The buried city of Akrotiri in Santorini, Greece : A Greek Pompeii

Akrotiri (Greek: Ακρωτήρι) is an ancient settlement on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera). It dates back to the Cycladic Bronze Age (c. 3200–c. 1050 BC) and was destroyed by the eruption of the volcano in Santorini around the 17th century BC. In Greek, its name translates as cape, which is a reference to the settlement’s location.

Why was Akrotiri so important?

The ancient settlement was one of the key urban centres and ports of the Minoan Era in the Aegean Sea, because it functioned as a connection to mainland Greece as well as to places  as far as Egypt and Syria. We know this thanks to fragments of foreign pottery that have been discovered at the site and show that there were commercial relations between these places.

Even though there are parts of the settlement yet to be uncovered, the findings so far suggest that Akrotiri used to be a very prosperous place: it had paved streets, an extensive drainage system (which could not be taken for granted back then!), hot and cold water, and houses with balconies.

Also, the pottery and other artefacts that were discovered there show that the local population had achieved a high level of sophistication in their craftwork.

And then came the volcano…

All this came to an end with the eruption of the volcano of Santorini (named Thera in ancient times), which destroyed not only Akrotiri but other settlements and agricultural areas on nearby islands.

It even affected the coast of Crete with subsequent earthquakes and tsunamis. The date of the eruption is still debated by the archaeological community, who are placing it either in the 16th or 17th century BCE.

At this point it might be worth noting that the actual name of the settlement constitutes another mystery for modern archaeologists to solve: Akrotiri is mainly a nickname that was assigned to the location when excavations started!

Can we visit Akrotiri today?

The volcanic eruption buried the settlement beneath a 200-foot layer of ash and debris, which helped preserve the remains of frescoes, daily objects and many artworks, giving us a clear idea of what the Minoan way of life looked like at the time. Akrotiri remained forgotten until the 1860s, whereas excavations started properly in 1967. Archaeologists continue discovering new finds even today!

Nowadays, Akrotiri is considered one of the most interesting archaeological sites in Greece and is open to visitors. The excavation site is covered by a bioclimatic roof and walkways have been designed to allow visitors to walk above and around what used to be multi-storey buildings. You can see some of the artifacts at the site or in the archaeological museum in Fira, the capital of Santorini, whereas others, such as frescoes, are currently housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

 

Fun fact: Some suggest that this ancient settlement was the inspiration for Greek philosopher Plato’s story of Atlantis. The myth of Atlantis has since inspired many artists throughout history and around the world – from music and painting to books and sci-fi movies.

 

What else can you visit on the island of Santorini?

As you probably know, over the last three decades the island of Santorini is one of the most well-known and popular places for tourists in Greece. This expansion of tourism has resulted in an economic growth, as well as population. An estimated 2 million tourists visit the island annually.

However, even when it is crowded, there are plenty of things to see and visit, and the island is very organized.

If you visit, then do not forget to also visit one of the many wineries, traditional villages, and experience one of the volcanic beaches.

 

 

 

 

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