A massive BC volcano (one of the biggest believed to have ever happened) destroyed the ancient Thira settlements – although lack of skeletal findings indicate the people were successfully evacuated – and covered the island in ash, preserving, among many things, a site that would be excavated in 1967 and named for the nearby village of Akrotiri. What they found, stunning evidence of the Minoan civilisation – frescoes, jars, paintings, staircases, housing structures, pipes and water closets – has put Santorini second only to Crete in terms of the best known Minoan sites.
Most of the findings were put in a museum in Fira, Santorini’s capital, with some of the famous, full colour frescoes also sent to Athens, and the actual site remained open to interested visitors. In 2005, two years before I first visited the island, the roof of the protective structure in Akrotiri collapsed, killing one person and injuring seven others. The site closed down and every single time I have zipped past there on my quad bike, on the way to a tomatini filled lunch at The Cave of Nikolas, the gate has been padlocked, the sign explaining its closure firmly in place. So it has been a constant frustration – a lover and student of Ancient History and a soul of Santorini and not once have I been able to fuse the two. Which is why I was so bloody excited to hear that in April, the ancient, Minoan site of Akrotiri opened once more to the public. Santorini, she of the sunsets and donkeys now has her most famous historical offering open once more.
Santorini has done an utterly superb job with reopening this archaeological site. You walk through the 3000 year old village, through the public square looked onto by the wealthy captain’s house. You see ancient barley pots in situ, perfect stone steps cracked in half by the volcanic eruption that destroyed the civilisation. You can see the stone streets, the draining system, the tiny windows, the bowls for crushing seeds and cooking. It is truly extraordinary. I have never felt so fully in history as I did walking through these beautifully excavated and preserved ruins. You cannot miss it. You must see it.