Read the text below and answer Questions 31—40
The Prehistoric Settlement of Akrotiri
The Changing Face of Santorini Over the Millennia
Santorini, Greece—known for its stunning sunsets, whitewashed architecture and distinctive blue domes—is a dream destination for travellers and honeymooners around the globe. While the blue and white buildings that dot its hills have come to be symbolic of the island, they are, in fact, a rather recent development, having only become a trademark of Santorini in the late 1960s, and thus represent only a tiny blip in its lengthy history—one that extends back thousands of years into the past.
While the island’s city of Ancient Thera was excavated back in the 19th century (and now stands in remarkably well-preserved condition on a ridge of the Mesa Vuono mountain), it wasn’t until 1967 that a Greek archaeologist by the name of Spyridon Marinatos began excavating in the area and stumbled upon a vast settlement that predated Thera by thousands of years.
The settlement, the original name of which has been lost to history but which is now known as Akrotiri, was part of the great Minoan civilization, a Bronze Age civilization that was primarily located on the island of Crete. Archaeologists determined that Akrotiri had begun as a farming and fishing village, and evidence points to the settlement having been inhabited by humans as far back at the fifth millennium BC. It flourished around the third millennium BC, likely due to trade with other Aegean settlements. Its people were prosperous and enjoyed stone-paved roads and town squares and an impressively sophisticated drainage system that allowed for indoor toilets. Many of the town’s building were multi-level and featured intricate architecture, as well as gorgeous frescoes, which were recovered in the excavation and which show a rather advanced society.
So, what happened to this once-great settlement? The reason for its decline is the same reason we’re able to know so much about it today; Akrotiri was victim to one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history, which—much like Italy’s Pompeii—preserved the town in the lava that destroyed it. Unlike at Pompeii, no human remains were discovered by archaeologists at Akrotiri, which suggests that the town’s inhabitants were spared.
The fateful event occurred sometime between 1642 and 1540 BC. The people of Akrotiri, who’d been busy repairing the settlement following the earthquake that preceded the eruption, were forced to flee and leave their lives on the island behind. In addition to wiping out the Akrotiri settlement, the eruption and its associated earthquakes and tsunamis destroyed other settlements on surrounding islands, including Crete, 120km to the north, and may have in fact contributed to the ultimate decline of the Minoan civilization. It’s no surprise that a volcanic eruption factors so significantly in Santorini’s history; the island itself is part of the remains a volcanic caldera, a crater that forms as the result of a volcanic eruption.
From all appearances, Akrotiri continued to thrive right up until the eruption that resulted in the community being lost to history for several millennia, which has led some to speculate that Akrotiri was the inspiration for Plato’s story of the lost city of Atlantis.
Following the desertion of the island by the Minoan people, Santorini remained uninhabited until the Phoenicians eventually established a settlement there after the Bronze Age, and in the 9th century BC, the Dorians set up the city that is now known as Ancient Thera. Another mass exodus took place in the middle of the last century following the economic devastation that resulted from the world wars, as well as a 1956 earthquake.
Today, the island is thriving once again, and hosts roughly two million tourists each year. Visitors to Santorini can now take a break from their caldera-side hikes and sunset cocktails to visit the excavation site of the real-life Atlantis that is Akrotiri and experience the once-great settlement firsthand.
Inhabitants come and go, but through volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and world wars, it appears that nothing can stop people from eventually finding their way back to this gem of the Agean.