. Glad to read you love this bookshop as much as I (and thousands) of others do. What a terrific way to spend a Sunday. That’s one of the qualities about living in Greece that never changes. I wish you happy travels on your next visit. I had a look at your website. Great pictures!

      Like

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