Chronological / Destinations / Europe

The Ancient Allure of Akrotiri in Santorini

Fresco of fishman holding his catch

Fresco of fishman holding his catch

The ancients once attributed a massive volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini to a battle between giants and the gods. It was seen as punishment meted out for the moral degeneration of the people in the prosperous kingdom of Atlantis.

Interestingly, the myth of Atlantis—which originates from Plato—coincides with the catastrophic events that all but wiped out the traces of the Minoans who inhabited Santorini about 3,600 years ago. For myths are sometimes rooted in truth, rising like an offshoot from the tree of life which encompasses all history since the very beginnings of time.

The myth of Atlantis is one of the many allures of Santorini. And Santorini is easily one of the most beautiful of the Greek Islands. It is known for its blue-domed, white-washed structures dotting the variegated cliffs of a rocky landscape overlooking the azure waters of the Aegean Sea.

The prehistoric city of Akrotiri attests to the Minoan culture that once flourished throughout the Cycladic Islands. Like ancient Pompeii, Akrotiri was buried beneath a thick layer of ash and pumice from a volcanic eruption that took place around 1500 BC. Its preservation has enabled specialists to learn about the fascinating city and culture of its ancient inhabitants.

Excavations of Akrotiri photo by F. Eveleens, CC BY-SA 2.5

Excavations of Akrotiri
photo by F. Eveleens, CC BY-SA 2.5

The city is marked by narrow cobbled streets, public squares, a water drainage system, plumbing, and four-story houses and buildings with stone or wooden staircases. The smoothly plastered walls were covered with paintings, some of which are remarkably well preserved. Like the architecture of the city, its unearthed pottery, paintings and everyday objects provide a fascinating look at the lifestyle, culture and economy of the people who once lived there.

I remember arriving to the site years ago without having any expectations. Entering this excavated city was like stepping back in time. Even the stale air and musty odor held a prehistoric appeal that seemed to alter the very fabric of time. There was something incredibly thrilling about walking on those narrow streets where people from long ago once traversed. The feeling was almost supernatural. Past and present collided in a most titillating way. Anyone who loves visiting ruins will understand this euphoric rapture.

Fresco of young boys boxing

Fresco of young boys boxing

The structures were built of stone and mortar, while reinforced with wooden joists, suggesting that the inhabitants were already accustomed to seismic activity on the island. Doors and windows were framed in ashlar masonry, and gave way to the streets below. Standing inside a room and gazing out of a window, I could almost hear the sounds of the people going about their work thousands of years ago: the noisy clatter of carts pulled by donkeys, oxen drawing a cartload of amphorae, children running behind their parents, a dog barking… people living their lives as they always have since the very beginnings of time.

The frescoes and paintings also provide a beautiful glimpse of life in ancient Akrotiri: a fisherman holding his catch, a ship ferrying people across the water, a priestess carrying a brazier with incense, young boys boxing, women in elegant dresses, warriors disembarking from a ship after a sea battle, and countless depictions of floral, plant, and animal motifs intertwined with scrolling patterns.

While the island of Santorini is simply gorgeous, its ancient city of Akrotiri deepens its mystique, allowing visitors to get a feel for its prehistoric past in a way that brings it to tangible life. The view of the Aegean from the clifftops of Santorini took my breath away, but Akrotiri seduced my imagination.

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