Excavations of Akrotiri that showcase the rich Santorini history
Excavations of Akrotiri that showcase the rich Santorini history

Nestled in the embrace of the Aegean Sea, Santorini stands as a living testament to the eons that have shaped the island. Santorini’s history is a tapestry woven with threads of mythology, geological marvels, and the imprints of diverse civilizations.

Each layer unfolds a story that spans millennia, inviting you to step back in time and traverse the rich narrative of Santorini’s existence. Join us on an enchanting journey through the ages as we uncover the myths, explore the enormous volcanic eruption, and witness the metamorphosis that has defined this iconic Greek island.


Santorini mythology: The intriguing myths that add to its charm

Santorini’s allure extends beyond its physical beauty, with legends connecting it to the mythical city of Atlantis and the epic adventures of ancient Greek heroes. Let’s see each one separately.


1. Santorini & the Myth of Lost Atlantis

The legendary city of Atlantis, first mentioned by the philosopher Plato, was an advanced civilization that met catastrophic destruction thousands of years ago.

Santorini has long been associated with the Atlantis myth due to the geological similarities, Minoan connection and time proximity of the eruption.  

A fictional story or a reality? No one is sure! Yet, the possible association with the legend adds an extra layer of intrigue to the island’s narrative. 


2. Santorini & its mythical formation

According to a Greek myth, Santorini was formed from a lump of earth that the argonaut Euphemus threw into the sea after a dream. 

More specifically, Euphemus saw an erotic dream in which he was making love to a beautiful nymph who got pregnant! As she didn’t want to enrage her father, Triton, who was a mighty sea god, she advised her lover to create a refuge for her to hide and give birth to their child.

The dream was so lifelike that when he woke up, he carried a clog of earth from Anafi island to his pocket, which he threw into the sea once they sailed away. All of a sudden, the stunning island of Santorini was created.


How was Santorini formed?


The shape of Santorini


Santorini was formed after the massive Minoan eruption around 1600 BCE, a cataclysmic event that reshaped the island’s geological profile. Up until then, Santorini was part of a big circular island called Strogili.

As the volcano erupted, it expelled vast amounts of magma, causing the central portion of Strogili to collapse into the sea. This event gave birth to the iconic caldera—a submerged crater with Santorini and neighboring islands forming. 


How did the Santorini eruption affect history?

The eruption left an indelible mark on the broader Mediterranean area. Its impact extended far beyond the island’s shores, triggering a series of events that rocked the ancient world. 

The colossal ash cloud blanketed the sky, affecting climate patterns. Furthermore, the resulting tsunamis surged across the Aegean, contributing to the decline of the flourishing Minoan civilization in nearby Crete.


When was Santorini first inhabited?

According to archaeological findings, the first traces of human presence on the island date back to the Neolithic Period. The island later became a bustling Minoan colony, with Akrotiri as its vibrant center. This advanced settlement thrived up until the Thera eruption, boasting sophisticated architecture and art.


Santorini’s history throughout the different ages

The island’s strategic location in the Aegean made it a coveted prize, witnessing the rise and fall of empires. 

Tracing the history of Santorini, we navigate through eras marked by diverse conquerors. Each civilization left a lasting imprint, shaping the island’s cultural fabric and architectural styles.

  1. Ancient times:  The first ones to re-inhabit the island were the Phoenicians, who stayed for 5 generations. Around the 9th century BC, Lacedaemonians took the baton, establishing Santorini as a powerful commercial and trade hub.
  2. Roman occupation: The Romans settled on Santorini during the 2nd century BC, incorporating the island into the Roman Republic. This period lasted until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.
  3. Byzantine period: Following that, Santorini came under Byzantine rule, an era of prosperity reflected in the island’s architecture and churches. It endured until 1204, with intermittent interruptions due to Arab and Norman invasions.
  4. Venetian rule: The Venetians seized control of Santorini in 1204. Their dominion is eminent through the fortifications and grand residences across the island and lasted until the 16th century.
  5. Ottoman occupation: The Ottoman Turks occupied Santorini from 1579 until the early 20th century when it became part of the Greek state. During this period, it became a maritime powerhouse known for its sailors and shipbuilders.


Older black and white image of Oia representing the history of Santorini


The modern history of Santorini

After the liberation from Ottoman rule in 1912, Santorini entered a new chapter. Here are some key points from Santorini’s recent history:

  • World Wars: Santorini, along with the rest of Greece, was affected by the turbulence of the 20th century, including both World Wars.
  • Post-war reconstruction: After WWII, Santorini faced reconstruction challenges as residents tried to rebuild infrastructure and communities.
  • Earthquake in 1956: Santorini was struck by a powerful earthquake in 1956, causing damage to many buildings. The main focus following the earthquake was the preservation and restoration of traditional Cycladic architecture.
  • Cultural and archaeological discoveries: In recent decades, archaeological excavations on Santorini have unearthed significant historical artifacts, contributing to our understanding of the island’s ancient past.
  • Tourism boom: In the latter half of the 20th century, Santorini experienced a significant surge in tourism. The island’s unique landscapes, archaeological sites, and cultural richness attracted visitors from around the world, leading to economic growth.


How does Santorini look now and why you should visit it asap

Due to the above, Santorini has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from a quiet Aegean island to a globally renowned tourist destination. 

Its modernization has been a delicate dance between preserving its heritage and embracing the demands of contemporary travel. As tourism flourished, its picturesque landscapes, charming villages, and unique architecture became iconic symbols of the Greek Isles. 

So, if you want to experience its enduring charm and learn even more about its history, we are here to welcome you! Browse our Santorini day tours, and let us be your expert guides during this memorable travel journey.



FAQs about Santorini, Greece

Why is Santorini so famous?

Santorini is world-renowned for its dazzling sunsets, picturesque Cycladic architecture, dramatic caldera and diverse volcanic landscapes, all of which add to its timeless charm.


What happened to the island of Santorini?

Once part of a larger island known as Strogili, Santorini was dramatically transformed by the catastrophic Thera eruption around 1600 BCE. This colossal volcanic event caused the island’s center to collapse, creating a massive caldera and forever reshaping its landscape into the stunning form we see today.

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