To be honest, I’ve never heard of the Akrotiri Archaelogical Site until we started planning for our Santorini trip. It’s usually our habit to watch dozens of related documentaries or videos in YouTube about our destination months before actually going there: First, to learn more about what to expect & plan our schedule better, and second, to build up the excitement of going on a holiday even more. It is from this that we learned about Akrotiri and being huge fans of history and places of antiquity, my wife and I just couldn’t wait to visit the place (so can’t wait that we immediately visited Akrotiri just right after checking in our hotel in Fira, Santorini ha-ha!). So I’m writing this right now for all of you wondering if it was worth visiting to which my answer is definitely a big YES! Let me tell you why!
1. Akrotiri is believed by many to be the long lost city of Atlantis!
Atlantis has long been an object of mystery and fascination many times over ever since Plato has mentioned it in one of his fantastical works as this Utopian city state in a power struggle with an Athens older than what we consider as Ancient Athens which was just present-day Athens for the renowned philosopher (that’s was little bit too much Athens in a sentence). With many theories abound of whether it existed or not, it is quite possible that Plato was referring to a real civilization, as many believe, that flourished in the seas of what is now modern Greece, the Minoans. And like the tragic story of the great city of Atlantis that sank in the middle of the ocean overnight, their civilization suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth because of a great cataclysm – and that is the explosion of a super volcano almost four thousand years ago (one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history; a super volcano whose remains we now know as Santorini.
Akrotiri or what remains of it give experts many reasons as to why it is a strong candidate for being the Atlantis that Plato mentioned:
- Like Atlantis, it was a thriving Minoan Settlement, establishing trade relations with other cultures of the Aegean Sea (mainland Greece, Crete – which was considered the center of Minoan Civilization), the Dodecanese) and beyond, reaching as far as Crete, Syria and Egypt
- Atlantis is known in lore as a city highly advanced for its time, such quality perfectly mirrored by Akrotiri, hundreds of years before the Ancient Romans even established their Eternal City. Such advanced civic & cultural infrastructure is shown by Akrotiri’s paved streets, an extensive drainage system, multi-storied buildings complete with magnificent wall-paintings, furniture and vessels that would make Dark Ages and Medieval Europe shy!
- Topographically described “as an island comprising mostly mountains in the northern portions and along the shore, and encompassing a great plain of an oblong shape in the south”, Atlantis is again mimicked by the pre-Theran Eruption Santorini which was originally a massive circular island.
- And just like Atlantis, Akrotiri’s prosperity was suddenly halted by a great disaster, sinking most of the island’s central areas under the Aegean when the eruption left a great crater which we now see as the vast blues that characterizes Santorini’s caldera. The remaining of the island, including Akrotiri which stretches for around 20 hectares, was buried under volcanic material, waiting for over 3000 plus years before rising up again literally from ashes!
It’s not everyday that you get the chance to visit what might be the famous Atlantis – so better grab the chance while in Santorini – more so because…
2. Atlantis or Akrotiri is very accessible!
Believe it or not, Akrotiri is just a 20-minute bus ride away from Santorini’s capital town of Fira! To get there, just head to the main bus station in Fira and look for the K-tel (the public bus liners that provide the main transportation around Santorini) Bus with the Akrotiri sign on it or ask the guy in the ticket booth (who never seems to sell tickets – tickets are given by the conductor in the bus after collecting your fare – this is the same for all the bus routes as far as I know).
Our bus conductor – the guy with the glasses behind us
It is always better to arrive some minutes earlier than the scheduled departure for each bus to get yourself a comfortable seat as the bus gets really packed with locals and travelers alike. We arrived at Fira Bus Station right after getting ourselves souvlakis for the road (our first decent meal of the day since we weren’t able to have breakfast back in Athens) almost exactly at the 2pm departure time and there weren’t any seats available so we had to stand together with some happy school kids making their way back home to the other parts of Santorini which was a great experience by itself actually!
Our Greece trip is our very first time to go around on our own – before we always got a private tour plus car/tour guide when we traveled – so being able to immerse more and experience how locals lived their daily lives was quite a much welcomed change. Couldn’t help but feel nostalgic while hearing those young Greeks chat and laugh with their friends – reminds me of my earlier student days when I myself had to take the public transport to and from school. They were actually entertained when they caught us taking selfies of ourselves.
By the way, standing in the bus, though fun, would test your agility and ability to balance while in a moving vehicle and more as lots of curves and sharp turns seem to be the main feature of the narrow Santorini roads – there would be times you’ll find yourself holding on to anything just to keep yourself from tumbling over. It feels just like surfing, only on solid ground!
Midway to Akrotiri, some seats got empty as most of the kids have already gotten of so we had a few minutes of leisure time enjoying the fantastic views of the landscape and the less known small villages in the island that are by themselves reasons why you should visit Akrotiri till we got to the bus station right infront of the Akrotiri Archaelogical Site (you can wait at the same stop for the bus going back to Fira).
It’s that easy..and fun! At first we thought going around Santorini was hard but it was just a piece of cake!
Fira to Akrotiri Bus Schedule: buses depart from Fira as early as 8:45 AM, the next would be at 10:00 AM, then it would be hourly till the last bus at 10:00 PM. On the other hand for the Akrotiri to Fira Bus Schedule: the earliest bus departs at 7:20 AM, then 9:05 AM, then hourly from 10:20 AM till the last one going to Fira at 10:20 PM. Fira to Akrotiri & Akrotiri to Fira Bus Fare is only 1.70 Euros each way. The timings and fare may change though so it won’t hurt to double check with your hotel or the bus station.
3. It’s not everyday you get to be transported back in time!
For the Akrotiri ticket price of only 5 Euros (as I remember), you get to be transported back in time! Upon entry in the gate, you need to walk a couple of meters up the Akrotiri Archaeological grounds before stumbling into a mound-like structure.
Just for those of you who are wondering, the opening hours of the Akrotiri Archaelogical Site is from 8am to 8pm from Tuesdays to Sundays; the site is closed on Mondays.
The entrance to the site itself is on the side of this structure, wherein you are greeted with a vast roofed four millennium-old time capsule.
There are tour guides in the area and it is a must to hire one if you want to understand the site better. Unfortunately, time was not on our side so Jill and decided to go around by ourselves.
Good thing there are information boards for most of the areas though it might be too painstakingly long to read for others.
Akrotiri being buried under volcanic material actually benefits us “future humans” as it perfectly preserved the site, sealed away from all destructive elements. As such, it feels like walking through an actual town/city and though some it of the buildings have already crumbled down, there are portions wherein the exterior have been restored giving you the feel of how it must have been like back in its glory days.
Such case is similar to Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius, though the site of Akrotiri has not yet been extensively excavated as its brother in Italy.
There is a miniature of the whole archaeological site, giving guests like us an idea of how extensive the settlement was.
Regardless, it is still a marvelous site to behold, wherein you can imagine people thousands of generations back, older than Themistocles, Leonidas, Alexander the Great etc., living their daily lives, children playing around the street, merchants selling their goods, guests at the taverns merrily drinking wine, craftsmen creating countless works of art.
Such an experience can never be more true than when walking along Telchines Road, where town and three story high houses still contain storage jars…
and at Triangle Square, originally adorned with frescoes (the best restored portion of the site)…
Where you can walk alongside two/three structure building…
Peep through the windows and doors (entry to the houses are not allowed).
Just some steps away are the ruins of a mill.
And a bridge allows you to have an overall view of the town including a pithoi which held grain, flour and oil.
There is also the House of the Ladies (named so due to the frescoes of two voluptuous women and papyrus) within it.
Maybe the part that gives most relief in the story of Akrotiri is the fact that no human bones were ever found, giving most experts the impression that the settlement was abandoned prior to the colossal volcanic eruption (most probably because an explosion that huge gave signals such as earthquakes that the ancient Minoans saw as a red flag, prompting them to leave the island before they got worse).
Due to such sudden exodus from the island, most of the inhabitants only brought with them their most valuable properties – that is why items such as pottery is abundant giving us a glimpse of how they were used: some were for storage and transportation of goods, others for preparing and cooking food, for eating and drinking and many others!
Of all the items recovered in Akrotiri, nothing can show better how culturally artistic they were than the frescoes which decorated the buildings, most of have been moved and can be seen in the New Archaeological Museum of Fira (which sadly, we weren’t able to visit) and at the National Archaeological Museum at Athens (which we visited on our first day in the city – to be blogged soon!).
If you’re like us who always gets some type of souvenir from every place we visit, then you’d be happy to know that there’s a small museum shop in the site. We got ourselves a wooden puzzle of the Flotila Fresco. WCs are just a short walk behind the museum shop.
Santorini is known for leisure vacations but indeed a visit to its roots in Akrotiri is a must to better understand how far back this paradise island has been involved in human history and civilization! Speaking of leisure and I know you want it, you would be happy to know that leisure is literally just around the corner from the archaeological site bringing us to the fourth reason why to include the site to your Santorini Vacation!
4. The famous Santorini Red Beach is just around the corner
From Akrotiri, the famous Red Beach is walking distance. So if you feel like going slow and relaxing, better yet pack your swimming gear when going there as you can enjoy the rest of the day at the beach. Us, arriving mid-afternoon and finishing our visit to the Archaeological Site at around 4:30pm, we decided to skip on swimming because we wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon at Fira and have our seats reserved at V Lounge to watch it’s famous sunset!
5. You’re already in Santorini – maximize your stay there, go to all the places you can go to and enjoy your days in this beautiful island to the fullest!!!
Need I say more?:)
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