The island overlooks the Aegean Sea which itself has many myths. Santorini is thought by some to be Plato’s Atlantis although this theory is believed by few.
As the Greeks had stories about everything, Thera and its surrounding areas are no exception to that. In this article, we will look into the mythology of Thera and how those ancient Santorini myths, present themselves even today.
The Mythology of Thera’s Creation
The existence of the island of Thera is said to be a miracle based on a Greek myth. The story associated with this island is connected to the Argonaut expedition.
The leader of the Argonauts, Jason, and his companions landed on Anaphe – an island found to the east of Santorini, in the Aegean Sea.
Euphemus, a fellow companion, had a dream there that he had made love to a nymph who was the daughter of the sea god, Triton. In the dream, she became pregnant and was fearful of her father. So, she asked Euphemus to create a land for her to hide.
When Euphemus woke up, he took the dream to heart and actually threw a piece of land from Anaphe onto the sea which erupted into a new island.
This new island was named Kallisti meaning the most beautiful or Strogili due to its round shape.
Later, Euphemus’ son was born there. He was named ‘Theras’ after which the island is named.
This story was crafted by Apollonius of Rhodes in his poem called ‘Argonautica’ which highlights the expedition of the Argonauts.
Is Santorini Atlantis?
The mythology of Atlantis being Santorini is highly disputed. Some believe that shreds of evidence point to this being true, while others using those same pieces of evidence say that it’s not possible.
So, what is Atlantis and how does it relate to Santorini mythology?
The discussion on Atlantis began in Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias sometime in 400 BC in which he described this city as being prosperous and ahead of its time.
Plato based this on the story narrated to Solon by priests on his visit to Egypt. Modern classists discredit Solon and think that only Plato is responsible for this myth.
In the story, Atlantis is supposedly a great city which disappeared. Its disappearance is also disputed.
In Solon’s story, the people of Atlantis had superpowers but they lost them. So, they went around conquering other lands until they were defeated by Athenians. The gods were angry at the Atlantians and so punished them by vanishing the entire city.
It is also said that Atlantis went through a terrible earthquake and flooding, so the entire city disappeared after many natural disasters.
If you’re planning a trip to Santorini, you can book tours which delve into this theory of Santorini being the location of Atlantis.
Ancient Akrotiri and Atlantis
After the excavations at Akrotiri, some of Plato’s texts about Atlantis matched what archaeologists found at Akrotiri.
The frescoes found at Akrotiri matched Plato’s descriptions, “These vibrant paintings depict a paradise full of swirling colors, flowers and exotic animals. They capture a snapshot of the locals. They are evidence of a highly sophisticated and wealthy civilization.”
Plato also said that on the island of Atlantis “rocks of white, black and red were extracted from the hills and used to construct a great island city”. And surprisingly, these were the kind of rocks found at Santorini.
However, most scientists have said that Atlantis never existed, to begin with, and so present-day Akrotiri can not be Atlantis.
But just because they don’t agree with it doesn’t mean that the general public believes them. There are still many people who believe that the descriptions of Plato’s Atlantis matching the findings at Santorini are no coincidence.
If you want to learn more about the Akrotiri archaeological site which has many excavations and frescoes then you can read about it here.
The Aegean Sea
As mentioned, the island of Thera overlooks the Aegean Sea which has its own Greek mythology.
According to the most popular myth, the Aegean Sea is named after the King of Athens, Aegeus. He was known as the sea goat.
During this period, King Minos ruled Crete. His son, Androgeo was killed by Athenians so he declared a war on them and won.
This put Athens under the command of the Minoan empire. Every nine years, under the command of King Minos, seven boys and seven girls from Athens were taken to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, a creature that lived in the Labyrinth on Crete.
Thiseas, the son of Aegeus was furious with this gruesome tradition and decided to fight against Minos. He took the place of one of seven boys and set sail to Crete.
On the way there, Thiseas fell in love with Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos who helped him fight against the Minotaur.
Ariadne gave him a ball of string to tie at the entrance, and unravel as he wondered through the Labyrinth searching for the Minotaur. After killing the mighty creature, Thiseas successfully found his way out by following the string.
After this, they escaped and went to the island of Naxos where some say that Thiseas abandoned Ariadne.
As he continued his way back home, he forgot to change his sails to white which would’ve shown that he was successful. His father, Aegeus, saw the black sails and thought that his son was dead so he jumped off a cliff and killed himself.
Thiseas then named the sea after his father as a sign of love and respect.
Mythology of Thera
Ancient Thera is located on top of Mount Vouno, 396m above sea level, which lies east of Propet Elias mountain.
The Thera mythology is quite confusing since many Santorini myths are mixed when talking about this area.
Early Settlement At Thera
Before the 9th century BC, Thera was just a land built up by layers of earth and lava owing to the fact that it was a volcanic site.
Back then it was just an insignificant place in the south of the Cyclades.
In the 9th century BC, Dorian colonists, also known as Spartans, occupied this place under their leader, Theras, on whose name this island was based.
The historians Herodotus and Pausanias have given their accounts of the mythical ruler Theras who was the son of the king of Thebes, Autesion, and a descendent of the Phoenician ruler Cadmus.
The city slowly but surely grew in popularity as it established a trading hub with other Greek cities.
By the 3rd century BC, Thera was conquered by the Ptolemaic wartime fleet in the Hellenistic times. This was because of its strategic position over the Aegean Sea.
The city completely changed in this period as it was rebuilt to fit the officers’ and soldiers’ needs. It had a linear urban grid layout with peristyle houses and mansions for the Navy.
Most buildings excavated were erected during this time which will be discussed in detail below.
In the Roman period, Thera remained prosperous as a Roman province of Asia. Constructions were improved upon, extensions were done, and Therans were at high posts.
But, the island soon lost its importance.
In the Byzantine period, Thera slowly began to decline and it became completely abandoned after AD 726 when the disastrous volcanic eruption happened. (not to be confused with the horrible Minoan eruption of 1600 BC!).
After 726 AD, not much happened in this area until the excavations began in the early 20th century.
Buildings of Thera
The buildings found at Thera have a lot of history and reasoning behind them. Some of which relate to the myths surrounding this place.
The Agora is the main square of the city which was a place of meeting for the citizens. It was an open forum sort of area. It was an administrative area.
Other important buildings surrounded the Agora.
The Basilike Stoa
Located at the south of Agora, the Basilike Stoa or Royal Stoa had a Doric colonnade on its long axis.
This was the center of public life and is also said to be a political center.
As the name suggests, the theater was used to host performances and could hold 1500 people at one time.
It was built during the Roman period and probably used to be a less extensive construction before this time.
A small space was dedicated as a sanctuary for Hermes and Heracles. A temple of Apollo Karneios was built here along with a gymnasium.
Another sanctuary was built by Artemidoros of Apollonios who contributed a lot to the city of Thera and was rewarded with an olive wreath.
A sanctuary was also made for the Egyptian gods that had a terrace so that people could come and visit.
This concludes the Thera mythology carried on by the Greeks. Most of it is ignored today but it is always interesting to learn about the myths surrounding Greece.
You can read more about the actual history of Ancient Thera and how to visit it today here.
If you liked this article and want to read more about the different places in Santorini, make sure to check more articles in our blog all about Santorini’s past and present!