Santorini (Greek: Σαντορίνη, pronounced /ˌsa(n)doˈrini/), also known as Thera (or Thira, Greek Θήρα /ˈθira/) is a volcanic island located in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast from Greece's mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name. It forms the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km2 (28 sq mi) and a 2001 census population of 13,670. It is composed of the Municipality of Thira (pop. 12,440) and the Community of Oía (Οία, pop. 1,230, which includes 268 inhabitants resident on the offshore island of Therasia, lying to the west). These have a total land area of 90.623 km2 (34.990 sq mi), which also includes the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana (all part of the Municipality of Thira).
Santorini is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current geological caldera.
A giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular, and measuring about 12 by 7 km (7.5 by 4.3 mi), is surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high steep cliffs on three sides. The island slopes downward from the cliffs to the surrounding Aegean Sea. On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the sea by another much smaller island called Therasia; the lagoon merges with the sea in two places, in the northwest and southwest. The water in the centre of the lagoon is nearly 400 m (1,300 ft) deep, thus making it a safe harbour for all kinds of shipping. The island's harbours all lie in the lagoon and there are no ports on the outer perimeter of the island; the capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon. The volcanic rocks present from the prior eruptions feature olivine and have a notably small presence of hornblende.
It is the most active volcanic centre in the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, though what remains today is chiefly a water-filled caldera. The volcanic arc is approximately 500 km long and 20–40 km wide. The region first became volcanically active around 3–4 million years ago though volcanism on Thera began around 2 million years ago with the extrusion of dacitic lavas from vents around the region of Akrotiri.
The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of feet deep and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, through the creation of a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.
The name Santorini was given to it by the Latin Empire in the thirteenth century, and is a reference to Saint Irene. Before then it was known as Kallístē (Καλλίστη, "the most beautiful one"), Strongýlē (Στρογγύλη, "the circular one"), or Thēra. The name Thera was revived in the nineteenth century as the official name of the island and its main city, but the colloquial name Santorini is still in use.
The Cyclades are part of a metamorphic complex area known as the Cycladic Massif, which formed in Triassic to Tertiary time and were folded and metamorphosed during the Alpine Orogeny around 60 million years ago. Thera itself is built upon a small, non-volcanic basement that represents the former non-volcanic island which was approximately 9 by 6 km in size. The basement rock consists primarily of metamorphosed limestone and schist dating from the Alpine Orogeny. These non-volcanic rocks are exposed at the Profitis Ilias Mountains, Mesa Vouno, the Gavrillos ridge, Pyrgos, Monolithos, and the inner side of the caldera wall between Cape Plaka and Athinios.
The metamorphic grade consists of a blueschist facies resulting from tectonic deformation by the subduction of the African Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate between the Oligocene and the Miocene and represents the southernmost extent of the Cycladic blueschist belt.
The island is the remnant of a volcanic cone whose top was blown off. The inner coast around the caldera is a sheer precipice of more than 300 m drop at its highest, and exhibits the various layers of solidified lava on top of each other, and the main towns perched on the crest. The ground then slopes outwards and downwards towards the outer perimeter, and the outer beaches are smooth and shallow. Beach sand color depends on which geologic layer is exposed; there are beaches with sand or pebbles made of solidified lava of various colors: the Red Beach, the Black Beach, the White Beach, etc. The water at the darker colored beaches is significantly warmer because the lava acts as a heat absorber.
Santorini and Anafi are the only locations in Europe to feature a hot desert climate according to the Köppen climate classification system.
Excavations starting in 1967 at the site called Akrotiri under the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos have made Thera the best-known "Minoan" site outside of Crete, the homeland of the culture. The island was not known as Thera at this time. Only the southern tip of a large town has been uncovered, yet it has revealed complexes of multi-level buildings, streets, and squares with remains of walls standing as high as eight meters, all entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. The site was not a palace-complex such as are found in Crete, but its excellent masonry and fine wall-paintings show that this was certainly no conglomeration of merchants' warehousing either. A loom-workshop suggests organized textile weaving for export. This Bronze Age civilization throve between 3000 to 2000 BCE, and reached its peak in the period 2000 to 1580 BCE.
Some of the houses in Akrotiri are major structures, some amongst them three stories high. Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight meters, and indicating this was a major town. In many houses stone staircases are still intact, and they contain huge ceramic storage jars (pithoi), mills, and pottery. Noted archaeological remains found in Akrotiri are wall paintings or frescoes, which have kept their original colour well, as they were preserved under many meters of volcanic ash. The town also had a highly developed drainage system and, judging from the fine artwork, its citizens were clearly sophisticated and relatively wealthy people.
Pipes with running water and water closets found at Akrotiri are the oldest such utilities discovered. The pipes run in twin systems, indicating that the Therans used both hot and cold water supplies; the origin of the hot water probably was geothermic, given the volcano's proximity. The dual pipe system suggesting hot and cold running water, the advanced architecture, and the apparent layout of the Akrotiri find resemble Plato's description of the legendary lost city of Atlantis, further indicating the Minoans as the culture which primarily inspired the Atlantis legend.
Fragmentary wall-paintings at Akrotiri lack the insistent religious or mythological content familiar in Classical Greek decor. Instead, the Minoan frescoes depict "Saffron-Gatherers", who offer their crocus-stamens to a seated lady, perhaps a goddess. Crocus has been discovered to have many medicinal values including the relief of menstrual pain. This has led many archaeologists to believe that the fresco of the saffron/crocus gatherers is a coming of age fresco dealing with female pubescence. In another house are two antelopes, painted with a kind of confident, flowing, decorative, calligraphic line, the famous fresco of a fisherman with his double strings of fish strung by their gills, and the flotilla of pleasure boats, accompanied by leaping dolphins, where ladies take their ease in the shade of light canopies, among other frescoes.
The well preserved ruins of the ancient town often are compared to the spectacular ruins at Pompeii in Italy. The canopy covering the ruins collapsed in an accident in September 2005, killing one tourist and injuring seven more. The site remains closed while a new canopy is built.
The oldest signs of human settlement are Late Neolithic (4th millennium BCE or earlier), but ca. 2000–1650 BCE Akrotiri developed into one of the Aegean's major Bronze Age ports, with recovered objects that had come, not just from Crete, but also from Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt as well as from the Dodecanese and the Greek mainland.
Dating of the Bronze Age eruption
The Minoan eruption provides a fixed point for the chronology of the second millennium BCE in the Aegean, because evidence of the eruption occurs throughout the region and the site itself contains material culture from outside. The eruption occurred during the "Late Minoan IA" period at Crete and the "Late Cycladic I" period in the surrounding islands.
The exact date of the eruption, however, is unknown. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the eruption occurred about 1645—1600 BCE. These dates, however, conflict with the usual date range from archaeological evidence, which is between about 1550 and 1500 BCE. For more discussion, see the article on the Minoan eruption.
Ancient and Medieval Santorini
Santorini remained unoccupied throughout the rest of the Bronze Age, during which time the Greeks took over Crete. At Knossos, in a LMIIIA context (14th century BCE), seven Linear B texts while calling upon "all the gods" make sure to grant primacy to an elsewhere-unattested entity called qe-ra-si-ja and, once, qe-ra-si-jo. If the endings -ia[s] and -ios represent an ethnikonic suffix, then this means "The One From Qeras[os]". If aspirated, *Qhera- would have become "Thera-" in later Greek. "Therasia" and its ethnikon "Therasios" are both attested in later Greek; and, since -sos was itself a genitive suffix in the Aegean Sprachbund, *Qeras[os] could also shrink to *Qera. An alternate view takes qe-ra-si-ja and qe-ra-si-jo as proof of androgyny, and applies this name by similar arguments to the legendary seer, Tiresias, but these views are not mutually exclusive of one another. If qe-ra-si-ja was an ethnikon first, then in following him/her/it the Cretans also feared whence it came.
Over the centuries after the general catastrophes of 1200 BCE, Phoenicians founded a site on Thera. Herodotus reports that the Phoenicians called the island Callista and lived on it for eight generations. Then, in the 9th century BCE, Dorians founded the main Hellenic city - on Mesa Vouno, 396 m above sea level. This group later claimed that they had named the city and the island after their leader, Theras. Today, that city is referred to as Ancient Thera.
Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica, written in Hellenistic Egypt in the 3rd century BCE, includes an origin and sovereignty myth of Thera being given by Triton in Libya to the Greek Argonaut Euphemus, son of Poseidon, in the form of a clod of dirt. After carrying the dirt next to his heart for several days, Euphemus dreamt that he nursed the dirt with milk from his breast, and that the dirt turned into a beautiful woman with whom he had sex. The woman then told him that she was a daughter of Triton named Kalliste, and that when he threw the dirt into the sea it would grow into an island for his descendants to live on. The poem goes on to claim that the island was named Thera after Euphemus' descendant Theras, son of Autesion, the leader of a group of refugee settlers from Lemnos.
The Dorians have left a number of inscriptions incised in stone, in the vicinity of the temple of Apollo, attesting to pederastic relations between the authors and their eromenoi. These inscriptions, found by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen, have been thought by some archaeologists to be of a ritual, celebratory nature, due to their large size, careful construction and - in some cases - execution by craftsmen other than the authors.
According to Herodotus (4.149-165), following a drought of seven years, Thera sent out colonists who founded a number of cities in northern Africa, including Cyrene.
In the 5th century BCE, Dorian Thera did not join the Delian League with Athens; and during the Peloponnesian War, Thera sided with Dorian Sparta, against Athens. The Athenians took the island during the war, but lost it again after the Battle of Aegospotami.
As with other Greek territories, Thera then was ruled by the Romans; it passed to the eastern side of the Empire when it divided - which now is known as the Byzantine Empire.
During the Crusades, the Franks settled it, while in the 13th century CE, the Venetians annexed the isle to the Duchy of Naxos and renamed it "Santorini", that is "Saint Irene". Santorini came under Ottoman rule in 1579.
Santorini in the Greek State
Santorini became independent from Ottoman rule in 1821, during the Greek War of Independence and was united with Greece in 1830 under the Treaty of London. In 1956 a major earthquake and a volcanic eruption resulted in the demolishing of many buildings on the island, leading to the desertion of many of its villages. Nowadays due to the expansion of tourism, the island has gained great wealth and population. Its major settlements include Fira (Phira), Oia, Emporio, Kamari, Perissa, Imerovigli, Pyrgos, and Therasia. Akrotiri is a major archaeological site, with ruins from the Minoan era. Santorini's primary industry is tourism, particularly in the summer months. The island's pumice quarries have been closed since 1986, in order to preserve the caldera.
In 1707 an undersea volcano breached the sea surface, forming the current centre of activity at Nea Kameni in the centre of the lagoon, and eruptions centred on it continue — the twentieth century saw three such, the last in 1950. Santorini was also struck by a devastating earthquake in 1956. Although the volcano is quiescent at the present time, at the current active crater (there are several former craters on Nea Kameni), steam and sulphur dioxide are given off.
The physical eruption
The devastating volcanic eruption of Thera has become the most famous single event in the Aegean before the fall of Troy. This may have been one of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth in the last few thousand years with an estimated 7 on the VEI (volcanic explosivity index).
The violent eruption was centered on a small island just north of the existing island of Nea Kameni in the centre of the caldera; the caldera itself was formed several hundred thousand years ago by the collapse of the centre of a circular island, caused by the emptying of the magma chamber during an eruption. It has been filled several times by ignimbrite since then, and the process repeated itself, most recently 21,000 years ago. The northern part of the caldera was refilled by the volcano, then collapsing once more during the Minoan eruption. Before the Minoan eruption, the caldera formed a nearly continuous ring with the only entrance between the tiny island of Aspronisi and Thera; the eruption destroyed the sections of the ring between Aspronisi and Therasia, and between Therasia and Thera, creating two new channels.
On Santorini, a deposit of white tephra thrown from the eruption is to be found, lying up to 60 metres thick overlying the soil marking the ground level before the eruption, and forming a layer divided into three fairly distinct bands indicating different phases of the eruption. New archaeological discoveries by a team of international scientists, in 2006, have revealed that the Santorini event was much more massive than previously thought; it expelled 61 km³ of magma and rock into Earth's atmosphere, compared to previous estimates of only 39 cubic kilometres in 1991, producing an estimated 100 cubic kilometres of tephra. Only the Mount Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, the 181 CE eruption of Lake Taupo, and possibly Baekdu Mountain's 969 CE eruption released more material into the atmosphere during the past 5,000 years.
Speculation on an Exodus connection
In The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Exodus Story, geologist Barbara J. Sivertsen seeks to establish a link between the eruption of Santorini ca. 1628 BC and the Exodus from Egypt in the Bible.
A 2006 documentary film by Simcha Jacobovici, The Exodus Decoded, suggests that the eruption of the Santorini Island volcano (c. 1623 BC, +/-25) caused all the Biblical plagues described against Egypt, re-dating the eruption to c. 1500 BCE. The film claims that the Hyksos were the Israelites and that some of them may have originally been from Mycenae. The film also claims that these original Mycenaean Israelites fled Egypt (which they had in fact ruled for some time) after the eruption, back to Mycenae. The pharaoh with whom they identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus is Ahmose I. Rather than crossing the Red Sea, Jacobovici argued a marshy area in northern Egypt known as the "Reed Sea" would have been alternately drained and flooded by tsunamis caused by the caldera collapse, and could have been crossed during the Exodus.
Speculation on an Atlantis connection
Archaeological, seismological, and vulcanological evidence has been presented linking the Atlantis myth to Santorini. Speculation connecting Crete, Santorini, and the description of Atlantis from Plato was popularized on The History Channel programme Lost Worlds (episode "Atlantis"), and on the Discovery Channel's Solving History with Olly Steeds.
- ↑ Michaēl Phytikas, The South Aegean Active Volcanic Arc: Present Knowledge and Future Perspectives
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis - An Archaeological Odyssey Vintage Books, 1991
- ↑ 
- ↑ TheModernAntiquarian.com, C. Michael Hogan, Akrotiri, The Modern Antiquarian (2007).
- ↑ Manning, Stuart W; Ramsey, CB, Kutschera, W, Higham, T, Kromer, B, Steier, P, and Wild, EM (2006). "Chronology for the Aegean Late Bronze Age 1700-1400 B.C.". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 312 (5773): 565–569. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;312/5773/565. Retrieved 2007-03-10.
- ↑ Warren PM (2006). Czerny E., Hein I., Hunger H., Melman D., Schwab A. (editors). ed. Timelines: Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 149). Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Peeters. pp. 2: 305–321. ISBN 90-429-1730-X.
- ↑ TheraFoundation.org, Minoan Qe-Ra-Si-Ja. The Religious Impact of the Thera Volcano on Minoan Crete.
- ↑ Herodotus iv. 147
- ↑ URI.edu, URI Department of Communications and Marketing
- ↑ NationalGeographic.com, "Atlantis" Eruption Twice as Big as Previously Believed, Study Suggests.
- ↑ Sivertsen, Barbara J (2009). The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Story of the Exodus. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691137704.
- ↑ The Exodus Decoded Office Website
- ↑ "Debunking "The Exodus Decoded"". September 20, 2006. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2006/09/Debunking-The-Exodus-Decoded.aspx. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
- ↑ "The Exodus Decoded: An Extended Review". Tuesday 19 Dec 2006. http://www.heardworld.com/higgaion/?p=459. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
- ↑ "Santorini Eruption (~1630 BC) and the legend of Atlantis". http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/santorini.html. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- ↑ Vergano, Dan (2006-08-27). "Ye gods! Ancient volcano could have blasted Atlantis myth". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2006-08-27-ancient-volcano_x.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- ↑ Lilley, Harvey (20 April 2007). "The wave that destroyed Atlantis". BBC Timewatch. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6568053.stm. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- ↑ "Lost Worlds: CGI: Atlantis". History.com. http://www.history.com/media.do?id=lostworlds_atlantis_broadband&action=clip. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Forsyth, Phyllis Y.: Thera in the Bronze Age, Peter Lang Pub Inc, New York 1997. ISBN 0-8204-4889-3
- NewAdvent.org, Thera (Santorin) - Catholic Encyclopedia article
- Volcano.SI.edu, Global Volcanism Program: Santorini
- History Channel's "Lost Worlds: Atlantis" archeology series. Features scientists Dr. J. Alexander MacGillivray (archeologist), Dr. Colin F. MacDonald (archaeologist), Professor Floyd McCoy (vulcanologist), Professor Clairy Palyvou (architect), Nahid Humbetli (geologist) and Dr. Gerassimos Papadopoulos (seismologist)
- Bond, A. & Sparks, R. S. J. (1976). The Minoan eruption of Santorini, Greece. Journal of the Geological Society of London, Vol. 132, 1–16.
- Doumas, C. (1983). Thera: Pompeii of the ancient Aegean. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Pichler, H. and Friedrich, W.L. (1980). "Mechanism of the Minoan eruption of Santorini". Doumas, C. Papers and Proceedings of the Second International Scientific Congress on Thera and the Aegean World II.
- Santorini travel guide from Wikitravel
- TheraFoundation.org, The Eruption of Thera: Date and Implications
- Santorini.gr, Thira (Santorini) Municipality Official WebSite
- CGS.Illinois.edu , Was the Bronze Age Volcanic Eruption of Thira (Santorini) a Megacatastrophe? A Geological/Archeological Detective Story, Grant Heiken, Independent consultant, author, geologist (retired) Los Alamos National Laboratory; lecture presented at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sponsored by CGS.Illinois.edu, Center for Global Studies and CAS.UIUC.edu, Center for Advanced Study
- Culture.gr, Hellenic Ministry of Culture: Akrotiri of Thera: fully illustrated capsule of the finds
- URI.edu, Santorini Eruption much larger than previously thought
- YourGreekNews.com, Professor Doumas of University of Athens Discusses the Archaeological Significance of Thera - Video Interview
- Santorini Hotels, Thira (Santorini) 360 Virtual Tours of Landmarks, Cafes, Restourants and Hotels
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