Ancient Thira : The Settlement
The second important period in the history of Santorini is linked with the city of Ancient Thira. The excavation there, begun in 1896 by Baron Hiller von Gaertringen in the area of Mesa Vouno, revealed ruins of town which bore evidence of settlement as early as 9th century BC. The mountain of Profitis Ilias, Santorini’s highest peak runs eastward into the lower rocky outcropping of Mesa Vouno. These two mountains are joined by a ridge named Sellada.
Mesa Vouno, with an altitude of 369 metres, extends from west to south and its steep slopes plunge to coast at Kamari to the north side and Perissa to the south. This naturally fortified spot was an ideal place for the Spartan colonists to found their city. They built two roads, one to Kamari, where they had their port, and the other to Perissa.
The strategic location of the town was appreciated later by the Ptolemies. In the 4th century BC, the most important era in the history of the island, Ancient Thira was transformed into an Egyptian naval base with the installation there of a large garrison.
Excavations in the area have brought to light a Hellenistic settlement that stretched from north – west to south – west. It was about 800 meters long its greatest width was 150 meters and was split in two by a central street, from which many side streets branched off. Because of the sloping terrain, many of the alleyways were stopped. Of the buildings that have been discovered, the public ones were constructed of dressed limestone blocks, a material found in abundance on the island, while private houses were made of small stones of irregular shape.
The earliest art form found in Ancient Thira is pottery from Geometric period. Thanks to the burial customs many works of pottery have survived in reasonably good condition. Thiran ceramics of that period and later, in the oriental style, were influenced by neighbouring Naxos. Nevertheless, the pottery from this time is perhaps the only work that can be attributed to Thiran craftsmen. This is because from the 5th century BC and afterwards, the development of ceramics in other region (Attica, Rhodes, Corinth, Ionia) and the location of Thira at a crossroads on trade routes made it easy for the island to accept the wares of potters of other regions, and so local production stagnated. Apart from ceramics, examples of the plastic arts (sculptures) have been also found in Thira.