Akrotiri – Excavations of an Ancient City in Santorini in Greece

In 1967, excavations on the Greek island of Santorini uncovered an ancient Greek city near the village of Akrotiri. The settlement had been hidden by layers of pumice and volcanic ash for almost 4000 years, caused by the largest and most violent volcanic eruption on Earth in the last few thousand years. Multi-storey sophisticated houses decorated with vibrant frescoes and furniture was what the archaeologists found and which can be admired today at the site of the Akrotiri excavations at Cape Akrotiri in Santorini.

 

Santorini Island

The Greek Cycladic island group of Santorini in the Aegean Sea is most famous for its still active volcano. Exactly the eruption of this volcano created thousands of years ago the stunning cliffs which are so typical for Thira (which is the official name for Santorini).

Caldera Santorini

It also created the enormous lagoon around which the islands of Santorini are situated. This spectacular volcanic eruption caused part of the island to sink into the sea, creating a caldera or crater filled with water with a depth of four hundred meters.

The Akrotiri Excavations are located at Cape Akrotiri, near the caldera of Santorini.
View over the caldera around which the islands of Santorini are located. Photo by Esteban Chiner.

Islands of Santorini

The biggest island, Santorini, bears the same name as the island group and has a surface of 73 km2 (28 sq mi). Here you find the capital Fira on the highest point of the cliff, looking out over the caldera.

The island group of Santorini consists of one more inhabited island, Therasia, and several uninhabited islands: Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana.

Map of Santorini

Santorini Greece map.
The islands of Santorini in the Aegean Sea in Greece.

Akrotiri – Excavations of the Ancient City

The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is located at the southwestern part of the main island, about 15 km from Fira. Here you will find the impressive remains of the ancient Akrotiri.

Akrotiri excavations in Santorini Greece
Akrotiri map (Akrotiri Peninsula) .

The Ancient Minoan City of Akrotiri

Santorini was about 3600 years ago home to an important Greek settlement in the Aegean Sea, the Minoan city of Akrotiri. Since early Bronze Age (about 6000 years ago) the city had gradually developed, until by the Late Bronze Age it had become a highly advanced, extremely wealthy urban center with an important port.

Actually we don’t know how the city was called in ancient times. When after excavations in the area of the village of Akrotiri remains of a lost city were found, it was decided to give it the name of the nearby village.

Minoan Civilization

Ancient Akrotiri was a colony of the Minoan civilization that existed on the neighboring island of Crete, 140 km south of Santorini. The Minoan civilization was Europe’s first important civilization and was named after their king Minos. Their people were highly skilled, excelling in engineering, craftsmanship, and arts. They were the first Europeans to use a written language, known as Linear A.

The Minoan civilization flourished from approximately 3600 BC to 1400 BC.

Minoan civilization.
An example of Minoan art.

Minoan Cities

The Minoans became a naval power of great importance in the Aegean Sea and their cities were very prosperous and highly developed. Do many places in the world still lack sewage systems, almost 4000 years ago in Greece they were present, so were toilets on the higher floors of the buildings!

Akrotiri Santorini a Major Naval Power

The Minoan settlement on Santorini didn’t comprise of palaces like the Minoan settlement on nearby Crete, instead, it was a high functioning merchant town with an important port. Objects found at the Akrotiri excavations show that its people were of the main naval powers in the Aegean, having relations with the Greek Mainland, Syria, Crete, and Egypt.

Fira to Akrotiri & Oia to Akrotiri

The remains of the prosperous Minoan city of Akrotiri can be seen at the Akrotiri Archaeological Site. This ancient settlement is only a twenty-minute drive from Fira or forty minutes from Oia.

The time to get from Oia to Akrotiri is only forty minutes.
Dream village Oia on Santorini by night. Photo by by David Spender.

Is Santorini Atlantis?

About 2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher and scientist Plato wrote about a incredibly wealthy and advanced civilization on an island. The people of this island had become very unethical and greedy.

In one night the island disappeared in the sea, due to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods. It was speculated that this was the divine punishment for its people.

Scientists and adventures have searched for Atlantis for centuries, and one of the speculations is that Plato was referring to the island of Santorini.

Others think Plato just invented the story to warn people about the consequences of being unethical and greedy, and that the island was just fictional.

The mystery of Santorini and Atlantis may never be unraveled.

Destruction of Ancient Akrotiri

Ancient Akrotiri was destroyed in the Theran eruption sometime in the 16th century BC and buried in volcanic ash. This is about 1500 years before the volcanic eruption in Pompeii, Italy, which makes the preservation of the buildings, streets, sewage systems, frescoes and pottery of the ancient city of Akrotiri even more impressive!

Pompeii in Italy

Recall that Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near today’s Naples in Italy that was buried under four to six meters (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Although the site of the Akrotiri excavations is smaller than that of Pompeii, tourists that have visited both agree that Akrotiri is at least as good, if not better than Pompeii.

In Pompeii human remains have been found under the layers of ashes and pumice caused by the volcanic eruption. Unlike Pompeii, they didn’t find any human remains in Akrotiri, nor did they find any really valuable objects. It’s certain all inhabitants of ancient Akrotiri had evacuated before the volcano erupted and had taken everything of worth with them.

End of Minoan Civilization

Some scholars state that the volcanic eruption caused the end of the Minoan civilization because the earthquakes and tsunami even destroyed the Minoan settlements on Crete. But actually, it is still unknown how exactly the Minoan civilization ceased to exist.

The Akrotiri Excavations with ancient houses.
The Akrotiri excavations in Santorini have uncovered an entire ancient Minoan city. Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis.

The Akrotiri Excavations Site

The Akrotiri excavations are an amazing archaeological site to visit throughout the year. All the ruins are covered by a roof, so you will never walk in the sun or rain. The only thing is it gets pretty hot in there during summer as there is no air-conditioning.

There is not much information on the site, which makes it a good idea to book a guided tour. These tours start at several places in Santorini. Sometimes you will be able to get a tour on the site, but often they are too busy.

The  Akrotiri excavations have a surface of about twenty hectares, but most of the ancient Akrotiri hasn’t been excavated yet. After an accident, the site was closed for a couple of years. It was reopened in 2012.

At the Akrotiri site, wooden walkways run above the ruins, so you are able to see the site from different angles. At some places, you can walk among the streets at ground level.

how to get to akrotiri.
A sign shows you how to get to the Akrotiri excavations.

Akrotiri Ruins

At the Akrotiri excavations you will find a dozen houses built on either side of a narrow street, while there are also larger, free-standing houses. The multi-storeyed houses had storage areas below and the residential levels were reached by stone stairways.

Akrotiri Frescoes

Unfortunately, the wall paintings that were found in the houses at the Akrotiri archaeological site cannot be admired at the site. Most of the originals are in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, and some of them in the Prehistoric Museum in Fira, Santorini’s capital.

Akrotiri frescoes.
Wall paintings were found in all of the buildings and houses in ancient Akrotiri.

Maybe you will spend some time in Athens before and after visiting Santorini. Check out this blog post on 50 things to do in Athens. The blog post is written for families with kids, but even without kids you definitely will get inspiration out of the many ideas.

How to get to the Akrotiri Excavations

The most easy way to get to the Akrotiri archaeological site is by rental car or with a private guided tour with a pick up from your hotel.

There are also regular public buses from Fira that take you to the parking of the Red Beach of Akrotiri. From there it’s a walk of about 250 meters to the archaeological site.

A chapel near the Akrotiri Archaeological Site in Santorini
A typical Cycladic, white painted chapel with blue accents not far from the Akrotiri ruins. Photo by Randy Connolly.

You can also get off the bus at the ‘modern’ Akrotiri village. From here you can walk to the site.

Take a look at the timetables of KTEL Santorini for more precise information.

Information on Akrotiri Excavations Site

Always check the information on the official site of the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, as it can differ from the information below.

Akrotiri Santorini Opening Hours

winter
  • November 1 – March 31: 08.00 a.m. – 03.00 p.m. Monday closed.
summer
  • April 15 – October 31: 08.00 a.m. – 08.00 p.m.

Tickets

A normal ticket costs 12 euros, a reduced ticket 6 euros. You can also buy a combined ticket for 14 euros, which gives you access to three more places.

In Akrotiri Greece pottery has been uncovered.
Pottery at the archaeological site of Akrotiri in Greece. Photo by Carolyn Sugg.
Free Admission Days

On several days during the year you can enter the Akrotiri Excavations for free: 6 March, 18 April, 18 May, last weekend of September annually, 28 October, every first Sunday from 1 November to 31 March.

Visit Akrotiri, a quiet stay in Santorini

Santorini is one of the most photographed islands in the world because of its natural beauty and Cycladic architecture. The impressive white painted houses hanging off the cliffs, the small winding alleys and blue topped churches add to the special character of Santorini island.

Fira and Oia

The island’s beauty and amenities attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and especially the most popular main towns of the island, Fira and Oia, can get extremely crowded. The result is that much of the authentic Greek atmosphere has disappeared.

Around Akrotiri Village Santorini

In order to avoid the crowds you can choose to stay in the area around the charming Akrotiri village, only two kilometers from the Akrotiri excavations. Here you will find more authentic places in Santorini.

Akrotiri village Santorini
The ‘modern’ village of Akrotiri on Cape Akrotiri.

Nice things to take with you on your trip to Santorini Greece:

Unfortunately, the links to these items are only accessible outside the European Union.

Moosejaw S'well Wood Collection Bottle
Moosejaw S’well Wood Collection Bottle
Moosejaw Kavu Women’s Rope Bag
Moosejaw Garmin Vivoactive 3 Watch
Moosejaw Garmin Vivoactive 3 Watch

Some other impressive archaeological sites you can visit on mainland Greece are Dion Archaeological Park, Aigai & the Vergina Tombs, and Mycenae. For even more Greek historic sites, click here!

Beaches at Cape Akrotiri

There are a couple of beaches around the Akrotiri Excavations. Some are difficult to reach beaches without any amenities, but beautiful views. Other beaches around Akrotiri are pretty luxurious. You will even find some beaches at the Caldera. Everything about these beaches you can read in the blog post >> Caldera Beaches and more beaches around the Akrotiri Excavations.

Vlychada Beach on Santorini, near cape Akrotiri Greece.
Vlychada Beach Santorini, near Akrotiri.

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