A globally admired Greek destination, the island of Santorini owes much of its popularity to the volcanic activity responsible for wiping out the famous Minoan civilization of Crete.
Thousands of years later, archeologists began to uncover the island’s rich secrets buried in the ground and frozen in time. Concealed by the Theran eruption, one of the largest volcanic catastrophes of recorded history, which is estimated to have occurred some time in the mid second millennium BC, the area’s port city known as Akrotiri today was left remarkably preserved.
Under volcanic debris, modern excavations since 1967 have unearthed a number of items from the daily life of settlers including pottery, frescoes, and more. The site’s sophisticated architecture including three-story buildings and advanced drainage systems gives a glimpse into the innovative engineering that characterized ancient Greek civilizations.
Imported objects and fresco designs similar to those of the Minoan civilization to the south are evidence that the people of Akrotiri were in contact with other major Greek settlements in Crete, on the mainland, and in surrounding islands and areas including Cyprus and Egypt. Unlike in Pompei, no unburied human skeletal remains were found on site, suggesting that a successful evacuation took place prior to the volcanic eruption after an earthquake gave a warning signal.
Though early excavations in the area began in the late 1800s, Professor Spyridon Marinatos is credited with having launched the most significant dig revealing part of the ancient city, which is open to the public. Ironically, he died at the excavation site in 1974.
As can be seen today, the Akrotiri settlement is protected by a state of the art roof and was opened to the public in 2012. Though excavated artifacts are instead on display at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the National Archeological Museum of Athens, and not on site, a visit to Akrotiri will open your eyes to the past while you take a walk above, and even through the streets and buildings once bustling with life thousands of years ago.
What’s more is that the excavated area is but a small section of the larger settlement, which remains covered by earth in the surrounding area. Further excavations, however, have ceased due to a lack of funding. As you stroll around the Akrotiri settlement, you will be able to see the sites at which certain famous frescos were found. Fresco replicas are not on display here, but small photographs at various informational stands are depicted, for the record. Well-preserved with their characteristically bold red, blue, and yellow pigments, the best-known of these frescos are those of a young fisherman holding bright blue and yellow fish, and two young boxers with long black hair. Santorini is currently in the process of trying take back a few of these decorative pieces of art from the National Archeological Museum to place on display at the Akrotiri site.
When on the island of romance, a visit to Akrotiri is a must. Entrance is 5 euros.
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