A Step into Ancient Akrotiri

Walking into a room full of ancient artifacts with no knowledge of why they’re in front of my face or what they’re about, I look up and see this fresco with bright, sky-blue daisies on top of a scarlet-maroon base. The colors were slightly faded but you could see that there was more to the painting than what was presented. I was so captivated by this piece of art, all I wanted to do was stare at it. I was curious to see if any other pieces would stand out to me, so I continued to walk around looking at the different paintings and reading up on the history of them. The paintings were filled with creativity and a sense of life.  I was able to take a step into the city of Ancient Akrotiri.

After the eruption of Santorini, Akrotiri was excavated beginning in 1967 by Spyridon Marinatos, a Greek archaeologist. The excavators found pieces of art and decided to take them to preserve. Many of the fragments were found in situ, meaning “in position.” With the exciting evidence provided, my one question was “HOW DID THE MINOANS DO IT?” How was the base of the paintings made? How did they make these exuberant colors?

The surface of the wall was covered with a layer of lime plaster also known as stucco. The sketch/design was then painted in a light wash. This design, soon after was covered in the process of painting. While the stucco was still damp, the colors would be applied first to stick to the plaster(fresco). After the stucco is dry, the details are then painted.  Boom. Base of the painting made. The color palette was made from earth pigments such as red, yellow and black(carbon) and the blue was a pigment from Egypt. By combining pigments and mixing them with lime water, paint was created.

minerals

Figure 1: the pigments that were made to make paint.

Not only did the pictures show the talent of the Minoans, it helped us see who the Minoans were in contact with. For example, one of the most known discoveries is the ‘fresco of antelopes.’ From the black markings on their faces, they are known to be Sommering gazelles [1]. This type of gazelle lives on the Nile Delta and the steppes of Sudan. This fresco like others show monkeys or the head of an African, explaining that the people of Thera had contact with the Nile Delta of Egypt. Even more specific, these frescoes indicate that they had trade relations with North Africa. Furthermore, the blue pigment from Egypt is part of the trading system!

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Figure 2: Top photo is of the “fresco of antelopes”, middle is fresco of monkeys, third is the face of an African.

As I roam through this small and quite dim museum, another fresco that caught my eye was paintings of the Minoan women. This intrigued me because after learning about the connection between the people of Thera and Egypt, I got a glimpse of what the women looked like. This fresco came from a wealthy, three-story house, now known as The House of the Ladies. The ladies were slender and had faces of beauty. Not much jewelry was worn and plain hairstyles were in style.

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Figure 3: Two frescoes side by side of the women of Akrotiri.

The frescoes have not been touched. They have not even been re-painted. The frescoes have been preserved in Akrotiri. The volcanic eruption of Santorini covered the town with thick layers of ash and pumice. The pumice and ash is what kept the frescoes intact and the colors so vivid. For example, when you put clay into a hot kiln after painting it, the paint will then stick and stay on the clay. When the hot pumice and ash hit the frescoes it made the colors stick to the plaster. Once these frescoes were excavated, they were taken and now are on display for the rest of the world to see.

The next day, we all took a trip. Not to another museum, but to the actual city of Ancient Akrotiri. The one that these frescoes were once in. As I walk through this climate- controlled dome that surrounds this ancient city, looking at the Minoan ruins, all my mind could think about is the frescoes being on the walls. Instead of walls that are now just gray, being full of numerous colors and designs. I also try to imagine the women of Akrotiri walking through this city with their long hair and angelic faces. The site that we were able to see was approximately 10,000 square meters, but the size of all Akrotiri is supposedly 100,000-300,000 meters. Fascinating, I tell you.  This means that the frescoes that I’ve shown and the few ones in the museum are not the only ones! There is more to be discovered and hopefully, we’ll be alive to see it.

References:

[1] Friedrich, W, 2009, SANTORINI – Volcano – Natural History – Mythology;  Narayana Press, Danmark, The Author and Aarhus University Press, 300 pages.

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One thought on “A Step into Ancient Akrotiri”

  1. Hello Briana,

    Fascinating post, I enjoyed learning about the Minoan culture through the remains of their art. Strong introduction to your post. Your concise description provided my with a vivid sense of a beautiful and ancient structure. My only suggestion would be to state what the art is that you described. From my reading, I can guess that it is the entrance to the city of Akrotiri, possibly? Or is it just a fragment you observed in a museum? Either way some clarity for your reader will make the end of your first paragraph function stronger as a transition. Try to rework your last sentence of the first paragraph to say something along the lines of, This art was my first experience with the ancient city of Akrotiri.
    Your post does well in connecting your passion for art to the geological aspects of the art. I particularly enjoyed when you detailed how the artwork was preserved by the eruption and heat of the volcano. Your analogy to pottery and how paint sticks in the kiln helped me picture how vivid these works must be.
    In all, you’ve provided a post that allows outside readers a feel for your time in Greece and even an opportunity to learn about ancient culture, as well as geological impacts on said culture. I liked that your conclusion leaves readers with something to take away, in the sense that more of this artwork can be discovered; and as a result we can learn more about ancient Greek culture.

    Happy Writing,

    Jose Martinez

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