Today in “I look at cool old shit”, the ancient and mysterious and tragic city of Akrotiri, on present-day Santorini.
If you have read a few of my blog posts by now, you know that I’m super into ancient history. (If you haven’t, hi and welcome!)
So while visiting Santorini, I am not here just for the sunset selfies against the white and blue hills with the Insta-famous set here. Also I’m not rich enough for yachts so that rules out another diversion here.
Looking costs nothing, though!
Lost history in the hills
One accessible and non-basic-filled part of this beautiful island is the ancient city of Akrotiri, at least that’s what we call it now.
It’s so shrouded in mystery we don’t even know what it was called back in its own time.
What do we know?
It was settled by ancient Minoans from Crete who sailed over and found a perfect port and lands to farm, probably about 4000 years ago. They built a huge city, which was knocked about by an earthquake. Then they built it even bigger.
It had multi-storied houses with intricate frescoes adorning the walls. It had pottery workshops producing gorgeous wares that were exported all over the Aegean Sea and beyond, in trade as far as Syria and Egypt.
It had aqueducts (probably) and really sophisticated indoor plumbing (definitely). Like, there are Greek towns today with less advanced plumbing. And underfloor heating! It is 2018 and I have never lived anywhere with underfloor heating.
I mean really, these frescoes?!
They had systems of writing and measuring and weighing. This is at a time when everyone in Britain was living in shitty little huts, just for reference.
But underfloor heating will not save your civilization from the ravages of the earth (America, take note!).
Around 1450 BC, another big earthquake rocked Akrotiri. This must have been a warning to the residents, because they fled with their gold. And good thing they did.
In their time, this entire bay was part of the island. Turns out there was a giant volcano underneath and it blew its top, literally.
It was one of the biggest volcanic explosions the world has ever seen.
And it buried the city of Akrotiri under several feet of ash, and most of the remaining island under lava. The rest just sank into the sea.
That’s how Santorini got its famous caldera. And that’s how Akrotiri disappeared forever (until 1971 when excavations began, anyways).
Ancient history, ancient mysteries
There were no bodies found in Akrotiri, so we know everyone escaped the city alive. But that’s all we know.
Where did they go? They left pots full of food and pigs to be butchered and most of their belongings except their gold, so they probably planned to return. But no one came back to Santorini for at least 200 years after the explosion.
Did they sail back to Crete? Are they buried in ash somewhere else on the island? What other secrets died with them? (Like why did they put nipples on their jars?!)
Nipple jars that make eye contact, no less.
The myth of Atlantis
You’ve likely heard the legend of Atlantis, the fabulously wealthy society, advanced beyond conception, that suddenly sank into the sea.
Was this Akrotiri? Maybe! Historians debate back and forth. Plato is the first to mention the myth, and it’s quite possible he knew of this civilization catastrophe.
I like to think yes.
History is everywhere
Even socialite havens like Santorini (not that I’ve seen any celebs here, I guess they don’t hang out at €30 per night pensions) are full of ancient and amazing history and beauty.
I love to visit ancient sites because it reminds me of the connection to our common humanity. You can get a view of the lives of people thousands of years ago, and they’re not so different from our own (everyone likes indoor plumbing).
Even 3500 years ago, the people here marveled at the sparrows diving and the eagles soaring and the waves cresting just like I did today. We know this from the art on their jars and walls they left behind. That’s what draws me to art: the stories it can tell us.
I’m sure they loved the sunsets here too.
And if our world might (literally) explode out from under us tomorrow, how should we spend our precious time today?