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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

ANCIENT GREEK CULTURE

[From: Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]

Introduction - Geography and Geology - Historical Outline - Archaeological Research - Archaeological Sites - Pottery - Wall Paintings

Santorini
[Archaeological Sites]

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Two great civilizations have left their mark on Santorini. The one belongs to prehistoric times and is that which is coming to light in the excavations at Akrotiri. The other is the Greek civilization and is represented by the ancient city on Mesa Vouno.


Prehistoric Thera: Akrotiri
The civilization being revealed amidst the ruins of Akrotiri seems to be a scion, a uniting of the old cultural tradition of the Cyclades with the innovations of Minoan Crete. The Late Minoan I A city of Akrotiri was built on top of the ruins of a Middle Cycladic settlement from which have survived numerous architectural and copious ceramic remains. From the preceding period, too, the Early Cycladic, there is positive pottery evidence. So it is apparent that even in the 3rd millennium B.C. the strategic position of Akrotiri had been appreciated. To this perpetually thriving township it seems that the Minoan Cretans came and settled quite early on and joined their fortunes with the tragic fate of the inhabitants of Thera. This Minoan element, however, exercised a significant influence over the cultural, social, economic and perhaps even political development of Theran society. This is the general impression which those remnants of human activity, such as architecture, wall-paintings, pottery, metal-working and the everyday life in general as it is indirectly traced through diverse minor objects, make on the scholars.


The Houses
It is just as difficult to question the Minoan character in the building regulations as it is to mistake the differences and deviations which endow the architecture of Akrotiri with its local peculiarities. The system of town planning, in so far as it can be traced from the area which has been excavated [end of p. 16] to date, is more reminiscent of that of the present-day villages of Santorini than of the plan of the Minoan palatial structures. Narrow winding streets traverse the town, circumventing large building complexes. Beneath the paving of the streets, built drains carried away the effluent from the houses. The drainage in each house was via cylindrical clay pipes, incorporated in the walls of the building, which linked up with the sewers under the streets.

The houses, two- and three-storyed, were built of the material available in abundance on the island, small irregular stones and mortar of mud frequently mixed with straw. The walls were strengthened with wooden reinforcements so as to be more resistant to seismic shocks. Very often ashlared stones were used. In the wealthy houses such stone blocks covered entire facades of the building. In others they were confined to the corners and surrounds of openings such as doors and windows. In other cases zones of ashlar blocks were used to indicate externally the level of each floor in multi-storeyed buildings. Staircases, mainly stone but also wooden, led from one floor to another.

Each house apparently ensured self-sufficiency for its occupants. Each room, according to its position in the building, had a different function. On the ground floor there were workshops and store rooms mainly for foodstuffs. The mill installation for the grinding of corn or other grains is not absent from any house. This use of the ground floor also determined its architecture. The little light and air required in the food cellars was ensured through the small windows which are the rule in the ground floor apartments. In this same manner stable condition of humidity and temperature were maintained, essential for the preservation of food. The existence of a large window on the ground floor suggests that this room was used for something other than storage [e.g. shop or workshop]. The residential apartments were situated in the upper storeys where part of the furniture seems to have been the loom. On either the first floor or the ground floor were the sanitary facilities which do not seem to have been missing from any house. The installations were directly connected with the drainage system of the street. The apartments of the upper storeys were flooded with light through large windows. It is mainly in these rooms that the wall-paintings have been found. At least one room in each house of those investigated until now was decorated with wall-paintings.

The floors were not the same everywhere. Beaten earth was the rule. Frequently a layer of schistose slabs was laid on top of this. The paved floor in the vestibule of each house is usual, but often such floors are found in rooms of the upper storeys where they were of a more luxurious construction. Large wooden beams from wall to wall supported a layer of branches and reeds. On top of the branches and reeds, about 25 cm. of earth was spread and on top of this beaten earth the stone slabs were laid. The joins between the slabs were frequently filled with coloured plaster. Other types of floors were those covered with broken sea-shells [e.g. Room A 2, the upper storey of B6, vide plan of the excavated area] or small pebbles like a mosaic [Room ®8]. This "mosaic" floor is plain, without representations. [end of p. 17]

In all the houses the walls were plastered. Both on the outer faces and inside the storerooms the plaster on the walls was clay mixed with straw. In the living quarters the coating was of fine limestone plaster which was frequently coloured [deep pink, yellow, whitish]. The wall-paintings which adorned the finest rooms of the dwelling were usually drawn on this white plaster.

The roof of the houses was probably flat and constructed in the same way as the floors of the upper storeys. Earth roofs still exist today in the islands and are very effective, ensuring coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter.

On entering the roofed area of the excavation and following Telchines' Road, the only street which has been uncovered so far, one passes in front of the buildings which, to a greater or lesser extent, have been quite thoroughly investigated.

The ashlar-masonry building known as Xesté 3 which is to the west, on the left as we enter, was at least a two-storeyed building with fourteen rooms on each floor. Many of the apartments in this building were decorated with wall-paintings, the most complete and comprehensible of which, so far, is the scene of the Crocus Gatherers. Proceeding a little further north we have on our right, to the east, Building B, also two-storyed, from where the famous wall-paintings of the Antelopes, the Boxing Children and the Blue Monkeys came. On the left of the road, to the west, extends the much destroyed and little investigated Building I with its entrance from Telchines' Road. The Mill-House Square is a small opening in the street which is bordered to the east, north and south by buildings ® and B. It takes its name from the mill installation which is located inside the adjacent Room 15 of Building Complex ®. Complex ® is the largest building to have been investigated so far and delimits the east side of TelchinesÍ Road for a considerable way. In the east wing of the complex is Room ®2 which was decorated with the Spring or Lilies Fresco. One of the five entrances to Complex ®, the west, was protected by a roofed pylon [porch]. Passing beneath this pylon we reach the Triangular Square which is surrounded to east and south by Complex ®, to the west by a house, uninvestigated as yet, and to the north by the so-called West House. From this residence come the two wall-paintings of the Fishermen, the "Young Priestess" and the famous miniature frescoes. Beyond the north entrance to Complex ®, Telchines' Road, which has been damaged by the waters of the later torrent, is bordered to the west by the House of the Ladies. From the investigated north wing of this house came the wall-painting which gave it its name. At the northernmost edge of the excavation is the sector where digging commenced in 1967: the Pithoi Storeroom or Sector A with many of the large storage jars [pithoi] still in situ. [Plate 5. Plan of the excavated area at Akrotiri (based on the drawing by the architect I. N. Koumanoudis]. The visitor enters the town from the south, following TelchinesÍ Road which is bordered to right and left by large building complexes.] [end of p. 19]

[Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]




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