On the third day in Santorini we dedicated ourselves to visiting the ruins of the archaeological site of Akrotiri, of which only a small part was brought to light. The first remains of the area were discovered by chance in 1866 by some miners who worked in the quarries of the area, famous for the stone of Thira, during the construction of the Suez Canal, in Egypt. But it was necessary to wait until the 1960s for real excavation work to be organized thanks to the archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos.
Atlantis the lost city
What was discovered tells a sort of preview of Pompeii because Akrotiri was destroyed and buried 1,700 years earlier, by the terrible eruption in 1628 a. C. The eruption was one of the most devastating in the history of the planet and involved the collapse of the volcano and the creation of Santorini as we see it today divided into three islands: Thira or Santorini, Thirassia and Aspronissi, arranged in a circle around the mouth of the still active volcano, Nea Kameni, so named because it emerged later in the center of the largest submarine caldera in the world with a depth of 300-400 meters. Leaving in many the belief that the submerged part was the mythical Atlantis, the lost city.
And this idea is strengthened by wandering around the site on the wooden walkways that run through the streets, squares and walls of a city that seems to be buried by layers and layers of dust that is nothing but a collection of ashes and pumice of over 30 meters that covered the city after the devastating eruption.
This volcanic material has protected the buildings and their contents over time, so today we have a fairly precise view of what this village developed on about 200 hectares and with a population of 30,000 inhabitants and a perfect urban organization: paved roads, houses by two on the three floors decorated and richly furnished, bathrooms, laboratories, warehouses. Every building, you think, had toilets both on the ground floor and on the first floor and a series of clay pipes inserted in the walls created a drainage system that ended in the city’s sewerage system.
In the town’s stately homes some wonderful frescoes have been found that are among the oldest examples of wall painting in Europe, now preserved in the Museum of Prehistory in Thira and in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
We suggest you spend some of your time under the glass and wood “shell” of the Akrotiri archaeological site, even though the € 12 entrance fee is not exactly cheap. The advice is to buy the 14-euro cumulative ticket which lasts four days and allows entry to the area and also to the Archaeological and Prehistoric Museums and Ancient Thira, on the mountain of the Mesa Vouno, where Phoenicians, Dori, Romans and Byzantines lived.
If you do not have time, the visit should be deepened by going at least to the Museum of Prehistory in Thira: here are the extraordinary Akrotiri frescoes depicting the Papyrus, the Blue Monkeys and the Fisherman, together with evidence of the high level of civilization reached by Santorini in the past, the splendid terracotta vases and the mysterious statuette of the golden ibex.
If you want to complete it, you can make a jump to the Archaeological Museum that collects the artifacts found during the excavations on the island. We found it a bit disappointing given that the room that can be visited is only one in which the most significant finds are not on display, while the other rooms are closed to the public for renovation. It would be more correct to warn in ticket office (and before making the ticket) that the museum is only partially accessible and that statues and other findings are not currently visible.
To conclude, a visit to the archaeological area and to the museum that collects the finds will recommend it for a more complete understanding of the civilization that developed on the island, but with a recommendation: Akrotiri cannot be considered the ‘Pompei of the Aegean’ how often it is defined.
The site is decidedly less dramatic than the one in Campania for two fundamental reasons. The earthquake that preceded the eruption destroyed many buildings and no fresco is visible on site. In fact, even if several frescoes in Pompeii have been detached and are now preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Naples and in other museum sites, other very interesting ones are still visible in different domus, such as the paintings of the domus of the Vettii, of the house of Sallustio, of the house of the Venus in the Shell and the Domus of the Pure Lovers.