Santorini's history is not only a history of people. It is a history of a land that has the admirable privilege of evolving on a normal basis, even to this day. For one to understand such an essential issue, they must understand that there was a time when the Cyclades resided in the Aegean, absent Santorini.
That one day the island rose from the depths of the sea, dried out and slowly became inhabited and met a great civilization and suddenly half of the island submerged and was buried under a pile of ashes.
Santorini, according to Greek mythology, originated from a clod of earth presented to the Argonauts by sea god Triton, son of Neptune and Venus. The island was first called Strongyle (round) because of its circular shape and while it is not really known for sure when the first settlers arrived in Santorini, from what we know Santorini was inhabited before 2000 BC, first by the Phoenicians and then by the Dorians.
The first settlers called the island Kallisti (beautiful) and it developed as a sophisticated outpost of Minoan civilization until the volcanic eruption between 1550-1500 BC, which destroyed Santorini and with it the great Minoan civilizations of Crete.
The whole island was buried under a thick layer of pumice, which at many points is over thirty meters deep. This catastrophe must have been accompanied by enormous tidal waves, believed to have reached a height of 210 meters before slamming against the shores of Aegean.
After the eruption of the volcano, the island remained uninhabited for about two centuries. Traces of human life have been found, dating to the late 13th century B.C.
The island has been a top discussion between archaeologists and scholars as to whether Santorini was the site of the legendary lost continent of Atlantis, the Happy Isle, as described by Egyptian papyri thousands of years ago and supported by ancient Greek writers like Solon and Plato.
In the beginning, the Greek earth was covered by water. Gradually and after cosmogonic upheavals in the bowels of the planet, sections of dry land rose up above the water some 30.000.000 years ago and created Aigeida. Aigeida was a single land mass that stretched from the Ionian Sea to Asia Minor and the south coast of Crete. The geological shifts in the earth's crust continued. With the passage of time, the sea penetrated the interior of Aigeida breaking it into pieces. Part of it, what is today covered by the Aegean Sea, sank, leaving only its mountain peaks which still protrude above the surface. In the place now occupied by Santorini a rocky islet had remained, at what corresponds today to the district of Profitis Elias and Pyrgos.
From this time on, the subsequent evolution of the island into its present shape was the result of the long-term activity of volcanoes, which had appeared in the region as early as 26.000.000 years or so before.
Thus, about 2.000.000 years ago, the first volcanic craters began to be formed southwest of Prophitis Elias. Over the time, the craters broke through the surface of the sea and then united to form what is now Akrotiri.
In 1967 Greek archaeologists dug a tunnel in the pumice at Akrotiri, a Minoan town of the 16th century BC, and found a Bronze Age town of some 30.000 inhabitants. Volcanic ash has preserved two and three-story buildings with walls decorated by Minoan paintings. No skeletons, precious jewelry or gold have been found in Akrotiri, indicating that the residents must have been prewarned of the catastrophe, probably by earth tremors.
After the great eruption, which destroyed what civilization was found on the island, Santorini remained uninhabited for a long time, the next residents were the Phoenicians around 1000 BC.
The ruins of ancient Thira, excavated at the turn of the century by German archaeologists, have tombs and inscriptions that indicate that the capital of the Dorian colonists was situated there from the ninth century BC. The Ptolemies set up an important garrison here to keep watch over the archipelago.
During the eighth century BC a Theban hero, Thiras, left Sparta where he was reigning and brought a group of noblemen with him to settle in Santorini. The island was subsequently called after him, Thira, and is known by that name officially ever since.
Herodotus writes that Santorini had seven towns during that period and was governed by King Grinnas, who upon the advice of the oracle at Delphi sent an expedition to Cyrene in Africa where many Thirans settled and prospered. During the Persian wars, Thirans were on the side of the conquerors and in 476 BC refused to join the Athenian alliance as they considered themselves Dorians. Santorini joined the tributary of Athens, however, a short time later and was forced to pay five talands (ancient Greek currency) as a tribute. Not satisfied with the Athenians, the Thirans then submitted to the Spartan sovereignty and obtained independence only with the Antalkidios pact. However, this independence was not totally respected by the Spartans.
Santorini was made a naval base in the Aegean by the Ptolemies while during the roman domination very little is known about the activities of the island.
With the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Santorini was ruled by Constantinople.
Christianity reached Thera in the 3rd century and by the start of the 4th century it had an organized church, which is referred to as the Bishopric of Thera, the first Bishop having been Dioskouros. This is a proven fact from a written document found in the old basilica of St. Michael at ancient Thira.
The island was first mentioned as Santorini by the Arab geographer Edizi in one of his journeys in the Cyclades in 1153. The name derives from the island's church of St. Irene. Foreign seamen used to call the saint, Santa Irini, and in the course of time this became Santorini.
Santorini came under the sway of Venice during the Byzantine period ending in 1204. It was handed over to the dukes of Naxos along with 17 other islands in 1207. In 1269 the Byzantine Greeks reconquered Santorini but in 1296 the Venetians took over the rule of the island.
A dreadful volcanic eruption submerged half of Palia Kameni in 1452 and the islanders suffered hardships from the constant attacks by pirates who helped dwindle Santorini's population to just 300. When the Catholics settled on the island, they exerted an influence over the residents and founded educational institutes and a local civilization flourished once again.
In 1537 the Moslem pirate Barbarossa, with the help of the Sultan of Turkey, terrorized the Cyclades islands and ceded Santorini to the Turks. The islanders gained their independence in 1821. Captain Evangelos Matzarakis raised the flag of liberty on the island on May 5 of that year.
In World War II the Italians and Germans occupied Santorini until October 18, 1944. An earthquake in 1956 caused death and destruction on the island and it took islanders a few years after that to get back on their feet again. During that period, Santorini attracted the interest of many scientists, archaeologists, historians and geologists and slowly was lifted back to center stage.
As time goes by more and more people are discovering it. Its reconstruction is well on its way and works are being undertaken to modernize its infrastructure. Today the past seems very remote. During the summer months this once ignored Aegean island attracts a herd of visitors. For thousands of Greeks and foreigners it has become an ideal holiday spot.