Akrotiri, Atlantis, Greece, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Santorini, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

Atlantis; maybe not so lost?

Ron Current

Ron Current

 

In 360 BC, approximately 1,300 years after the massive eruption of the island Thera, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in his Timaeus of a great sea power that had attacked ancient Athens. He wrote that this sea power was the greatest power that the world had ever seen. These invaders, he wrote came from a giant island beyond “the Pillars of Hercules” which he called Atlantis. In his story Athens repealed the attack, the story ending with Atlantis falling out of favor with the Gods and sinking beneath the sea after a great calamity.

Although the Atlantis story was of minor importance in Plato’s work, believed to have been used as a metaphor, the tale of Atlantis has grown to legendary status. Present day philologists and historians agree that the story presented by Plato is fictional in character, but there is much debate on what might have inspired his tale, and where this mythical island may have existed. After reading many of these theories I personally lean toward the ones putting Santorini/ Thera as being ancient Atlantis, or at least part of it. I also think that Plato was not just using the one island in his tale, but was referring to an entire advanced civilization that had occupied the Greek islands for his Atlanteans. I also believe  that it was the eruption of Thera that led to the destruction of that civilization and also was  used by Plato for the destruction of  his Atlantis.

Solid gold statue of a goat from Akrotiri, discovered in 1999- Museum of Prehistoric Thira

This gold goat is the only item of value found at Akrotiri

In presenting my thoughts I will be looking at two aspects of the Atlantis tale: first, it’s probable location and second, who could the Atlanteans have really been, if they actually existed.

First, what would the probable location of Plato’s Atlantis have been? In his Timaeus Plato puts Atlantis “beyond the pillars of Heracles (or the Roman spelling, Hercules).” Today the most commonly referred to landmass known as the Pillars of Heracles is the Straits of Gibraltar. This has led most theorists to place Atlantis’ location as being out in the Atlantic Ocean. However the ancient Greeks had referred to many locations as being “the Pillars of Heracles.” The mythical stories of the hero Heracles, and the other Greek gods and heroes, had been oral tales told before the beginnings of the Aegean Bronze Age, which started at around 3000 BC. These early settlers, which would become the Greeks, had come into the Grecian peninsula from Eastern Europe after the last great Ice Age. Their world view was limited to the region around the northeastern Mediterranean. They would not have known about the Straits of Gibraltar. There are two landmasses in the world of these ancient Greeks that were also called the Pillars of Heracles in that period. These are the two southward pointing headlands on each side of the Gulf of Laconia on Greece’s Peloponnese. Using this Peloponnesian Pillars of Heracles would put the island of Thera (Santorini) beyond them.

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A casting of a Minoan table from the buried city of Akrotiri

It has also been theorized that Plato could have been referring to Atlantis as a group of people on many islands instead of being just one giant island. This brings me to my second though as to whom the Atlanteans could have been. There had to have been an advanced Bronze Age Mediterranean civilization that Plato could have used for his Atlantis. And there was a such a civilization, more advanced than those of the early Greeks of the mainland in the early Bronze Age. We know them today as the Minoans. The Minoan civilization sprang up on the island of Crete and then spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean islands, including the island of Thera. Historians agree that the Minoans and the early mainland Greeks had conflicts. Greek mythology is full of tales of these conflicts. One of the most famous is of the Greek hero Theseus’ killing the Minotaur in the Labyrinth on Crete. This myth tells of King Minos of Crete demanding from King Aegeus of Athens, that every nine years King Aegeus would send seven boys and seven girls to Crete as an offing to the monster called the Minotaur, who had the body of a man and the head of a bull. This story depicted the power that the Crete King had over mainland Athens at that time. Plato’s description of the conflict between the Atlanteans and the Athenians, although a different tale, is similar to what was going on between these two people.

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One of the beautiful wall art taken from Akrotiri

There are no records telling us what the name of this Bronze Age island civilization was in ancient times. It was the twenty century archaeologist Arthur Evans who gave this civilization the name Minoan, taken from the name of the mythical Crete king Minos. So, could the people we today call the Minoans have been known as the Atlanteans by the early Greeks?

So what does history say happened to the Minoans? And how does it compare to what Plato says happened to the Atlanteans? Plato writes about the battle between the Athenians and the Atlanteans, in which Athens wins. History says that as the mainland Mycenaean and Athenian civilizations grew and expanded they pushed back on the Minoans, and there would have been battles, I’m sure. Plato then writes that Atlantis angered the gods, and they caused a great calamity to fall on Atlantis, sinking it beneath the sea. We know that the Minoan civilization flourished, beginning in approximately 3650 BC.  Then around 1615 BC, Thera exploded, raising havoc throughout the Minoan islands and civilization. After the Thera eruption date the Minoan civilization began to decline, and by around 1540 BC the Minoans were gone.

Santorini map

Could this map of Thera also be of Atlantis?

So, my opinion is that the Minoan’s were the model for the Plato’s Atlanteans, and that the Thera eruption was the calamity that not only destroyed the Minion civilization, but also helped to create the legend of the Atlantis.

When you now visit the island of Santorini, and you stand on the edge of the crater looking down at the sea in the caldera, you can feel that you have found Atlantis.

 

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Akrotiri, Greece, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, Santorini, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

The Thira Eruption; An event that changed the ancient world

Ron Current

Ron Current

The volcanic eruption of Thera is also known as the Santorini Eruption or the Minoan Eruption. It was this historic event that made stopping at Santorini one of the most anticipated of my Greece trip. What really got me excited when I read about Thera’s eruption was the magnitude of it, and how it affected history, may have been a part of a biblical story and could have also created a famous myth.

As I stood at the edge of the crater, looking down at the sea filled caldera, I tried to picture what it may have looked like before the historic eruption. Geological studies have shown that it looked very much as it does today.

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The Archipelago of Santorini. The ring of the ancient volcano can be seen.

The caldera, as today, was filled by the sea. However instead of five islands ringing the caldera it was nearly one continuous landmass then. There was one small opening at the south end of the ring, the only entrance into the inter harbor. That opening would have been between today’s Thera and Aspronisi islands. At the center of the caldera, as today, would have been a smoldering island volcano that would be the center of the cataclysmic eruption to come. To the Minoans, being people of the sea, they were drawn to the protected harbor, making it a perfect place to build one of their main trading ports.

The Volcano Island of Nea Kameni

The island of Nea Kameni at the center of the caldera. The growing volcano that will be the site of the future eruption.

It is believed that the Thera volcano had erupted many times over the several hundred thousand years before the Bronze Age event.  It had repeated the process of building a volcano, then a violent eruption with the island collapsing into a rough circle and the sea filling the caldera. But the Minoans were unaware of this process due to the fact that there were centuries between each of these events.

At around 1627 and 1600 BC the new volcano at center of the caldera became active. First there were earthquakes. This made the residences of the island aware that something was happening. Studies suggest that there were four phases to the eruption after the earthquakes began. The first was a thin expulsion of ash. This preliminary activity most likely gave the population a few months to flee the island. This could be one of the reasons why there no human remains or valuables found at the buried city of Akrotiri. But did the Minoans flee far enough to save themselves? And what effect did the final eruption have on the Minoan civilization and that of the whole region.

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A Minoan vase from Akrotiri

So how big was the final eruption? To gage the size of a volcanic eruption volcanologists use what is called a Volcanic Exclusivity Index, or VEI. Using this index the Thera eruption is believed to have been a 7.  So how does Thera’s compare to other famous known eruptions? Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, that buried Pompeii, is figured to have been at a 5, Mt. St. Helens in 1980 at a 4, and the famous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa is rated at a 6. An VEI rating of 7 makes the Thera event one of the largest in history.

The total volume of ejected material is estimated at approximately 24 cu mi, projecting an ash plume up to 22 miles into the stratosphere. The final explosion generated a mega-tsunamis that is thought to have reached a height from 115 to 492 feet, washing over the coasts and islands of the eastern Mediterranean. The Thera eruption would have also affected the climate of the entire northern hemisphere for years after.

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The famous “Blue Monkeys” fresco from Akrotiri.

This super eruption has been theorized to have played a part in the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, as helping to cause the plaques and the parting of the sea.  It is also believed to have led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization, which ended at around 1400 BC. There is no way that the centers of that civilization could have withstood the destruction that would have been caused by that eruption. So even if the population of Thera had left before the final blast they would have still been subjected to the aftermath caused by it.

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Me at the edge of the carter with the volcanic island Nea Kameni in the background.

But what really fascinated me about this massive eruption was its provable connection to Plato’s Atlantis!  More on that in a later post!

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Akrotiri, Greece, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, Santorini, Still Current, Travel, World history

Thira’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 (Thira).

Human habitation on Thira 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, Thira 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.

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

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Greece, Greek history, history and travel, Santorini, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

Santorini? Thira? Or is it Atlantis?

Ron Current

Ron Current

The last stop on our tour was the island that travel agencies call Santorini. This Greek island was one of the most anticipated stops for me, because of its geological formation and history, both real and mythical.  Santorini has another name, and perhaps even a third that is even more famous.

The name Santorini comes from when the island was part the Latin Empire in the thirteenth century. Today Greece has officially restored the island to its classical Greek name, Thira, or also spelled as Thera. The island has also been attached to an even older, mythical name and legend that I’ll cover in a future post.

Thira is part of a small archipelago of islands at the far southern end of the Cyclades group. The Thira archipelago is made up of five islands, with the named island being the largest. The others are the inhabited island of Therasia and three uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni and Aspronisi. Nea Kameni and Palaia Kameni are the newest islands of this group, because this is an active super volcano. Santorini 6

When you sail into the volcanic caldera of Thira the first thing that you see is the amazing sheer side of the main island. This western side raises more than nine hundred feet above the sea, with its white stucco buildings, and their colorful roofs, hanging on its top edge.

There are three ways to get to the top: one is to walk up, two, take a donkey, or three, some type of motor vehicle. Ours was by motor coach, and that was an experience. Remember this side of the island is almost straight up, nine hundred feet. And to drive up this winding, narrow road with a 60 passenger travel bus, my hat is off to the Greek bus drivers of Thira.

DSC_0172As I mentioned Thira is a super volcano. Its two major cities sit on the western rim of the crater.While the east side the the island slopes gently down to the sea.

Thira, like all of Greece, has beautiful churches to visit. There are big ones and small one all over the island. The number of churches reflects how devoted the Greek people are to their religion.  DSC_0142

Greece, and its islands, have a national religion- Christian Greek Orthodox. Over 90% of all Greeks passionately practice this religion. The Greek Orthodox is a branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. DSC_0233And the Eastern Orthodox Churches make up the second largest Christian church group. It is also are one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, claiming that their practicing dates back to the original faith passed down from the Apostles.

In future posts I will explore the volcanic, archaeological and mythical history of this beautiful Greek island of Thira.

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