Tour of the site
The excavations occupy a long hollow which runs along a north/south axis. Entry to the site is generally at the south (lower) end, into an open space between two large building complexes to left and to right.
Xeste 3, to the left, appears to have been a two-floored dwelling with many rooms and a sacred area, constructed in ashlar masonry. The rooms in the part nearest to us were decorated with paintings, and must have functioned as an adyton, or place of cult. The paintings, depicting the Crocus Gatherers, covered both lower and upper floors; they fea tured women gathering wild crocus and putting them into baskets to offer them to a seated female divinity, flanked by a monkey and a gryphon.
Xeste 4, to the right, which is an extensive three-floor building, is currently under excavation and has revealed interesting decorations, amongst which is a depiction of a boar-tusk helmet, of a kind similar to that described by Homer.
As the open area closes into a small alley to the north, it passes the two-floor Building B (left): this was again magnificently decorated with the famous images of Antelopes and Boxing Children, in which the adjacent images of young, male competition in the human and animal worlds, provided a deliberate iconographic symmetry. A small room on the western side of the same building was decorated with the scene of scrambling Blue Monkeys, which is on display in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Chora (see p. 34).
In Building D, further north to the left, the large door and window frames, and storage areas with pithoi, can be clearly seen as they were found. At this point the municipal drainage system runs beneath the level of the pathway, the built-in down-pipes can also be seen at certain points. An example of a Minoan type of altar in the form of ox-horns, referred to as ‘Horns of Consecration’, is exhibited near to where it was found to the right-hand side, underlining the close cultic links with Crete.
As the street climbs further, a flight of partially collapsed stone steps to an upper floor can be seen to the left. You are now above the area of the cemetery of the earlier, 3rd millennium bc settlement. respect was paid by the later inhabit ants to the sacredness of this spot by the preservation of a small stone cenotaph (to the left) which contained marble figurines and grave goods from the cemetery, and which was always left visible in the city. Further to the north and slightly to the left, at the summit, (currently not accessible) is the so called House of the Ladies, named after the murals (now in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Chora; see p. 29) depicting elegant ladies in flounced dresses, participating in what appears to be a ritual dressing of a priestess or important female person. At the northern extremity of the site is the Building of the Pithoi, where a concentration of variously decorated, standing storage jars were found in a room with a large, low window perhaps used for dispensing the produce. It was here that Spyridon Marinatos made his first sounding on the site in 1967.
The permitted route leads round to the west (left) and down a narrow alley into the small and intimate ‘Triangle’ Square– dominated to the north by the most important building excavated so far, the West House. With little effort we can imagine ourselves in the plateia of a contemporary Cycladic town—something that shows how practical and enduring the design of settlements has been, with narrow, curving streets and small, open areas to break the force of the frequent winds. The West House presents an interesting façade: the low window-lights, just above the ground level, are sufficient to supply ventilation and light for the cool, lower-floor storage areas. At the right-hand end is an en trance doorway with a rectangular window directly beside it: this is a common feature of houses at Akrotiri. It was an enduring arrangement for what may have been a shopfront, and as such recalls the design of shopfronts in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The upper floor is dominated by the central, rectangular window, behind which is a large, ceremonial room; to its west are two rooms which were beautifully decorated. The murals which came from here and occupied almost every kind and shape of space, all partake of a marine theme: the two Fisher-boys Bearing Strings of Fish marched from opposite corners to a meeting point where the small, three-legged offering table, decorated with dolphins (in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Chora; see p. 32) was found by Marinatos. Above were a series of friezes depicting Marine and River Landscapes and a more detailed scene of what appears to have been a Naval Regatta which, even if we are unable fully to understand the nature of the event it depicts, provides through its extraordinary detail invaluable information on costume, architecture, boat design and fauna. These constitute the earliest ‘landscapes’ in European Art.
Another imposing house, Building D, forms the east side of the little plateia. It was from a small room on the far side of this house that the most bucolic of all the Theran paintings comes: the colourful Landscape with Lilies and Swallows (Archaeology Museum, Athens) which formed the backdrop to a ritual, celebrating the returning fertility of spring. The house had a grand entrance which was covered with a roofed porch, open to north and south, which encroaches on the public space, just to the south of the square. It was in the building beyond this that Spyridon Marinatos died while working on the excavations in October 1974. A small memo rial inside the building marks the spot.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.