Known in ancient times as Strongili, meaning round in Greek, Santorini’s first recorded human history dates back to Neolithic times, approximately the middle of the 5th millennium. According to excavations on the island, Santorini was inhabited around 3600 BC by an important civilization believed to be ancient Minoan, and similar to the Minoan civilization that existed on the island of Crete, 70 nautical south of Santorini.
Sometime around 1450 BC, the island was victim to an enormous volcanic eruption which collapsed the cone of the volcano creating the caldera that we see today, and a crater into which the sea rushed when the entire eastern edge of the island was literally blown away. Although the volcano appears to have given warning signs so that most, if not all, of the people dwelling here, got away, it proceeded to bury their towns and settlements under layers and layers of ash, pumice, and lava. Many scientists regard this explosion on Santorini as the most powerful natural catastrophe to have ever originated on Earth. Both its resultant tsunami and massive fallout of ash appear to have headed mainly to the southeast and some archaeologists believe that these may have had an impact on Crete and led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization there too.
It is worth mentioning that the destruction of the island is closely associated with the stories of the lost city of Atlantis. Whatever the truth, there is no denying that the explosion put a temporary end to the human settlement of Santorini, and it would be about 900 BC before humans in any significant numbers would venture to resettle here.
By the 4th century BC, the island was again populated and taken over by the Athenians. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Santorini came under the control of the Ptolemies who inherited Alexander’s empire based in Egypt; when Rome took over Egypt, it also inherited Santorini. During Greece’s Byzantine period
from 395-1200 AD, Santorini was more of a forgotten outpost. When Western European Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, Santorini was assigned to the Italians who introduced their own Roman Catholicism, including churches and other institutions that survive to this day. It was actually during this period that Santorini received its modern name – which is a contraction of the name Santa Irini.
In 1537, the Ottoman Turks took over and left Santorini fairly untouched. When Greece won its independence in 1829, the island joined what would become modern Greece. Individual Santorinians who prospered in shipping or other businesses enriched the island with fine mansions, but for the most part, the island remained in the shadows of history. Individual travelers from Western Europe would occasionally visit and write about the unusual aspects of Santorini, but it was not until the late 1960s and 70s that the island was noticed by the international community. Although some archaeologists knew about the remains of the ancient site of Akrotiri under the layers of volcanic fallout, major digging only began in 1967; revealing an incredibly well-preserved town, complete with roads, buildings as high as threestories, frescoed rooms, countless ceramics, and other artifacts. Today Santorini is one of the world’s most sought-after island hideaways. In addition to its impressive natural environment, and fascinating ancient history, Santorini is home to some of Greece’s most photographed villages, exclusive hotels, unique beaches, and excellent restaurants.