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A Bronze Age Site Buried Under the Ash - Akrotiri (Santorini)

Akrotiri Mosaic Work

After visiting Delos island in my 2019 vacation, I never thought in my wild dream that in one vacation I will be able to visit another extraordinary ancient place. I was lucky enough to visit Akrotiri the Bronze age site in Santorini. It is known as Pompeii of Greece as the whole town was buried under the volcanic ash. The remains of the city which were found during excavation are in very good shape.

2Water Supply in the City
3Street Drainage and Sewerage System of the City
4Xeste 4
5Double Horn Square Complex Delta East unit
6Cenotaph Square. North Unit
7"Pithoi" Storeroom
8House of the ladies
9A West House
10Triangle Square. West Unit
11Destruction of the Akrotiri


According to the geomorphological and archaeological data the first settlement was founded mid-fifth millennium BC at the southwest tip of a low promontory, about one hundred meters from the current coastlines. The small Neothilic village grew gradually and during the early Bronze age (3rd Millenium BC) developed into the Porto-urban center. With a bay at either side, the place guaranteed safe port for the sea-going vessels of the time. It was also in direct contact with Crete, some 60 miles south. With such characteristics features, the gradual growth of the settlement and its development into a cosmopolitan some trading harbor was not accidental.

Water Supply in the City

The quantities of water needed for the functioning of the city must have been enormous. Brackish water or even seawater carried in water-skins on pack animals will have sufficed for the needs of the sanitary facilities in each house, and the large jars (pithoi) usually found in these, decorated with aquatic plants (reeds), indicate its storage. Nonetheless, unknown is the location of the spring(s) from which the city obtained drinking water since cisterns for collecting rainwater from the roofs of the houses as was done until recently in Santorini have not been found. The discovery of a small clay pipe of a totally different type from the pipes used in the drainage-sewerage system, suggests the existence of an aqueduct that brought water from the foot of the limestone massif of Mt Prophitis Ilias, where there are springs of freshwater even today.

Street Drainage and Sewerage System of the City

The city of the final period (1st half of 2nd millennium BC) had a dense street network. The central street axis ran through the city in a north-south direction, following the crest of the promontory upon which the settlement had developed. Parts of this basic artery have been revealed. Telchines Street (south) and Dactyls Street (north). Other small streets on the smooth slopes of the peninsula linked the buildings to the main street, while alleys and cul de sacs served the illumination and the ventilation of the houses, or the needs of the drainage-sewage network. There was also a dense system of squares which were arranged in front of the entrances to the buildings, facilitating the movement of pack animals carrying supplies. Changes in the street plan and the rise in street-level after the rebuilding of the city necessitated the construction of a new drainage-sewerage network, with which the sanitary facilities in the houses were linked by clay pipes incorporated in the fabric of the walls. The pipes led into a kind of stench trap formed from stone slabs (1-2). Through this construction, the waste was channeled into a small cesspit that was linked to the sewer running under the street (3).

Akrotiri Water Supply [Left] And Drainage [Right]

Xeste 4

The building was named conventionally Xeste 4 because of its ashlar (xeste) masonry. Exceeding 20 meters in length, it is a unique edifice. In its west wing, it was at least three-storeyed, with the paved floor of the third storey still in situ. The size of Xeste 4, quality of construction and commanding appearance, enhanced by the iconographic program of the staircase, suggest that this was a public building. Perhaps it was the seat of the civic authority responsible for the planning and maintenance of public works, such as the paved streets and the drainage-sewerage network of the city

Three Storey Depth is visible [Left]. Large Window [Right]

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Double Horn Square Complex Delta East unit

The only building investigated so far is complex Delta, which occupies a central position in the city, and resulted from the gradual addition to each other of independent building units. The fa├žade of the east unit was crowned, possibly above the entrance by double horns (horns of consecration), carved in whitish tuff stone, after which Double Horns Square was conventionally named. 

Cenotaph Square. North Unit

After the abolition of the Early Cycladic cemetery in the final years of the 3rd millennium BC, a small tumulus of earth, stones, and sea pebbles was created in the area where rituals were performed to honor the dead. A small cist-shaped construction of upright slabs on the top of the tumulus was found full of marble vases and figurines, common grave goods of the period.

Cenotaph Square. North Unit
Cenotaph Square. North Unit
Akrotiri Complete Image Gallery

Pithoi Storeroom

'Pithoi Storeroom'was the name given by Professor Spyridon Marinatos to the first building brought to light in the excavation, in 1967 because he found it full of large storage jars (pithoi) and some of them were filled with floor and seeds. The building was at-last two-storeyed. 

Pithoi (large Vessel) Store Room
Pithoi (large Vessel) Store Room

House of the ladies

A three-storey building named after the wall-painting that decorated the third storey of room 1. The east wing had been badly eroded over the centuries by the torrent that flowed through the site prior to the excavation. The entrance to the building was at the southwest corner, where the main staircase is also situated. The rooms around the light-well communicated via a narrow corridor. In addition to the wall-painting of the Ladies, room 1 was adorned with murals representing clusters of enlarged papyrus flowers. 

House of the Ladies
House of the Ladies

A West House

A building comprising a ground floor and two upper storeys at least in its east wing. The spacious room in the middle of the first story was well illuminated through the large window overlooking Triangle Square. In the northeast and southwest corners were the wall-paintings of two young fishermen, while on the east jamb of the doorway into room 4 was the wall-painting of the so-called Young Priestess'.

Akrotiri Most Famous Image
Large window appearances and the large squares [Left]. Naked Fisherman [Right]

Triangle Square. West Unit

The triangular shape of the square is defined by the buildings on its three sides, the west House (northwest). Building Complex Delta (east) and the still unexcavated House of the Anchor (west). Building Complex Delta. occupying a central position in the excavated part of the city. It was formed by the gradual addition to each other of at least four architectural units. 

Destruction of the Akrotiri

The town was destroyed and abandoned in 1500 B.C. as a result of an earthquake. This can be deduced from the archaeological evidence since the town already lay in ruins when the eruption of the volcano occurred and buried it under the ashes. The excavations have revealed that houses were standing in the ruinous condition when the eruption came. On their ruined walls grass had begun to grow Thus, at least one rainy season had intervened between the earthquake and the eruption. It was the earthquake that forced the inhabitants to leave. We do not know why this should have happened, since people place of origin and forsake their homes. It is possible that the volcano had given signs of an imminent eruption, perhaps the water supply had been destroyed. At any rate, people gathered together their valuables and left. No jewelry or precious metals have been recovered from the site. Only a few bronze vessels and daggers were are usually reluctant to abandon their forgotten. The bulk of finds consist of pottery which is both impractical to carry away and cheap to manufacture.


Wall Paintings Pictures has taken from Book Art and Religion in Thera by Dr. Nanno Marinatos

1 comment:

  1. Nice to learn that the inhabitants left before the eruption.