Thera island (Cyclades) 2 Santorini - Θήρα

Θήρα - Thera I., volcanic island, the modern Santorini, famous for the Akrotiri investigations and Hellenistic city of Thera

Modern description McGilchrist's Greek Islands

Santorini has one of the richest and most varied archaeological histories of any island. The volcanic nature of the island, even before the great eruption in the 2nd millennium BC, has always shaped its history, forcing the early inhabitants into a life of maritime trade and shipping rather than agricultural production, pushing them to evolve new methods of construction to withstand their seismically active terrain, and giving them an array of brilliant volcanic earths with which to decorate their walls with paintings.
Recent pottery finds at Akrotiri from the 5th millennium BC have resulted in a pushing back of the date for the first settlement of the island in Neolithic times. Although there were other smaller settlements around the island by the mid-3rd millennium, Akrotiri appears to have been the principal centre, laying the foundations for what was to become a great and cosmopolitan port in the Middle Bronze Age looking across the water to Crete. It was well-placed to profit from the copper-trading route from Cyprus, via Rhodes and Thera, to Crete and mainland Greece. The city was damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt several times before it was finally destroyed by a volcanic eruption generally held to have occurred in the late 16th century BC (though scientific opinion on this date is far from agreed and some would date the eruption almost a century earlier), which buried all human settlement and radically changed the shape of the island through the collapse of part of it under the sea. This has given rise to suggestions that it was Metropolis, the destroyed capital of the lost ‘continent' of Atlantis. The island was subsequently uninhabited for several centuries.
Herodotus says that the island was originally called Strongyle (‘round'); later it was referred to as Kalliste (‘most beautiful'). In tradition it was colonised by the Phoenicians, led by Cadmus. In the 9th or 8th century BC, Ancient Thera, a Dorian colony from Laconia was established on an isolated mountain site in the southeast corner of the island. It was, in true Dorian fashion, conservative in culture and in its external relations; but it was one of the first Aegean centres to adopt the Phoenician alphabet for writing the Greek language. Around 630 BC, it was forced by a protracted drought to found its own colony, Cyrene, on the north coast of Africa. In the late 6th century BC it minted its own coins, bearing the motif of two dolphins.
Together with Melos, Thera avoided alliance with Athens in the 5th century BC, and at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431/430 BC, managed to escape the unpleasant fate of Melos at the hands of the Athenians; but it was later assessed to pay a tribute of three talents to the First Athenian League. After the Athenian defeat in 404 BC, the island returned to the sphere of Spartan influence. After 375 BC, however, it was absorbed with the other Cycladic islands into the Second Athenian League. In Hellenistic times, the island's strategic position was particularly valued by the Ptolemies, who built Thera and its ports up into an important, garrisoned naval base of considerable prosperity; they maintained it until the death of Ptolemy VI ‘Philometor' in 145 BC. Many of the ruins visible today at Ancient Thera date from this period.
We hear of a Christian bishop of Thera, Dioscorus, in the Santorini 13 mid-4th century, whose seat was probably the Basilica of St Irene at Períssa, after which the island was later named. In the early 12th century, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus founded the church of the Panaghia Episkopí in the centre of the island. After Marco Sanudo, nephew of Doge Dandolo who had led the 4th Crusade, took the Cyclades in 1207, he ceded Santorini and Therasía to one of his followers, Giacomo Barozzi, whose descendants ruled the island from a capital at Skaros (near Imerovígli) until the Sanudo family, under Niccolo I Sanudo, desired to take it back again. He expelled the Barozzi in 1335, assuming the lordship of the island and giving the fortress of Akrotiri, in the south of the island, to the Gozzadini family. The Sanudo possessions passed to the Crispi family in 1397, and Santorini was ceded as a marriage dowry to Domenico Pisani, Duke of Crete in 1480. The island was attacked by Khaireddin Barbarossa in 1537, but came under Turkish dominion only later in 1566. In 1821 Santorini's fleet contributed considerably to the Greek War of Independence; in 1832 the island officially became part of the Greek State.


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