Akrotiri is a notable ancient city founded on the island of Santorini in the Late Neolithic period. Exceeding 20 hectares in extent, the settlement manifests sophisticated urban design, including multiple storey structures, complex street systems and intricate urban drainage; furthermore, there is considerable advanced art such as stunning wall murals, household furnishings and pottery. The herein observations are based on my site investigation of 2005 combined with review of literature.
HISTORY. While first habitation of Akrotori began at least as early as the fourth millennium BC on the island of Thera, the city advanced culturally throughout the Early Bronze Age (3000 to 2000 BC) and reached a peak of development in the Late Bronze Age (2000 to 1630 BC). Sometime between 1628 and 1520 BC a significant seismic event occurred followed by a violent eruption of the principal caldera on Thera.. (Gates, 2003) Since the initial earthquake took place many months before the eruption, the people of Akrotiri had sufficient time to conduct an orderly evacuation. Whether they fled to Crete, the Greek mainland or Egypt is the subject of debate, but they left little in the way of small precious objects such as jewelry, bronzes or coins; however, the the volcanic ash deposition engulfed the city so as to preserve structures and furnishings amazingly well. Spiros Marinatos began excavation on Santorini (the name of Thera from medieval times onward) in the hope of proving a volcanic/seismic event there was responsible for the Late Bronze Age destruction to Cretan sites.
SETTING . The city, still mostly buried beneath volcanic ash, stretches from the shoreline of the Aegean Sea to the top of the caldera, positioned at the southeast of Santorini; Akrotiri comprises an estimated area of one square kilometre,. the exact size Plato stated the lost city of Atlantis to be!. (Plato, 360 BC). When I visited the site, I also explored further west along the steep rocky cliffs descending from the caldera top to the sea. It became obvious that the city was well positioned to afford sea access to its people, while taking advantage of the splendid defencive landform that would deter an invasion over these western precipices.
ARCHITECTURE. During my site visit to Akrotiri, excavation, reconstruction and protective works were in high gear. An enormous scaffolded canopy had been constructed to protect exposed city elements from the weather. Construction includes elements of sizable rectilinear ashlar blocks as well as mud-brick walls. The rectilinear stone blocks are reminiscent of those I saw the week earlier on Crete at Knossos and Phaestos. Visitors were permitted to walk into the city on well defined constructed paths, in order to protect these ancient ruins. Photography was difficult due to the dark subterranean environment created by the canopy. Furthermore, since the entire exposed site was canopied, it was impossible to capture an overview image of the site. Weeks after my viewing of Akrotiri, a visitor was killed with a collapse of the giant canopy; the site was then closed for a time thereafter.
In any case, the up close view was stunning, with the obvious complexity of the stone and mud-brick city coming alive with its daily increasing exposure. The presence of individual and clustered buildings was evident, with some structures being three storeys in height. An incredible labyrinth of doorways and stairways interconnects rooms. Many doorway lintels had been re-created using Marinatos' technique of injecting concrete into the residual pumice moulds, where the original timber lintels had rotted. The geometrics of these complex room connections reminded me of the Anasazi ruin at Chaco Canyon. The intricacy of drainage works made me reflect that Akrotiri's infrastructure exceeds design standards for many modern Mediterranean cities.
ARTWORKS. Most of the intricate frescoes have been removed from the site itself and reside in Athens or the local Akrotiri Museum, with others being in process of conservation. These large colourful murals represent some of the best depictions of Bronze Age Aegean culture, providing details of dress, ceremony and even natural history. One of the first frescoes discovered involved a depiction of women. leading to naming its find location as the House of Ladies; moreover, the female form is rife, with women depicted in positions of prominence and also divine standing. (Preziosi, 1999). In 1969 Marinatos uncovered a mural of vervet monkeys cavorting on the steep ocean cliffs to the west (Castleden, 1998); such a depiction suggests that the Therans had contact with peoples of the Upper Nile, where this species is native. Attractive large pottery pieces have also been recovered as well as some figurines. .
* Plato (360 BC) ''Critias''
* Charles Gates (2003) ''Ancient Cities: The Archaeology of Urban Life in the Ancient Near East and Greek and Roman Worlds'', Routledge ISBN 0415121825
* Rodney Castleden (1998) ''Atlantis Destroyed'', Routledge, 225 p ISBN 0415165393
* Donald Preziosi and Louise Hitchcock (1999) ''Aegean Art and Architecture'', Oxford University Press, 264 pages ISBN 0192842080
Posted by C Michael Hogan
13th December 2007ce