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Akrotiri, Thera

Akrotiri, Thera: An Architecture of Affluence 3,500 Years Old

Clairy Palyvou
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: INSTAP Academic Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Akrotiri, Thera
    Book Description:

    This book examines the architecture of Akrotiri, dealing not only with the building technology, but also with issues of typology, form, and function. It provides an overall picture of the architecture of Akrotiri, including an outline of its town plan, a description of the individual houses, and a discussion of its relationship with Crete and its neighbours in the Eastern Mediterranean. The book is based on the author's personal observations and experience obtained over a fifteen year period (1977-1992) of work at the site of the Akrotiri excavation. This book is confined to the last phase of habitation and the uniquely preserved houses that are seen today.

    eISBN: 978-1-62303-066-7
    Subjects: Archaeology, History

Table of Contents

  1. List of Tables in the Text
    (pp. ix-x)
  2. List of Figures in the Text
    (pp. xi-xx)
  3. 1 The Volcanic Fate of Thera
    (pp. 1-8)

    Thera is the largest of a group of five islands—Thera, Therasia, Aspronissi, Palaia Kameni, and Nea Kameni—all of which owe their existence to volcanic activity. The islands belong to the so-called “Aegean arc system of volcanos” at the junction of the two tectonic plates, the African and the Eurasian (Fig. 1). This means that volcanism is continuous in the area and has never ceased shaping and reshaping the archipelago. The modern name Santorini was given to this archipelago at the time of the Venetian occupation after the name of the patron saint of sailors, Santa Eirene.

    Not one,...

  4. 2 The Archaeologist: An Unexpected Visitor 3,500 Years Later
    (pp. 9-14)

    The sealed doors of the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri were to be trespassed by an unexpected visitor 3,500 years later: the archaeologist. The first to visit the site were the French around the end of the 19th century. The story of these pioneers and the adventures of their first finds is a fascinating one, and it is brilliantly unfolded in Tzachili’s recent work.¹ In summary, it starts during the last years of the 19th century, when the French company that was then building the Suez Canal installed a quarry somewhere along the southwest coast of Therasia. Huge quantities of volcanic...

  5. 3 The Settlement Pattern of Thera during the 2nd Millennium b.c.
    (pp. 15-18)

    Despite the difficulties in surveying the islands of Thera and Therasia due to the thick mantle of volcanic deposits, the prehistoric find spots are already numerous, pointing to a variety of installations all over the islands (Fig. 3). The earliest human presence goes back to Neolithic times, in the 5th millennium b.c., as P. Sotirakopoulou has shown.¹ Though there is no architecture related to these early finds, they indicate a permanent coastal installation on the flat southwest grounds of Akrotiri. This coastal site was obviously privileged, for habitation was thereafter continuous in the area and of great importance for the...

  6. 4 The Akrotiri Region: Landscape, Past and Present
    (pp. 19-24)

    The excavation is situated at a short distance from the south coast, in the vicinity of the modern village of Akrotiri—hence its name (Figs. 11, 17). The southernmost buildings of the dig are about 230 m from the shore, while the village is approximately 800 m to the northwest. Modern Akrotiri dates from Medieval times and was one of the five fortified settlements of Thera; today its kasteli (meaning fortified center) stands in ruins on a hilltop (Fig. 18). It was destroyed in the 1956 severe earthquake, and since then the village has been expanding over the east slope...

  7. 5 The Town
    (pp. 25-44)

    The excavated part of the town extends over a low hillock sloping south toward the coast at an altitude of 19 to 26 m above sea level, from south to north. To the west, 200 m away, the hill of Mesovouna seems to have formed a natural border for the expansion of the town in this direction (Fig. 17). The hill has almost no volcanic deposits today and no trace of habitation.

    The settlement slopes abruptly to the east in the direction of Potamos, a ravine about 300 m from the excavation created by the torrential waters right after the...

  8. 6 The Buildings
    (pp. 45-62)

    Thirty-five different houses can be identified under the sheltered area of the excavation (16 entrances are visible), most of them preserved to the second or even the third floor. Only 10 can be studied to a satisfactory degree, however, because most houses are only partially excavated, and some are identified only from a small part of a facade. The general plan of the site is therefore very complex (Fig. 26). It is also very confusing because ground floor rooms are shown side by side with upper floor rooms depending on the process of the excavation.

    An attempt to clarify the...

  9. 7 A Guided Tour through the Town
    (pp. 63-102)

    Having understood the main characteristics of the Theran houses, typical and atypical, we may now indulge in a more relaxed tour around the site following the imaginary route of a visitor—this is, after all, the identity of the modern scholar. This way we will gradually build an overall picture of the site of Akrotiri. We should be reminded, once more, that the excavation has progressed in varying degrees, differing even from one part of the same building to another. We shall, therefore, discuss only those features that are best understood.¹ These suffice to demonstrate the works of an affluent...

  10. 8 A Synopsis of the Theran House Model
    (pp. 103-110)

    Having overviewed the houses visible today, we may now attempt to summarize the main characteristics of what we have termed “the Theran house model,” both in its typical and atypical form.

    Theran houses are fairly large, with a clear distinction between the typical and the atypical houses—the latter being at least twice as large (Fig. 28). Of the typical houses, there are two sizes, the small (roughly 100 square meters) and the medium (roughly 140–190 square meters). The medium type is the most common. The different sizes of the typical houses do not seem to imply a different...

  11. 9 The Art of Building: Materials and Techniques
    (pp. 111-154)

    The choice of materials and building techniques is determined to a large extent by natural factors, such as local resources and their availability and climatic conditions.¹ These, however, are not the only factors at play: at the other end of the environmental determinism, cultural factors—religious beliefs, exhibition of power or prestige, etc.—can be equally influential, though they are not always easy to detect.² The importation of Knossian gypsum at Akrotiri, for the pavement of a specific floor of the House of the Ladies (see below), is an interesting case of this sort.

    The basic building materials used in...

  12. 10 Design and Morphology
    (pp. 155-172)

    The sophisticated architecture of Akrotiri speaks clearly of a very complex and demanding design procedure. Architectural design implies anticipating, programming, evaluating, cross-checking and, finally, optimizing a large number of parameters. The construction of a building is a one-way process: the form, function, and structure of each part have to be planned well ahead because they determine the building operation from the very beginning, when laying out the foundations and calculating the loads to be transferred to the ground, and one cannot come back to change things as construction proceeds.

    The large size of many buildings (Xeste 4, for example, has...

  13. 11 Reconciling with the Wrath of Engelados
    (pp. 173-178)

    The Aegean is one of the most seismically sensitive regions of the world, and 50% of the seismic energy on European ground is emitted here. Scientists confirm that this activity goes far back in time. Earthquakes—especially when seriously disastrous—make a great impact on the people who live through them, and it is no surprise that after writing became a possibility they were meticulously recorded in various texts. Literature testifies to this and provides valuable information for some of the most severe earthquakes in antiquity, as far back as the 6th century b.c.,¹ while certain details even suggest the...

  14. 12 Thera and Her Neighbors in a Time of Opulence
    (pp. 179-188)

    Life in the Aegean has always revolved around seafaring and trade. These powerful driving forces led early people to a remarkable evolution from rural to urban life. Crete became the focal point of these developments: she was a large, self-sustainable land, rich in resources, which dominated within this broad sea. Urbanization here led to unprecedented socio-political developments and the subsequent creation of the palace as the hub of urban life. The palace—more a building compound than an edifice in its own right—was inextricably bonded with the surrounding town and housed institutions that initiated a new era for the...