Santorini: Akrotiri

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After a very good nights sleep, we woke up ready to go on our first excursion, to the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri. Akrotiri was destroyed in a volcanic explosion around 1627 BC, which buried the town completely in volcanic ash, preserving the town almost completely (think, Greek Pompeii, but much older).

Our local guide, Harrah, walked us through the settlement of Akrotiri, who let us know that under the city, there are 3 other cities, making the entire site only 20% excavated. Since the settlement was made so long ago, Akrotiri is actually 200 years OLDER than Mycenae (to learn more, check out my blog on what to do and see in Mycenae).

Although the city was preserved in the same way that Pompeii was, the volcanic eruption on Santorini was 10x larger than the one in Pompeii, and it completely changed the landscape and habitat of the island. Where Santorini used to be a tropical island full of lush greenery, it is now a desert. Also unlike Pompeii, the residents of Santorini felt the tremors prior to the eruption, so everyone (as far as we know) left before the explosion. This is also why the town does not have a lot of “stuff” in it; the residents of Akrotiri took the majority of what they needed to survive with them, therefore, what remains is mostly structures, pots, and beds.

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A former bedroom, now full of found pots

The Minoans who settled Akrotiri were a very advanced civilization, as they had two story buildings, a subterranean waste system, paved streets, and even flushing toilets. Akrotiri was a port city who’s main export was saffron, and in the murals on the walls of the remaining structures, there are many depictions of saffron.

Their murals are extremely lifelike, especially for the time, since the portraits looked like individuals instead of all the same person (like in Egypt). The women in the paintings have fancy dress and accessories, while the men are depicted without much detail at all and are always working. This shows that perhaps the civilization had a matriarchal structure where women had a more important role than men. They also do not have any paintings depicting war or violence; their only paintings are of nice, happy people and beautiful birds and plants. This suggests that they may not have participated in many (or any) wars or battles at the time, which would further prove that they were a civilization led by women. If this is the case, then it is one of the few places in history where women were in charge and men had a more subservient role. Sounds like a paradise to me.

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Our guide, Harrah, showing us one of the murals. This was a depiction of (possibly) two antelopes, which they may have seen in their trade with North African settlements.

After everyone fled, the island lay untouched for 500 years. In 1100 BC, people from Lebanon inhabited the island until the Spartans took over, led by King Thira. Since then, the Greeks lived on the island, and began growing grapes for wine, until the Venetians took over in 1400 (they, of course, continued the production of wine). The first church that the Venetians built was for Saint Irene, which is where the name Santorini comes from. The Greek name for the island, however, is Thira, which comes from the Spartan king’s name. Today, the names are used interchangeably, but if you want to sound cool, calling Santorini “Thira” is the way to go.

After walking through the streets of Akrotiri, we headed to Pyrgos, a small town of 800 people and 60 churches, for lunch. Pyrgos is dedicated to keeping their city as authentic as possible, and do not allow any new buildings that do not adhere to the white walls, blue accent rule. Our guide described the town as having “more churches than houses, more wine than water, and more donkeys than men”.

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To prove her statement, we saw a fancy donkey hanging out in someone’s yard

We had a quick but delicious lunch at μπρουσκο, aka Brusco, where I had something called Bouyiourdi, to which I asked, “like the chef?” Our server did not know what I was talking about. The dish is a huge chunk of feta cheese with tomatoes, onions, and herbs baked in a small bowl. It was delicious and my mouth is watering just thinking about it (I really miss authentic feta cheese, guys).

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After this, my mom went on an excursion with the rest of the group to sail around the island while I went back to our hotel, El Greco, and got some in some much needed tanning. The next day, we were headed to Oia, so we got some much deserved sleep (after some Black Donkey beer which is delicious and I wish I could find in the states) to get ready for our big day. More on that in the next post. Stay tuned!

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