Santorini: an island to be discovered8 February 2021
Try to search for “Greece” in any search engine. More than once, you find a beautiful panorama from Oia, Santorini, and the famous Three Blue Domes Church, the blinding white of the houses overhanging the caldera, the other islands of the archipelago, Thirasia, Aspronisi, and the two active volcanoes of Palea and Nea Khameni: Santorini is beautiful thanks to its unlucky position too, in a volcanic area of East Mediterranean.
Its name comes from Saint Irene, chosen by the Venetians, rulers of the island for four centuries until 1576. Before being Santorini, the ancients called the island Thera, with a caldera born from a previous eruption. In its center, there was the Strogili volcano, which emerged by the sea year by year.
The oldest settlement, Akrotiri, dates back to 4500 b.C. and it was located at the south of the island; it grew becoming a prosperous town with more than 30.000 inhabitants, even double of the population Santorini register today. Until 1800 b.C., it was a fundamental trading port of the Aegean Sea and a clear example of thalassocracy. Today Akrotiri is nicknamed “The Aegean Pompei” because they have shared the same unfortunate destiny.
A first violent earthquake partially destroyed the town, letting the people escaped on the hills. Still, the following shakes broke the magmatic chamber of the Strogili volcano by determining the beginning of the end. Some signals alarmed the population: a smoke column more and more intense appeared, seen from Crete far away more than 140km; the overheated water came to the ground, splitting the surface with geyser; sulfur exhalations killed the fishes in the caldera.
The Akrotiri people asked the priestesses, political rulers of that society, the meaning of those omens. Animal sacrifices first, and human later, seemed not enough to appease the Gods. Worries and desperation spread among everybody. None of this avoided the extremely violent eruption, the most destructive witnessed in modern human history, which happened between 1628 and 1610 b.C. The volcano exploded, expelling the pyroclastic flows in every direction at 300 km/h, like scorching bullets that pulverized everything they smashed. The 10km high smokey column hid the sun for two weeks shocking the Mediterranean weather for two years. The noise was strong enough to shatter the eardrums at a 16 km distance from Santorini; the following tsunami caused 20 meters high waves that hit Crete, determined more than 30.000 casualties. It’s a widespread opinion that these events were some of the causes of the Minoan civility decline. For at least 200 years, no one could reach Santorini, as the waters around the island were mud.
The island got its shape from this event, becoming an archipelago with the two volcanoes coming out in the caldera around the IX century. The last eruption occurred in 1950.
Akrotiri anyway disappeared, covered by ashes, well preserved until the excavations began in 1967. Because the population ran away from the island before the eruption, no crystallized bodies were found until now, not even valuable items, only a golden ibex, today exposed along with some fresco paintings at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fyra, the main town of modern Santorini.
The story of Thera probably inspired the Atlantis myth, first narrated by the philosopher Plato, about a legendary island that disappeared under the sea after a natural catastrophe.
What we recommend visiting?
The Archaeological site of Akrotiri, close to the Red Beach in Santorini;
The museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fyra;
The Archaeological Museum of Athens, with some fresco paintings of Akrotiri.