The architecture and paintings
The state of preservation of the buildings is remarkable with many standing to two floors, some to three. A good proportion of the houses were built of loose stone with a mud and straw mortar. To give them both strength and flexibility during earth tremors they had large wooden frames to the windows and doors, sometimes reinforced with cut, stone blocks around the frame and at the corners of the buildings. These wooden elements were incinerated by the heat of the volcanic ash which packed around them: this has meant that the archaeologists have had to proceed with extreme caution to avoid the collapse of the buildings. The negative space left by every wood en element has had to be filled with a cement before the internal spaces could be cleared. What look like wooden beams in the houses, are in fact the cement beams of the archaeologists. In places, too, buttresses have had to be added. Alongside the houses in this adobe construction, are a number of large, possibly public, edifices constructed entirely or partially in ashlar masonry, i.e. dry-stone masonry of regularly cut blocks. The two large buildings to either side of the south entrance to the site, designated Xeste 3 and Xeste 4, are good examples, the former being a two-storey block with 14 rooms on each floor. (Xeste in Greek refers to a building of large-cut stone blocks.) Stair cases were generally in stone, and sometimes in wood. The roofs were flat and thermally insulated, comprising cross-beams overlaid with reeds and branches packed and sealed with earth and crushed shells, in a fashion almost identical to traditional Cycladic structures existing today. Floors were constructed similarly and, in more important residences, they were paved with schist slabs. The lowest, semi-basement floors were cool and used for storage, or as workshops: rows of pithoi were commonly found at this level. The upper floor was for reception rooms; their walls were coated with a fine plaster, often coloured or painted, and the most common object they contained was a loom, suggesting that they were predominantly women’s quarters. Privies, with a bench-seat, connected by down-pipes to a communal drain that ran under the paving of the street outside, are found in some houses, for example in room 4 of the West House (see p. 89). Perhaps the most remarkable feature of these houses was the unusual size of their broad, open windows, through which it must have been possible sometimes to see the colourful wall paintings within, from the public spaces outside. These paintings constitute Akrotiri’s greatest gift to our understanding of the Aegean Bronze Age world (see panel above).
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.