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THERA (Santorini) Greece.

The island is one of the Greek Cyclades group. Its modern name appears during the mediaeval epoch, and is a corruption of Santa Irini. It is the most striking of the Greek islands, reduced to a half-moon shape by successive volcanic eruptions and earthquakes from prehistoric times to the present. According to the ancient sources Thera would have been first inhabited by Carians, then by Phoenicians, followed by Achaeans, Dorians, and Minyans. Scheria, the Homeric island of the Phaiakians, has been recognized in Thera; others identify it with the mythical Atlantis, destroyed according to legend by a gigantic cataclysm similar to that which must have hit Thera ca. 1520 B.C. The submarine earthquake would in fact have reached the island of Crete, where volcanic debris from Thera has been found. It largely destroyed the Minoan palaces, including that of Knossos, which was subsequently occupied by a new Achaean dynasty; and it caused a large part of the population to emigrate to the mainland.

The exploration of Thera, begun in 1845, was systematically carried on from 1895 to 1903, and has been resumed since WW II. A spot on the SW promontory, in the locality of Akrotiri, is held because of its geographic position to be probably the most ancient center of the island. There, sealed under a thick blanket of lapillus, have appeared the imposing remains of constructions of palatial character. They go back to a time contemporaneous with LM I, and attest the close ties of Thera with Crete. They were buried at the end of the 16th c. after an eruption that destroyed every trace of life and even changed the geographical aspect of the island. Another settlement of Minoan type has been discovered on the S coast of the small island of Therasia, which closes, on the N, the large gulf formed by the caving-in of the volcano which occupied the center of the island in prehistoric times.

At the beginning of the 1st millennium the Dorians landed at Thera, bringing the cult of Apollo Delphinios and Karnesios. They settled on a sheltered rocky highland on the sea, joined by a narrow ridge to mount St. Elias in the SE part of the island. Here they founded a city, built on a single axis to conform to the long narrow hill. Nothing remains of the most ancient city. Although the actual remains are almost all post-6th c., it is probable, given the peculiar geographic position, that the general plan of the primitive city coincided with the later plan and extended beyond it, from the spring of Sellada to the N to the religious zone to the S. This was closed by a vast temenos, inside of which rose the Temple of Apollo Karneios, the oldest sanctuary of the Dorian colony, perhaps datable to the 7th c.

The foundations of the temple were cut into the rock, while the upper part was built of breccia and mudbrick. The plan is unusual, resembling a house more than a temple. From the propylaeum, with two wooden columns in front of it the stone bases of which are still visible, one enters a square court on which open two rooms to the right, and to the left a pronaos communicating with the cella (7.3 x 12.15 m) cut into the rock. The cella communicates with two other rock-cut rooms which perhaps served as treasuries. Next to the temple, and sustained by a Cyclopean wall, is the terrace where the festivals of Apollo (Karneia) were celebrated. The interior rock walls and those of a small quadrangular room intended for offerings are covered by numerous dedicatory inscriptions. The most ancient of these go back to the 7th c. and are important in the history of Greek epigraphy.

Although there are many terrace walls from the archaic period, the most conspicuous remains of the city belong to the Ptolemaic period, when Thera became a powerful naval base. The road that crossed the entire inhabited area opens in the middle and highest part of its route into an agora with an irregular plan, ca. 20 m wide. Here other divinities were honored, including Athena Polias, perhaps Zeus, and later Dionysos. On the W side of the agora rose the basilike stoa, whose name perhaps recalls the Dorian kings, but which probably belongs to the Ptolemaic period. It has the form of a basilica, divided into two naves by a row of Doric columns. In the Roman period its N part was closed in to make a room where statues of the imperial family were kept, including Faustina the Elder, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus. A road to the W led to the barracks of the Ptolemaic garrison (275 B.C.) on the summit of the hill, which consisted of various rooms that could be approached from inside or outside the city. Beside the barracks was a building enclosed in a square court that has been interpreted as a gymnasium, although others claim that the construction is pre-Classical.

Between this building and the stoa were other constructions, among them one with a cistern, a potter's wheel, perhaps the Temple of Dionysos, and the Ptolomeion which Octavian, after the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., transformed into a Kaisareion. Beside the Roman baths, S of the stoa, is the theater, in which four building periods are recognizable between the late Hellenistic era and that of Tiberius. Near the portal of the theater was found a Hellenistic house with columns where the son of Ptolemy III Euergetes, who was brought up on Thera ca. 260 B.C., is presumed to have lived. In front of the theater, where the main road veers to the E, a lateral road goes W to a small square with a Sanctuary of Apollo, which has been transformed into a church. It also contained, among the rocks, the Ptolemaic Sanctuary of Isis, Serapis, and Anubis, probably hypoethral.

At the S extremity of the city is a building complex that has been identified as the gymnasium for young men because of inscriptions including lists and ephebic names, some still in archaic characters, and dedications to Hermes. The gymnasium is constructed in part on the rock and in part on an artificial terrace supported by three strong terrace walls. Still preserved is an archaic nucleus with a grotto dug into the rock and later transformed into a room. It is dedicated to Hermes and to Herakles. Later structures were added in the 3d c. B.C., including a rotunda with columns. At the center opens a roughly trapezoidal court.

At the N extremity of the city is the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, and a temenos dedicated by Artemidoros of Perge to various divinities, dating from the 3d c. B.C. The necropolis in use during archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic times is still being explored. It is at Sellada, on the NE slope of the hill, along the road that led to the port of Oia. The archaic tombs were pits containing cremation burials, with a simple cube on which was written the name of the deceased serving as a funerary monument. In the Classical and Hellenistic tombs the ashes were deposited in vases. Notable among the rich finds are three kouroi from the end of the 7th c., painted local and imported pottery, and sculpted stelai from the 5th c.

Descending from Sellada toward Perissa one finds the remains of a heroon transformed into a sepulchral building during the early years of the Empire, and the ruins of a Byzantine convent. The remains of Byzantine fortifications are found N of the city. In the region of Akrotiri a temple from the 3d c. B.C. in white marble with a rectangular plan, dedicated to Thea Basileia, has been transformed into a chapel of St. Nicholas Marmarotis. Inside, before the door, a niche flanked by two columns on each side held the ancient cult image. A new museum was constructed at Thera in 1968.


F. H. von Gaertringen et al., Thera (1899-1904); id., RE 5 A (1934) 2260-2302; id., ArchEph (1937) 48-66; id., Klio 33 (1940) 57-72; E. Pfuhl, AthMitt 28 (1903) 1-288; J. Braun, De Thereor. rebus sacris (1932); C. Anti, Teatri greci arcaici (1947) 114-19; N. M. Kontoleon, ArchEph 1939-41 (1948) 1-33; E. Fiechter, Das Dionysos-theater in Athen, das Theater im Piraeius, das Theater auf Thera (1950) 42-49; J. P. Droop, Studies Presented to D. M. Robinson (1951) 52-53; R. Martin, L'urbanisme dans la Grèce antique (1956) 82-83, 206; J. Delorme, Gymnasios (1960) 82-86; K. Orlandos, Ergon 1961 (1962) 202-11; A. Giuliano, Urbanistica delle città greche (1966) 30-34; S. Marinatos, Some Words about the legend of Atlantis (1969); id., Excavations at Thera I, II, III (1968-70); id., AAA 4 (1971) 407-12.


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