Santorini Cyclades: History and Ancient Sites

History of Santorini

The name Santorini is derived from its patron Saint, 'Irene' who died here in exile in 304 AD. 'Irini' means 'peace' in Greek. The island has officially readopted the ancient name of Thera or Thira. It was also known, in ancient times as Kalliste (most beautiful) and Strongyle (round). The island has been populated since before 2000 BC. The Dorians, led by Theras, after whom the island is named arrived around 1000 BC. from Sparta.

During the Peloponnesian War, Milos and Thira were the only Cycladic islands which opted not to side with Athens. Milos' male population were executed by the Athenians and its female, sold into slavery, but Thira fared better and was only absorbed into the Athenian league(426 BC).

Alexander's' heirs, the Ptolemies, used the island as a naval base (300-145 BC). From 1207 to 1537 it was included in the Duchy of Naxos. It was the object of many piratical attacks by the The Turks, including Barbarossa. The Turks captured it in 1537. More recently the island has been used as a place for political exiles. Local legends state that vampires or 'Vree-kolakous', 'Nosferatou' (Wampiri) were once held to be extremely active on the island.

Excavations and sights at a glance

  1. ancient thiraIn 1869, The French School of Archeology discovered, upon the small island of Thirassia, the prehistoric remains of a town which had been covered by pumice and ash by the major eruption of 1,500 BC. There are excursions there in summer by caique.
  2. In 1869 Baron Gartringen of Germany started the first excavations of Ancient Thira, which is open to the public. (right)
  3. The French, in 1867, began preliminary site work upon Acrotiri. Work which was resumed in 1967 by the late Professor Spiros Marinatos, and continued by Professor Doumas and is also open to the public. Both areaccessible by bus from Fira.


Tip: If you want to go to any of these ancient sites but only have time for one, go to go to Acrotiri, and later to nearby red beach.

Ancient Akrotiri

greece greek islands cyclades santorini thira

The site is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. except Monday, with an entrance fee. Ancient Akrotiri is the best preserved of all the prehistoric settlements discovered in the Aegean. Excavation of the site has confirmed that the volcano erupted around 1500 BC, the remains of the town were buried beneath a deep layer of volcanic ash. Much is covered now with a modern, if ugly, roof to protect it from the elements.

Akrotiri was the center of an advanced civilization which reached its zenith about 1550 - 1500 BC, a period known as Late Minoan IA . The area had been continuously inhabited since the neolithic period when the tremendous volcanic eruption laid a shroud of pumice and ash over everything and sent tidal waves hundreds of miles in all directions.

The houses were two to three stories high with several rooms and all connected by a sophisticated central drainage system. The most luxurious were constructed of dressed stone while others were made of mud mixed with straw. A strong degree of communal sharing is indicated by the large storage jars. The large number of vases and other types of pottery tells us that ceramic production was flourishing sector of the economy. Many stone tools and vessels, such as mills, pestles, hammers and the like, implies the development of various industries and skills.

greece greek islands cyclades santorini thiracarefully with the ruinsNo written documents of any kind have been found in Akrotiri. Scientists rely solely on the finds unearthed by the digs. The citizens of Akrotiri must have had a well development merchant navy and traded with Egypt, Crete and mainland Greece. Their frescos depict some subjects not native to Greece but rather of Egypt.

More I told you so about Santorini page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Harry's other Santorini Pages: See even more photos of Santorini I & II & III
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