The Hellenistic city
As you climb towards the remains of the city itself from the entrance to the enclosed area you pass the double-nave church of Aghios Stephanos, which dates from perhaps as early as the 9th century ad, and is built within the remains of a 5th century ad Early Christian basilica, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The chapel is constructed with antique material—its vaulted, cave-like interior, reminiscent of Aghios Kosmas on Kythera in the ubiquitous use of ancient spolia. Monolithic columns without capitals rudimentarily support the vaults, and ancient blocks and tomb-covers from the Christian basilica, engraved with crosses and inscriptions, constitute parts of the walls. The area of rock behind the church shows signs of quarrying: all the stone in Ancient Thera, apart from the elements of white marble and red, volcanic stone, comes from the ridge itself.
Fifty metres beyond Aghios Stephanos you come to the Temenos or Shrine of Artemidoros of Perge, who was admiral of the Ptolemaic fleet in the late 4th century bc. Little remains of the superstructure of what was a grand and complex monument, intended equally to honour a group of divinities and to promote his own glory. The carved symbols of the principal divinities are clearly visible in the rock face behind: the dolphin of Poseidon, the lion of Apollo and the eagle of Zeus. Artemidorus—as sailor and admiral—has had his own image positioned above the dolphin of Poseidon and carved in numismatic profile. The cutting away of the platform of the shrine would have provided stone for construction in the town.
After a final rise with steps, the path drops into the agora of the city. The area is not built around a central square as was most common, but is drawn out along the ridge of the mountain, as determined by the steep lie of the land. The bases of shops are seen to the seaward side, while the residential area climbs up above, to the right. This is a good point at which to observe the variety of masonry: in the shops are many elements in a dark red, volcanic pumice brought from the north of the island, which provides vivid chromatic re lief; visible on the hillside, well below to the left, is the perfect, drafted, 4th-century bc masonry of the corner bastion of a deep podium for a building on the slope, referred to as the ‘platys teichos’, or ‘broad wall’. On the hill above the agora, the walls display areas of similarly well-cut and laid ashlar masonry, alternating with other areas of rough and irregular masonry: the latter would probably have been faced with plaster, the former left exposed. This meant that the appearance of the ancient town was not that dissimilar to many historic Mediterranean towns today, in which the corners of large buildings—which always take the brunt of knocks and bangs—are in clean masonry, while the long stretches of wall were rendered with a stucco. On the slope, the public buildings to the seaward side broke the wind, and reflected the stepped buildings facing them higher up. The streets of the area are endowed with a network of covered drains.
A little further along the main path and to the right-hand side is the so-called Royal Stoa, an elongated building, with a central spine of columns, running below terraces above. This was a roofed and closed edifice, built at the start of the 1st century ad, which functioned as the city’s principal civic and judicial building. The central columns supported a hipped roof which (according to inscriptions) collapsed in an earthquake during the reign of Trajan and had to be re stored. The building would have exhibited decrees inscribed on stelai, similar to those in the back wall of the building which have been haphazardly immured there at a later date. To the south, the main street narrows, passing a municipal water-house—a communal cistern which husbanded the city’s precious supply of stored water, so as to supplement that of the private houses which were nearly all endowed with individual cisterns for collecting rainwater. To the east of it, opens out the small, highly panoramic, 3rd-century bc theatre. This began as a Greek-style theatre with a circular orchestra and low skene; but, as often happened, it was re modelled in roman times with a large skene which now took up half the space of the original orchestra. The street beyond the theatre leads down between finely built ashlar walls of houses to either side, towards the oldest and most sacred area of the town. Before following it, we retrace our steps to the north end of the royal Stoa, so as to explore the residential area further uphill.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.