A History Lesson at Akrotiri

I first heard about the ancient site of Akrotiri in my Intro to Archaeology elective that I took in my second year of university. We were discussing little mysteries like the Baghdad batteries, Atlantis, and similarities in pyramids continents apart, when our prof began telling us of an ancient Bronze-age city uncovered on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. The city they uncovered has no official name – it has been dubbed Akrotiri because of its closeness to the modern day city of Akrotiri – and it has had a pretty amazing history.

The giant caldera left from the Theran eruption and what’s left of the volcano in the centre

The giant caldera left from the Theran eruption and what’s left of the volcano in the centre

The city was a Minoan Bronze Age settlement and was completely destroyed in Pompeii-like fashion just after the great Minoan eruption of Thera around 1600 BC. This explosion released 4 times as much Volcanic material into the atmosphere as Krakatoa and covered what remained of the island of Santorini in a 200 foot thick layer of Tephra. Eventually the island returned to normal, becoming a postcard favorite with its beautiful white and blue buildings hanging on to the edges of the caldera and its romance-inducing sunsets. It wasn’t until 1967 that professor Spiros Marianatos discovered the site and began excavations.

The outside of the new building

The outside of the new building

What he uncovered was an almost perfectly preserved magnificent and awe-inspiring city (without bodies like Pompeii however – they figure the people realized the island was about to blow and took off before it happened). They had two- and three-storey buildings with running water – both hot and cold in a dual piping system, geothermic heating, advanced pottery, beautiful wall frescoes, and even flush toilets (I’m not joking, there’s pictures!). The city has been undergoing slow excavations due to the lack of accurate imaging results (for some reason they don’t get the same results as they did in Pompeii or Herculaneum) and was further hampered by the collapse of the roof over top of the excavation site in 2005. The site remained closed until just a couple of months ago.Santorini Akrotiri 2_mini Santorini Akrotiri 3_mini Santorini Akrotiri 6_miniWith this news in mind and Calli eager to take her newly-rented ATV our for a spin, we set out on the confusing and windy Santorini roads on a quest for the excavation site. Using only the small map on my phone and my finely-tuned inherited sense of direction we found the site after only a little confusion (and Calli’s need to drive up to the tallest point in Santorini). After parking and paying for admission (only 5 euros), we entered the newly crafted building housing the excavation site and began to explore.

The first thing we noticed was the beautiful building that housed the excavations.  The building, maybe a little smaller than our local Superstore, had a beautiful low wooden slat and glass roof that let lots of natural light in. The actual excavation site is currently over a hectare in size and has a beautiful raised wooden walkway that gives you all kinds of different views of the excavations. We grabbed a laminated card with a description of the site and set off around the walkways. Only 4 buildings have been fully excavated – and these buildings have been restored and reassembled (sometimes using mortar and wood) to represent the way they would have looked. Other sections are still completely the way they were uncovered with only wooden planks propping up the still intact and perfectly crafted stone walls.

Santorini Akrotiri 4_mini Santorini Akrotiri 5_mini Santorini Akrotiri Fresco_miniSome of the pottery still remains on the site, much of it intact as well, but the frescoes have been removed and reassembled at various museums throughout Greece. These frescoes, some over two storeys high, have had very little of their original color lost and are very intriguing pieces to archaeologist for those reasons.

After walking around the wooden walkways for about 30 minutes there is a short section that goes right through ground level among a couple of the restored structures. Inside you can still see the beautiful pots they used for storage and even one of their ancient toilets.

Santorini Akrotiri Toilet_mini

A toilet from the ruins of Akrotiri

The site provided a little change of pace from wandering the cliffside villages of Santorini, and gave us some insight into the vast and storied history of the region itself.

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