If Santorini is known as the "Greek Pompeii" and is claimant to the title of the lost Atlantis, it is because of the archaeological site of ancient Akrotiri, near the tip of the southern horn of the island. The site reopened in April 2012 after undergoing lengthy structural repairs of the protective roof spanning the entire enclosed site, which is in fact a whole ancient city buried under the volcanic ashes and much of it still waiting to be unearthed—almost intact.
In the 1860s, in the course of quarrying volcanic ash for use in the Suez Canal, workmen discovered the remains of an ancient town. The town was frozen in time by ash from an eruption 3,600 years ago, long before Pompeii's disaster. In 1967 Spyridon Marinatos of the University of Athens began excavations, which occasionally continue. It is thought that the 40 buildings that have been uncovered are only one-third of the huge site and that excavating the rest will probably take a century.
Marinatos's team discovered
many well-preserved frescoes depicting aspects of Akrotiri life, some now displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens; Santorini wants them back to join the small selection that are on view in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira. Meanwhile, postcard-size pictures of them are posted outside the houses where they were found. The antelopes, monkeys, and wildcats they portray suggest trade with Egypt.
Akrotiri was settled as early as 3000 BC, possibly as an outpost of Minoan Crete, and reached its peak after 2000 BC, when it developed trade and agriculture and settled the present town. The inhabitants cultivated olive trees and grain, and their advanced architecture—three-story frescoed houses faced with masonry (some with balconies) and public buildings of sophisticated construction—is evidence of an elaborate lifestyle. Remains of the inhabitants have never been found, possibly because they might have had advance warning of the eruptions and fled in boats—beds have been found outside the houses, suggesting the island was shaken with earthquakes that made it unwise to sleep indoors.