The prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri stretches across a small plain at the southern end of Santorini, near the modern village of the same name. It had two natural harbors protected from the strong northerly winds that blow in the area.
In Akrotiri, part of a rich city that flourished already during the Meso-Cycladic era (first half of the 2nd millennium BC) was excavated. The site was inhabited from the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (4th - 3rd millennium BC).
During the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1650 BC) the city became a cosmopolitan port and flourished. Most of the buildings - which managed to survive until the final destruction from the volcanic eruption - were founded in this period, although they subsequently underwent several repairs mainly due to frequent earthquakes. The urban fabric of the city became dense, with a wide network of cobbled streets, leading from one end of the city to the other, with squares and a developed drainage system. Towards the end of this period, Akrotiri, now an important urban center, had created a wide network of relations and exchanges, commercial and cultural, with the rest of the Cyclades, mainland Greece, the Dodecanese, Crete, Cyprus, Egypt and Palestine .
The city was at the height of its prosperity in the middle of the 17th century. BC, shortly before its destruction by the explosion. The inhabitants had acquired great technical expertise and dexterity and we can see this from the buildings and objects found during the excavation. Skilled sailors, fishermen, carpenters, builders, stonemasons, potters, basket weavers, jewelers lived in the city.
The art of wall painting also showed an exceptional flourishing. Most of the buildings that have been excavated to date have one or more rooms with wall paintings, mostly on the first floor, but sometimes on the ground floor as well. It is noteworthy that the building of Xestis 3 and probably that of Xestis 4 (its excavation has not yet been completed) present larger wall-painting ensembles with a complete pictorial program. These buildings, there is speculation that they were probably administrative or religious centers. Wall paintings are particularly important for archaeological research because they provide a wealth of information about the era and faithfully depict various practices and rituals that would otherwise be unknown to us. The daily life, the various rites, the festive events, the Theraic landscape is depicted in a unique and vivid way in the frescoes. The fact that we know so well even details (e.g. clothing, headdress) from the culture of that time, we owe to a very large extent to the findings brought to light by the excavation research at Akrotiri.
From the terrifying eruption of the volcano, which happened around 1630 BC. (as the data of the natural sciences show) the city, whose ancient name is unknown to us, was covered by thick layers of ash and thus preserved intact. Residents were able to evacuate with their valuables, warned by an earthquake of the volcano's impending eruption. No palace or central authority building has been identified, but it is assumed that something like this existed based on the city's infrastructure such as drainage and sewerage.
The excavation, in addition to exceptional art objects, has provided important information about the diet, the economy and the know-how of the inhabitants of the settlement, which during the 2nd millennium BC. it gradually developed into one of the most cosmopolitan commercial ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. Among the latest finds are tablets of Linear A' writing, accounting in nature, similar to those of the Minoan palaces.
Visiting the archaeological site today, one finds that the residential zoning is not far from the current traditional architecture of the island. Small streets cross the ancient state from one end to the other forming small squares at intervals. Under the cobblestones ran the sewage system, which connected directly to the houses. The houses are two or three storeys built of hewn stone or slate with often interspersed timbering so that the structure can withstand earthquakes, which must have been a common occurrence. The floors were connected to each other by stone or wooden stairs, some of which are still preserved in excellent condition. As the excavations proved, the ground floors with the small windows housed mainly workshop areas or shops, while the upper floors were used for the actual accommodation of the occupants.
Each house enjoyed a status of relative self-sufficiency and could provide for its own basic living needs. In almost all the houses were found hand mills for the production of flour, textile weights from looms and pithos (large storage vessels), inside which were found remains of wheat, barley, almonds, salted fish, etc. In other pithos - of different shapes - liquids were stored products e.g. wine and oil.
However, what made the revelation of Akrotiri world famous was the discovery - in almost all the houses of the settlement - of wall paintings, which in some cases are preserved in excellent condition. This is a unique phenomenon in the prehistory of the Aegean, as the archaeologist now has the possibility to study this era from the pictorial documents themselves, designed by the hand of the artists of the time. The frescoes have today been detached and some are exhibited on the second floor of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, while most of them are in the Prehistoric Museum of Santorini.
Editor: Fotini Anastasopoulou