visit only one archaeological site during your stay on Santorini,
make sure it is ancient Akrotiri, near the tip of the southern horn
of the island.
In the 1860s, in the course of quarrying volcanic ash for use in
the Suez Canal, workmen discovered the remains of an ancient town.
The town was frozen in time by ash from an eruption 3,600 years ago,
long before Pompeii's disaster. In 1967 Spyridon Marinatos of the
University of Athens began excavations, which occasionally continue.
It is thought that the 40 buildings that have been uncovered are
only one-thirtieth of the huge site and that excavating the rest
will probably take a century. You enter from the south, pass the
ticket booth, and walk 100 yards or so up a stone-paved street to a
vast metal shed that protects 2 acres of the site from wind and sun.
A path punctuated by explanatory signs in English leads through the
Marinatos's team discovered great numbers of extremely
well-preserved frescoes depicting many aspects of Akrotiri life,
most now displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens;
Santorini wants them back. Meanwhile, postcard-size pictures of them
are posted outside the houses where they were found. The antelopes,
monkeys, and wildcats they portray suggest trade with Egypt. One
notable example, apparently representing a festival, shows two
ports: the left village has ordinary people in skins and tunics, and
a symbolic lion runs overhead; and the other, probably Akrotiri,
more aristocratic, has in its center a fleet of sailing ships at
sea, with playful dolphins swimming alongside.
Culturally an outpost of Minoan Crete, Akrotiri was settled as
early as 3000 BC and reached its peak after 2000 BC, when it
developed trade and agriculture and settled the present town. The
inhabitants cultivated olive trees and grain, and their advanced
architecture -- three-story frescoed houses faced with masonry (some
with balconies) and public buildings of sophisticated construction
-- is evidence of an elaborate lifestyle. Unlike at Pompeii, no
human remains, gold, silver, or weapons were found here -- probably
tremors preceding the eruption warned the inhabitants to pack their
valuables and flee. After the eruptions Santorini was uninhabited
for about two centuries while the land cooled and plant and animal
life regenerated. The site is accessible by public bus or guided
tour. www.culture.gr. COST: EUR5.
OPEN: Tues.-Sun. 8:30-3.