Do not miss visiting the excavations of Akrotiri

Have you ever wondered how many prehistoric settlements may exist and we have not yet discovered? How many things do we still have to learn about our past that will make us understand adequately our present? Well, the archaeologist Spyros Marinatos not only wondered but even more, he discovered in 1967 the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri in Santorini which was destroyed by an earthquake followed by a volcanic eruption around 1600 BC and automatically made us, ever more proud of the historical heritage of this land. It looks like the mixture of volcanic ash and mud covered the ruins of a prosperous and advanced community of people for more than 3,500 years.

But do not be fooled! Even after the death of Professor Marinatos in 1974, the excavations of Akrotiri continue and until today Akrotiri has still considered an ongoing excavation since only 26% of its area has been excavated! Now it is your turn to be part of the investigation of our past! How? Well, let’s start by reading the following interesting evidence…

Detail of Rosette Fresco uncovered in Akrotiri – Photo by White Pearl Villas

Why visit the excavations of Akrotiri? 

1. It opens the door to a terrific understanding of ancient civilizations.

Walkthrough the site and see the advanced architecture of that time. Marvel the wonders of man 3,500 years ago. A glimpse of a Minoan town with an excellent urban organization, a sewerage network, multi-story buildings with exquisite painting decoration -the worldwide known frescos, rich furniture, and household items that have been preserved by the volcanic ash. As Plato described:

The vibrant paintings depict a paradise full of swirling colors, flowers and exotic animals. They capture a snapshot of the locals. They are evidence of a highly sophisticated and wealthy civilization.

Let your mind connect to the wonders of the past that can open the window to the future. 

2. The ruins of Akrotiri are part of the essence of what makes Santorini so special. 

In 1600 BC a massive volcanic eruption, perhaps one of the largest ever witnessed by mankind, devastated the Aegean island of Strongili (Greek word for the round) aka Santorini. The volcanic eruption was so enormous that decimated all life on the island -along with the settlement of Akrotiri- as well as communities on nearby islands and the coast of Crete with subsequent earthquakes and tsunamis. The shape of the island was created by the volcanic blast which created a caldera inside of Santorini, as the remains form a giant half-moon shape.

Akrotiri site map by Maximilian Dörrbecker, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons

“If it weren’t for the volcano, we wouldn’t have Santorini as we know it today, and of course there would be no Akrotiri”, says Christos Doumas, professor of prehistoric archaeology. Recent finds show objects of exquisite artistry found in the area of Akrotiri which may be the location of the legendary lost city of Atlantis as Plato stated in his dialogues Critias and Timaeus. 

3. Akrotiri is older than Pompeii.

The “Greek Pompeii” often describes Akrotiri due to the volcanic materials that covered the entire island and the town itself. These materials, however, have protected up-to-date buildings and their contents, just like in Pompeii. Although the site of the Akrotiri excavations is smaller than that of Pompeii it is 2,000 years older!

Akrotiri Archeological Site – Photo by Rt44, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Another difference between Pompeii and Prehistoric Akrotiri is that no human remains were found. The absence of human skeletons in the settlement testifies that a series of warning earthquakes forced the residents to leave in time. Road works were never completed, and a large number of crafts, fabrics, and various utensils were found on piles where they were originally placed to be moved to safer places by the inhabitants with the belief that one day they would return to their homes as declared by the archaeologists.

 4. Akrotiri was discovered by chance.

Did you know that the prehistoric town of Akrotiri was discovered accidentally? Quarry workers found old stone walls and artifacts in 1860 while digging in Akrotiri to use the soil and ash of Santorini to insulate the walls of the Suez Canal. These proved to be remains of a buried Minoan town. It took 100 more years for the systematic excavation to begin at the site.

The ‘northern mill’ in the excavations at Akrotiri – photo by Κλέαρχος Π. Καπούτσης, via Wikimedia Commons

Spyridon Marinatos, a Greek archaeologist, began to uncover the remains of the ancient town in the 1960s to prove an old theory. According to his theory, the eruption of the volcano caused the collapse of the Minoan civilization in Crete. In just a few hours into the excavation, the remains of the buried city began to be discovered. Professor Marinatos noted that many of the buildings kept their height of more than a single story, creating unique challenges for the excavation. It was necessary to proceed slowly and carefully. After Marinatos passing in 1974, Christos Doumas took over running the excavation uncovering a series of hidden treasures. The excavations are revealing the town bit by bit and it could take another 100 years to uncover the rest. 

 5. A bioclimatic roof covers the site.

An expansive roof enclosed completely the site from above to protect it from weather conditions. Walkways expand in the archaeological site, from which visitors can view the two and three-story buildings and the ongoing excavation without causing damage. The smart new building allows its visitors to escape the hot summer sun and explore the site in a bright and cool environment.

Whilst the site has great signage with explanation videos in a couple of sections, a guided tour with some of the archaeologists is almost necessary to fully understand the layers of history. While strolling around the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira you will find significant finds from Akrotiri whereas in the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens you will be impressed by some famous frescoes. 

Fresco of a fisherman – Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Know before you go 

  • Full ticket costs €12, the reduced one €6. The special ticket package costs €14 and the reduced one €7. The special package ticket lasts for 4 days. It includes a visit to the Archaeological Site of Akrotiri, the Archaeological Site of Ancient Thera, and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
  • The sight opens every day except Monday from 10:00 to 17:00.
  • It takes about an hour to walk around the archaeological site.
  • Akrotiri lies in the southwestern part of the island, about 15 km from Fira and 22 km from Oia.
  • You can reach Akrotiri’s site by public bus from Fira. It takes about 20′ and the ticket costs €1.80 per way. There is a parking lot if you prefer to drive there with your own vehicle.
  • For those who prefer hassle-free and all-inclusive solutions, we do recommend joining organized guided tours. These tours vary. They may include more site visits apart from the excavations of the Akrotiri site and roundtrip transfers to your hotel.
  • In less than a kilometer distance from the site, you will have the opportunity to visit the unique Red Beach, one of the most picturesque beaches of the island.
  • Akrotiri took this name from a nearby village, the historical name is still unknown!
  • The telephone of the Akrotiri site is +30 22860-81939.

More info for those who dig dipper!

Find here a very interesting e-book including photographs of monuments and exhibits from the excavations of Akrotiri, Thera, and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, written by Professor Christos Doumas and published by John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation in 2016.

And for those of you who like audiovisual knowledge enrichment, BBC’s “Atlantis” movie can be really captivating! 😉

Do you want to discover more about the history, culture, and lifestyle of Santorini? These 6 must-see museums of Santorini is a good start!

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