Thera, the southernmost island of the Cyclades, is
situated relatively close to Crete. It is one of the most important locations
worldwide for the study of volcanic geological phenomena and formations.
Initially the island was circular with canals which connected the interior
lagoon with the sea. Its surface was cut by deep crevices and steep ravines. The
island was transformed during a major volcanic eruption in the sixteenth century
BC, when much of It was submerged. This subsidence created a large hollow, the
caldera, into which the sea flowed. Therasia and
Aspronisi are the two islands that complete the caldera's rim to the west. After
many centuries and because of the continuing volcanic activity, two more islets,
Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni, also emerged.
The important Bronze Age settlement of Akrotlri is located
on the south coast of Thera. Scant evidence suggests human activity there during
the Late Neolithic Period (fifth millennium BC). Akrotiri was a prosperous
settlement during the Early Bronze Age (Early Cycladic Period, third millennium
BC), which continued to develop into the Middle Cycladic period (early second
millennium BC). At the time of its destruction, in the Late Cycladic I
(sixteenth century BC),
Akrotiri was a thriving port town in touch with the major centres of the Aegean
and the Near East. Its grand, well-appointed houses were beautifully decorated
with fine wall-paintings with primarily religious themes.
The abundant pottery
is decorated with images of the land and sea, reflections of the culture buried
beneath the ashes of the Theran volcano. Volcanic ash covered the buildings and
their contents, perfectly preserving them for the amazement of the modern
visitor. Akrotiri has rightly been dubbed the "Pompeii of the Aegean".
The excavation at Akrotiri on Thera
In 1939, Professor Spyridon Marinatos (1901-1974) put forward the theory that
the Theran eruption brought on the end of the Minoan civilization in Crete. His
excavations at Akrotiri (1967-1974) revealed the well-preserved Cycladic
settlement of the sixteenth century BC, with multi-storeyed buildings and an
abundance of artefacts. Marinatos research at Akrotiri was his life's work and a
landmark in Aegean archaeology. Although his theory of the devastation of Minoan
civilization by the Theran eruption could not be proven, his fascinating
discoveries most vividly illustrate a society that was open to foreign contacts
and influence, while maintaining its own tradition and character. Since
1974, the Akrotiri excavations are directed by professor Christos Doumas.