Santorini is deeply rich in history. Not only is this magnificent island known for its volcano and history, it is also known for the many changes and transformations it has taken on over time in the means of geological shape, leadership and names, to mention a few.
According to excavations and searches, the first traces of human presence on the island dates to 4500 BC, during the Neolithic Period. At that time, an important and sophisticated civilization existed near Akrotiri, at the south end of the island, next to the famous Red beach. This civilization is also referred to as the “Pompeii of the Aegean” or even Plato’s “Lost Atlantis.” It has been proven that Akrotiri was a Minoan city, reaching its peak as a thriving civilized community between 2000-1600 BC, playing a key role in sea trade and then completely devastated after the Minoan volcanic eruption in 1613 BC. Currently, only the southern tip of this large town has been excavated. 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. Its streets, squares, building structures and walls were preserved in the layers of volcanic rock and ash ejected and deposited, indicating this was a major town. The houses were plentiful of frescoes and pottery, showing naturalistic landscapes of animals and humans.
During this ancient time, Santorini was known as Strongyli, meaning “circular” or “round” in Greek. That was until a massive volcanic explosion occurred in 1613 BC. It is now said to have reached a level of 7 by the Volcanic Explosivity Index and to have been the worst eruption on Earth in the last 10,000 years. This Minoan eruption completely devastated the island and its community, sinking 1/3 of the island and breaking it into three pieces: Thera (or Santorini), Aspronisi, and Therassia. The eruption was so enormous, causing global impact with ash and material reaching the stratosphere and creating a tsunami that spread over 100 kilometers in radius. Due to the effects of this eruption, many believe is the main cause of the destruction of the great Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. In addition, because it was proven that Akrotiri was a wealthy, sophisticated society and that the sinking of the island relates so closely to Plato’s myth of Atlantis, many theorize that Santorini is the location of the Lost Atlantis.
In the 9th century B.C., Dorians from Sparta reclaimed the island in a settlement on the mountain, Mesa Vouno. They named the island "Thera" in honor of their Spartan King Theras, which is also the official name of the island today. According to history, Phoenicians settled on ancient Thera around 1,300 BC and inhabited the island for five generations.
Then, approximately around 1100 BC, the island was occupied by the Lacedaemonians. Around 825 BC, the Phoenician alphabet was imported on the island and the Hellenic language was created. In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Thera had commercial and trade relations with most of the islands and cities of Greece. During the Hellenistic Period, Thera, became an important trade center and naval base because of its central and strategic location in the Aegean.
Between 1200 AC and 1579 AC, the island was under Byzantine rule and the church of Episkopi Gonia is founded. In 1204 AC, the island is surrendered to the Venetian Marco Sanudo and becomes part of the Duke of the Aegean. The name “Santorini” was given to the island by the Venetians after the Crusades in the 13th century. This name was derived after 'Santa Irini', the Italian name for the church of Saint Irene. During the Venetian reign until the 16th century, Santorini suffered continuous pirate intrusions. Therefore, the citizens had to move their settlements further inland where Latin colonists started to build Castellis (castles) so that the people could find shelter and protection. Each castelli had a 'Goulas', which is the highest tower that was used to defend and keep watch of pirate raids. Plus, at the entrance of every castelli, there was a church dedicated to Saint Theodosia, who was considered the protector of castles. Santorini once had 5 castellis located on Skaros, Akrotiri, Emporio, Oia and Pyrgos. The oldest of which was built on the Skaros Rock at the beginning of the 13th century. After its destruction by an earthquake, it was abandoned and the people moved further inland to Imerovigli. Today it is hard to imagine that there once was an entire castle and city built up on this rock, which the local Greeks refer to as the “tooth.”
During the Turkish reign (1579-1821), the island developed commercial and trading development with the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. The period that follows is quite prosperous due to the economic and cultural growth.
In 1912, Santorini was integrated in the Greek State and enjoyed a thriving shipping trade until World War II in the 20th century, in which Santorini's economy declines and the inhabitants abandon the island after the catastrophic earthquake in 1956.
It wasn’t until the end of the 1970’s that Santorini developed as a tourist attraction, making Santorini one of the most popular holiday destinations in all the world. Each summer, flocks of people depart their cruise ships and airplanes to enjoy the spectacular views of Santorini’s caldera and sunset, hike to the crater of Nea Kameni (the volcanic islet), get married or take a honeymoon, and just take in the splendor of this mystical and breathtakingly beautiful island.