Thera’s prehistoric city of Akrotiri [akro’tiri]: the Pompeii of Greece

Ron Current
Ron Current

One of the most interesting, and amazing archaeological sites in Greece is the Bronze Age city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (Thera).

Human habitation on Thera can be traced back as early as the fifth millennium. However it’s the Minoan period of Akrotiri, at the time of the eruption, which is the most interesting. The Minoan civilization began on the island of Crete and lasted from approximately 3650 BC, until around 1400 BC. The Minoan’s are considered to be one of the most advanced civilizations of the Bronze Age. They were sea people, spreading out from Crete to the islands in the Cyclades group. They traded with other Mediterranean civilizations, such as Egypt and Turkey. Akrotiri is believed to have been one of the main Minoan trade centers.

Prehistoric Akrotiri
The ruins of Akrotiri are protected by being enclosed in a climatically controlled building.

Between 1642 and 1540 BC, Thera exploded in one of the most massive eruptions in history. The eruption buried Akrotiri under tons of volcanic ash, freezing it in time. The city lay hidden for over three millennia until locals, quarrying pumice, began finding ancient artifacts. In 1867, the first organized excavations of the site began by the French geologist F. Fouque. Although other excavations were done in the later part of the 19th and the early 20th centuries it wasn’t until Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos began working that the site revealed its full meaning. Within just a few hours Marinatos uncovered the remains of a complete buried city.  Today Akrotiri is one of the most important excavations in the Aegean region, and is often referred to as the Pompeii of Greece

On a street of Prehistoric Akrotiri
The outer wall of a building on a street on Akrotiri.

Unlike Pompeii there are no signs of human deaths caused by eruption that buried Akrotiri. Although there are pieces of furnishings that molds have been made of, there been no bodies found so far. In fact the city is void of even articles of value. This suggests that the population of Akrotiri, and the entire island as well, may have had time to evacuate before the final blast took place.

Effects of the earthquakes during the 1615 BC eruption.
The magnitude of the earthquakes before the final eruption can been seen by these broken steps.

Another unique difference between Pompeii and Akrotiri is that the entire excavation is inside a covered building, protecting it from the elements. You view the ruins from an elevated walk, which gives you a birds eye view of the streets and rooms. On the tour you are able to go down onto one of the ancient streets, a street were people walked almost seventeen hundred years before Pompeii.

The molds of two bed frames that were found in one of the houses.

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