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Santorini's ancient city of Akrotiri

Abandoned homes at Akrotiri

Ancient Akrotiri of Santorini lay buried for thousands of years

Fragment of Akrotiri fresco
Artefact found in Akrotiri ruins

Recently rebuilt and re-opened to the public after a dramatic roof collapse is the ancient site of Akrotiri, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the Greek Islands.

This former Minoan city was buried intact under tons of volcanic ash following an enormous explosion around 1500 BC and remained undiscovered until 1860.

Excavations have unearthed paved streets flanked by houses filled with artefacts, left by the hapless inhabitants as they fled the scene.

As at Pompeii, in Italy, the ancient artefacts, including wall frescoes, storage jars, pottery and furniture were in a remarkably good state of preservation beneath the ash and pumice.

To preserve the findings, the whole site was totally enclosed by a massive roof structure which collapsed in 2005 and led to the closure of the historic site for nearly eight years, recently re-opened after extensive rebuilding.

The earliest excavations here were carried out by the French after local people found artefacts at a quarry used to mine pumice for use in building the Suez Canal.

Later digs by German archaeologists revealed the ruins of the ancient city and an extensive excavation in 1967 by Greek archaeologists revealed the full glory of the site.

Some historians point to this settlement as a possible inspiration for Plato's story of Atlantis. Many of the excavated artefacts are on display in the in a museum distant Museum of Prehistoric Thera.

Most exhibits are of everyday objects and on one gold object was found which suggests that the city was abandoned in an orderly way with inhabitants removing their valuables before the houses were engulfed.

Particularly impressive were superlative collections of murals and wall frescos although the best of these have been removed and are on display in museums across the world, including the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The site of Ancient Akrotiri gives a unique glimpse into urban life in the Minoan period. The sophisticated architecture and freely drawn frescoes reveal a highly cultured society at on ancient Santorini.

Although a total of 40 buildings have been uncovered on the site, archaeologists believe the city once contained around 1,200 buildings.

Visitors can tour the site and walk along the main street of ancient Akrotiri's main street, a commercial area flanked by storerooms and warehouses full of large earthenware jars known as 'pitho' that held olive oil or fish.

Large plaques are sited at strategic points across the site with comprehensive descriptions in four languages and there are small pictures of the frescoes sited next to the houses from which they were removed.