Santorini History Facts and Timeline

(Santorini, Cyclades, Greece)

Best known for its huge volcano eruption some 3,500 years ago and also for being the legendary site of Atlantis, Santorini history is nothing if not interesting.

More importantly, the island boasts stunning Minoan archaeological sites and historic Venetian architecture, making for a good alternative to the beaches.

Volcanic Displacement

People were living on the island of Santorini way back in Neolithic times, and archaeological digs at Red Beach and Akrotiri suggest that it was home to a Minoan colony towards the end of this period, around 3500 BC. The big event on Santorini was to take place in 1500 BC or thereabouts, namely the eruption of the Strongili volcano, the island's namesake for many years to come. It was later called the island of Thira / Thera, before becoming known as Santorini.

Although Santorini today comprises a small collection of islands, it was in fact one island before the cataclysmic eruption. The blast was so large that the centre of the island sank, creating a huge caldera some 400 metres / 1,310 feet deep and ringed by islands. Legend has it that this event led to the extinction of the Minoan civilisation and perhaps that of mythical Atlantis. The volcano is still active and most recently blew its top in 1956, with this seismic activity resulting in a severe earthquake, causing Rocca village and its fortress to topple into the sea.

Archaeological Sites and Ancient History

The history of Santorini is best seen at the Akrotiri archaeological site on the south-western side of the island. It remains one of Greece's most important sites - an entire Minoan town recovered from the ashes, although the majority of the relics are now displayed at the Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Fira, the island capital, also comes with a number of ancient ruins, although they are not quite in the same league as those of Akrotiri. The digs here reveal examples of Roman and Greek architecture, as well as that of the Byzantine period. Fira's much-visited Archaeological Museum displays many items from the sites.

After the loss of the Minoan culture, the Phoenicians settled in Santorini at Fira in the 13th century BC. They stayed for around 100 years before being replaced by the Laconian people from the Peloponnese region around 1100 BC. Fira grew in importance, trading with other islands and cities of the country. It also became an important naval base.

Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman Rule

The Byzantines, and then the Venetians, took control of Santorini for almost four centuries from 1200 AD onwards. This period was followed by the Ottoman Turks in the year of 1579, before the island was integrated into Greece towards the end of the lengthy War of Independence (1821 to 1832). The capital garnered a Venetian look and is a stunning example of Cycladic architecture today, with cobblestone streets and characteristic whitewashed buildings.

The Monastery of Profitis Ilias is one of the lasting landmarks of the Ottoman period in Santorini history. This 18th-century monastery sits high up, boasting fine views, and also has its own related museum. Traditional buildings can be seen all around the island, within its many villages, such as those of Mesa Gonia, where ruins and a restored villa are highlights. Pyrgos also has impressive buildings, including grand houses, Byzantine churches and a Venetian castle, while Imerovigli boasts an old fortress.

Modern Times in the City

Along with tourism, Santorini previously had a thriving pumice industry, although in 1986 it was decided to close the quarries down in an attempt to protect the caldera.

Tourism is the main industry in Santorini today, with many decent beaches providing an alternative to the quaint villages and multitude of historic sights. A relatively recent newsworthy event was the dramatic sinking of the MS Sea Diamond in 2007, while the island was ranked number one in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2011.