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Fast Facts

About Thera/ Santorini

  • In 1646 BC a massive volcanic eruption took place on the Cycladic island of Thera (present day Santorini). A hundred times more powerful than the better-known eruption at Pompeii, the explosion blew out the interior of the island and forever altered its topography.
  • The volcanic eruption at Thera was the explosive equivalent of 40 atomic bombs of the kind that were dropped on Hiroshima. The sound of the explosion could be heard as far away as Sweden.
  • The eruption buried the Bronze Age city of Akrotiri under a thick blanket of ash and pumice, forming a kind of time capsule that would remain unopened for some 35 centuries.
  • The city of Akrotiri had an estimated population of 30,000 people but after three decades of archaeological excavation human remains have yet to be uncovered. It is uncertain if the inhabitants had enough time (and boats) to escape the island or whether some are buried within the time capsule.
  • Some historians believe that Santorini may have been the source of the fabled “Atlantis” legend handed down to us by Plato. The location, the shape of the island and the possibility of a devastating tsunami following the eruption are cited in support of this intriguing and controversial theory.
  • As is often the case with significant heritage sites, Akrotiri was re-discovered by accident. Quarry workers digging out pumice for use in the manufacture of cement for the Suez Canal dug into the ancient walls of the buried city.
  • The name “Santorini” is of relatively-recent origin, given to the island by the Venetians in honour of Saint Irene, circa 1500 AD. The ancients called the island Stronghyle (the round one) or Kalliste (the most beautiful).
  • Akrotiri is renowned for its beautiful wall paintings. Although only a limited number of gold, silver and bronze artifacts have been found the paintings represent a treasure more precious than these. Unfortunately the paintings were shattered by the force of the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and it has taken decades of painstaking work to carefully assemble the pieces which tell part of the story of the prosperous Bronze Age civilization.

The Parthenon

  • The construction of the Parthenon took approximately 15 years to complete. Started in 447 BC the last of the sculptural elements were put in place in 432.
  • The chief architect was Ictinus, the master builder was Callicrates and both worked very closely with the greatest Greek sculptor of the era- Phideas, who later created one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
  • The temple was built using approximately 13,400 blocks of Pentelic marble. Even the roof is marble.
  • No other building, anywhere, anytime has received so much acclaim from architects and scholars, in general, pronouncing it “perfect”. Even in antiquity it was acknowledged as being at the pinnacle of architectural achievement.
  • We are accustomed to looking at Greek sculpture which has become bleached by time and the sun. Originally, though, all the sculptures on the Parthenon were painted in red, blue, ochre and gold.
  • The Parthenon rises to 64 feet (20 m). (In Greek architecture, the height of a column was determined by its width.) The temple was 230 ft. (71m) long. It contains 46 Doric columns, 17 on the long sides, 8 on each end.
  • The word Parthenon means “place of the virgin” and it was built to be a temple for the goddess Athena. The statue it was built to house, made of gold and ivory, cost more than the temple itself.
  • The frieze of the Parthenon was the first Greek temple to depict common people.
  • Temples in Greece were meant to be seen only from the outside. Sacrifices to the deity took place outside the building. It was not like a church or mosque where the key religious activities happen inside. The Athenian people could catch glimpses of the magnificent sculpture and the reflecting pool only through the open doors and, perhaps, on special feast days.