Often referred to as the Pompeii of the Aegean, Akrotiri is an impeccably preserved archaeological site that bears testimony to the thriving community that inhabited Santorini circa 4000 BC. The earliest residents concentrated mainly around a natural port on the southernmost tip of the peninsula or ‘akrotiri’ – literally, land’s edge.
AN ADVANCED CIVILIZATION
Akrotiri was an elaborate and complex urban centre with sophisticated sewage systems and architecture. Its civilization was at its prime in the Middle and early Late Bronze ages. All that changed with a volcanic eruption around 1600 BC, considered to be one of the fiercest volcanic activities ever recorded, devouring the centre of the island, and burying Akrotiri under layers of ash.
It was the thick coating of volcanic debris that ironically helped preserve Akrotiri, arguably one of the greatest archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. Spread across a sprawling 12,000 square metres, it offers rare insight into life in the Minoan Bronze Age.
A SERENDIPITOUS FIND
This ancient civilization lay buried and forgotten to the rest of the world until it was re-discovered quite by accident. In the millennia that followed, Santorini evolved under the influence of visiting tradesmen and colonisers: Dorians (mainland Greeks), Phoenicians, Romans and Byzantines. In the 1860s, quarriers working for the Suez Canal, inadvertently discovered artifacts from the old city. This fortuitous find led to some small diggings, but it was only a century later, that a full-scale excavation was launched. Almost instantly, within a day, archaeologists stumbled upon an intact structure, the first of several Akrotiri buildings to be unearthed subsequently. Some 40 buildings have been identified so far, but it is estimated that only a small percentage of the underground city has been uncovered so far.
Positioned as a commercial and maritime hub along the trading routes between Europe and the Middle East, Akrotiri’s prosperous past is reflected in the three-storey houses that boast all the creature comforts of an extremely advanced civilization – including hot running water and even indoor toilets! The walls were embellished with painted frescoes, the pots and utensils, as well as the intricate furniture found on the site, allude to the skilled craftsmanship of its residents and to the sophistication of Akrotiri’s society.
If you’re in Santorini, make sure to plan a visit to Akrotiri, to understand a civilization rich in technology, fashion and a complex language. Located just 25 minutes from Fira, Akrotiri is easily accessible by car or regular buses. The concierge at Santorini Secret Hotels will recommend a stop at the Red Beach, a very short walk from the site.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Set in a bright, airy building with a bioclimatic roof, the archaeological site has 96 steel columns bolstering it to protect the fragile mud-structures from extreme weather. Suspended wooden walkways snake around reconstructed dwellings, showcasing details of pre-historic Minoan life – from bathtubs and toilets to everyday relics, ceramics, figurines, tools, amphorae, all referencing a rich trading community. Remnants of food and oil in the pots reveal what they ate, how they fished and farmed, and the wines they imbibed, much like we do today! The beds, chairs and tables reveal interesting information on the body height of the dwellers, on their sleep and choice of occupation. Most of the finds from the excavations are housed in the Prehistoric Museum in Fira houses including the stunning gold ibex figurine. Likewise, some of Akrotiri’s best preserved frescoes can be admired at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Expect to pay entrance fees of €12 for adults and half that for discounted roups. A combined ticket for the Archaeological Museum in Akrotiri, the Prehistoric Museum in Fira and the Ecclesiastical Museum at Pyrgos works out to €14 for adults and €7 for children under 12. Informational boards that explain the site quite comprehensively are stationed all along the site, but it is worth hiring a knowledgeable guide for an extra fee.
The Archaeological Site at Akrotiri is open daily from 8am to
8pm (until the end of October) and until 3pm during the rest of the year. Closed on Tuesdays. Tel. (+30) 22860.81.939
The Prehistoric Museum of Fira is open daily except Mondays from 8am to 3pm. Tel. (+30) 22860.23.217