History - Mythology

The island of Santorini, like almost every part of Greece, has a very long history which goes so long back that sometimes reality and fiction are mixed up and create myths.

Historically the island was inhabited at least since the mid-third millennium BC. It's obvious that the history and legends of the island are directly linked to the volcano and its activity. Recent excavations (started in the 1960s by Professor Spiros Marinatos, nowadays under the supervision of Professor Ch. Doumas) held in the southern part of island and particularly near the village of Akrotiri, brought to light a coastal city with culture relative to the Minoan but with local Cycladic figures.

Herodotus mentions Santorini as Strongyli (Rounded), because of its circular shape which according to the myths emerged from the sea. Not much later it was named Kallisti (Beauty) because of her beauty but also had several other names like Filotera, Karisti, Kalavria, Teusia, Thirameni and Rinia.

From the beginning of time Santorini is linked by many to Atlantis and that the middle part was the part of the island that sank. In 1500 BC was the first major historic eruption. The inhabitants were apparently alerted soon enough and left the island and thus were saved from extinction. This is clearly visible through information discovered by the archaeologists, who found an absolutely intact city but without a trace of human presence.

The eruption of the volcano was responsible for the sinking of the western part of the island and many claim it’s also responsible for the total destruction of the Minoan civilization due to tidal waves.
It is believed that the sinking is described in mythology through the legend of Faedonta, son of Helios and Clymene, who requested permission to drive his father’s chariot. But he was not able to control the horses of the chariot, which changed their course with disastrous results. Zeus intervened and he struck Faedonta with a lightning to stop the chariot.
Similarly to that myth, the tidal waves were created by Poseidon because he was defeated by Athens.

Until the 13th century BC, the island is not inhabited. Afterwards the Phoenicians, led by Cadmus, were the first settlers and then the Spartans from the leader of which got its official name "Thira". Thira's location was a crossroad between East and West and in the seventh century BC they founded their first and only colony, named Cyrene, on the coast of North Africa. In the 6th century BC Thira started to mint its own currency and established as emblem two dolphins. During the course of the Peloponnesian wars, Thira fights on the side of the Spartans.

Afterwards Alexander the Great and his successors, notably Ptolemy, used Thira as a base for his warfare.

In the Roman and Byzantine times Thira did not play any key role either in military or political level. An important historical period is the advent of Christianity in the 3rd century AD and the construction of Panagia Episkopi (Mary Episcope) by Alexios Komninos; the first universal church.

After the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders, Santorini is included in the Duchy of Naxos. This is the time it took the most famous name from the church of Agia Irini (Saint Irini) in Perissa.

Piracy hit the island as most of the Aegean during the Franks raids and the pirate Barbarossa was the terror of the island during 1537.

When the island was conquered by the Turks (1579-1821) the piracy was suppressed and the maritime trade developed. The name that was used for the island was Demetzik, which means small mill, allegedly came from the windmills.

During the Greek revolution, Santorini participated with a number of ships when in May 5th 1821 Captain Evangelos Matzarakis raised the flag of revolution and in 1830 eventually was united with Greece.

On October 18, 1944, the island was occupied by the Axis Powers (Italy - Germany) until the liberation of Greece.


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