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This volcano that is Santorini, was home to people living the same way 4000 years ago, in the Bronze Age, as we do today. The village of Akrotiri dates back to late Neolithic times, the 4th millennium B.C.E. During the Early Bronze Age, the third millennium B.C.E., a major settlement was founded. In the Middle Bronze Age and into the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (20th to 17th centuries B.C.E.), Akrotiri developed into one of the major urban centers and ports of the Aegean Sea. .

Santorini was devastated by the major volcanic eruption of 1628 B.C.E. It is estimated that several thousand people lived in Akrotiri at the time (the exact figure should be determined). The area covered about 20 hectares (50 acres). There was, regardless of number, a substantial community living here, with well-developed architectural construction. The absence of bodies or indications of such, as found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, indicates the people must have had a warning - perhaps earthquakes, rumblings, or smoke. Seemingly everything movable was taken from the village. It is estimated that 1 to 2 meters of ash fell on Akrotiri (3.3 to 6.6 feet), preserving it somewhat.

The advanced society living here constructed multi-story buildings, seemingly homes and shops. Architectural features include wood doors and window frames set within stone walls, stone steps, and what have come to be called "quoins," which are larger stone pieces forming stronger corner wall supports. This has been a basic form of construction throughout the millennia. Now we often put columns in corners of buildings. And in simple concrete block structures, we add reinforcing rods to the corners and either create columns or pour concrete into the block cavities, essentially creating a column effect, acting in the same way as quoins do in stone construction.

There is evidence of elaborate drainage systems, sophisticated multi-story construction, furniture, and urns. Wall frescoes are most lively and depict boxers, fisherman holding their catch, cavorting monkeys, and women gathering saffron. The men wore loincloths, the women short-sleeved bodices and long flowing skirts, accessorized with earrings, bracelets, and necklaces of gold and jewels. I have sometimes wondered why I never got to see these frescoes while in Santorini, and the answer lies in the fact that they have been removed to the National Museum in Athens.

One major sign of habitation pre-dating the eruption here on Santorini is this community known as Akrotiri. The village sits on the southwest tip of the island close to the Aegean waters. Excavations have been roofed over so that the village appears to be within a building. The covering is to protect the findings and the work in progress. A very tragic aspect of the archaeological digs is that the chief archaeologist was killed in a fall - not from any great height, but only at ground level, striking his head on a rock. This happened in the early 1980s, and the irony is that the road leading to the site is 183 meters (600') above the rim of the volcano that is Santorini, and that road is treacherous in its narrowness and its sharp turns. To have died in an enclosed, seemingly safe area was, indeed, all the more tragic. But archaeology is fraught with danger - witness the murder of an archaeologist working amidst Mayan ruins in the Yucatan in the late 1970s.

These urns were uncovered at Akrotiri. As with everything in this site, works go back to before the volcanic eruption of 1628 B.C.E. Understand that we must date objects and structures to a time before that date - things were, obviously, not constructed the day before the eruption.

The significance of the urns is that they are highly decorated, not only with painting, but also with elevated designs. This is a very early instance of the integration of art with utility. The urns, after all, did not have to be decorated or designed in any special way. But seeing this small grouping indicates different shapes of containers. Throughout known history, the Greeks have been creating amphora/urns of obviously different shapes and forms, each with a distinct function - different forms for different products contained within; the contents could have been barley, grain or wine. Apparently, the custom goes back at least 4,000 years. Again, some innate sense drives humans to design and to create art and beauty.

Possibly a kitchen or cooking area, with urns, pot-like items, a table or bench, perhaps grinding elements.

A staircase leading to a higher level.

This is a fascinating shot, in that it seems to indicate that three buildings (my back was to one) and accompanying passageways or small streets formed a triangular open space, possibly creating something like a small gathering and/or market place in the intersection. The problem in such an analysis is that we often tend to insert our own present-day values into other times, and such interpretation might or might not be appropriate or correct. In any event, there is definitely a triangular open space and it might very well have been planned.

Another view of that triangular intersection.

Here we can see the space is sizable for a small community.

Indications of stairs, multiple levels of construction.

A wall opening with what appears to be a rain scupper - or some device to let water out of the house and into the street - possibly a drain.

Quoins in the corner of the building. In Santorini there is an abundance of basalt, an extremely hard rock, which was shot out of the volcano, and did not melt or disintegrate. People on the island use it today to form key parts of their construction. Here it reinforces the corner. Notice, too, that the quoins are cut very horizontally for better fit and greater wall strength. It has to be assumed that theses hunks of basalt were the remnants of a previous eruption.

A broken stone staircase - evidence of the force of the volcano, accompanied by earthquakes. Actually, though literature from the area indicates a dormant volcano, there was a very serious earthquake in 1956. One third of the population left the island and did not return for some time.

The site is presently seeking the means to reconstruct its protective enclosure and to ensure preservation of the ruins and continuity of excavation. It is claimed that 250,000 visitors come to the site yearly.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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