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Atlantis and the Minoan Civilization 

How could an entire civilization have been forgotten? A civilization which  had endured for over 600 years, and  constructed magnificent palaces, controlled trade across the waters of the ancient world,  produced advanced pottery, metallurgy, and beautiful frescos. Yet it came to an abrupt end by forces unleashed deep in the earth, one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in history.  This great civilization was forgotten by the world for thousands of years. It is now being revealed by modern archeology.

Many scholars have proposed the idea that Atlantis, portrayed by Plato in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias , may have existed in the Eastern Mediterranean south of Greece. They identify the Minoan Civilization as the fabled land of Atlantis. The Minoans thrived for over a thousand years in the Agean, including a period of palace building that lasted from around 2100 BCE to 1500 BCE. Sir Arthur Evans was the first archaeologist to excavate at Knossos on Crete from 1900 to 1905 CE. "Minoans" was a term Sir Evans applied to this culture,  after the Greek account of the legendary labyrinth of  King Minos.  The civilization continues to be excavated on Crete and Thera ( Santorini ) today.  It was a highly advanced bronze age maritime power with large sea ports and harbors, well planned cities which included large palace complexes with courtyards and gardens. There were modern like advances in the buildings;  indoor plumming, hot water, toilets and complete drainage systems.  Houses were constructed with 2 or more stories, with winding staircases, light wells, colorful frescos adorning interior spaces, and picture windows. ( article continued below image )

The art and architecture created by these people made an impact not only regionally but in the development of all Western European civilization.  These industrious people were skilled ship builders and sailors, and they maintained a vast trade network across the eastern Meditterranean  making them a  power which rivaled that of ancient Egypt. A written language, called Linear A, has not yet been deciphered.

The four major sites on Crete were Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. There were large palaces at these centers, complex multi-storied edifices  which covered an area of several thousand square meters.  The palaces probably functioned as centers of trade, religion, administrative and possibly political power.  Products such as olive oil, grain, wine, ceramics, and valuable metals were stored within storage rooms in the palaces.

Many similarities existed between the Theran and Cretan building styles, pottery and art. These comparisons demonstrate that both Crete and Thera were one remarkable civilization, and it was recognized as such throughout the ancient world.  Minoan trade goods have been found in The Old Kingdom of Egypt, copper rich Cyprus, Caanan, Cyclades,  the Levantine coast and Anatolia.

On Thera, Raos and Akrotiri are sites which have been excavated and studied. Only a small portion of Akrotiri has been uncovered, so there are many more discoveries to be made there and at the other sites.. Akrotiri started as a small fishing and farming village around 5,000 BCE. The town grew rapidly after the third millenniun as trade flourished with other Aegean peoples as seen in the artifacts from far away lands found here.  Trade established the city as a power in the region, and it became a strategic location on the trade routes between Crete, Cyprus, and other Agean islands.  Around 2100 BCE an industry arose in Akrotiri involving the production of bronze items which were imported. This led to a prosperity that culminated in the construction of planned cities and palaces.

Was Atlantis on Thera? If it were, this would place the island as the center of power in the Agean. It was most likely a power shared with the cities on Crete. The geography of Thera gave it a natural harbor which would have been the most extensive of that time for maritime trade and  strong naval presence.  A fleet of ships is evident in The Flotilla Fresco found in room 5 of the West House in Akrotiri.  This 39 foot long
frieze style fresco  went along three walls of the room and shows a scene of  sailing vessels. The ships are of various sizes and there seems to be a celebration taking place. These ships have covered passenger areas where  the processional participants are seated. A flagship carries  persons of high position dressed in colorful elaborate clothing.  This painting indicates how important sea navigation was to the Minoans. The power of their fleets was such that there was no need for fortifications around cities. These sea faring people relied on their ships for defense, and Thera had the most remarkable ports of all the Minoan centers, and  fleets of ships were stationed here. The island's geography made it the ideal location for major ports. It was an island within an island, a circular inner one which was ringed with an outer island. There was an inlet to the southwest in the outer rim where ships could enter from the open sea to the inner enclosed lagoon. The two land forms were the remains of an ancient volcano caldera.
Thera before the eruption

Thera today

 The flotilla fresco shows this landscape, especially the city in the left portion. Here there is a city which appears to be on a central island which is within the arms of an outer mass of land separated by a narrow band of water. These circular bands of land closely match Plato's description of the area surrounding Atlantis.  Could this city be Atlantis? There are large buildings depicted on this island. According to Plato's account, Atlantis was a city which was laid out in a circular pattern, surrounded by three rings of the sea and two land rings, with a channel connecting the inlets to the open sea. There were ports where a multitude of ships were docked and a causeway. It has been determined that Thera did indeed have this shape. The caldera created a central island within a lagoon, which was surrounded by an outer ring of land.  Was the main island in the center of Santorini the location of the capital city, the Metropolis as described by Plato,  the city of Atlantis? Was there an Atlantean empire which extended across the Eastern Mediterranean or was this power held jointly between Crete and Thera?
click to enlarge

The eruption of the volcano in 1628 BCE led to the destruction of the cities on Thera, and major damage to the cities on Crete.  The Thera volcano exploded with such force that the island where the central city was located was vaporized. The evidence that this city existed is there in the Flotilla Fresco from Akrotiri.  The artist portrayed a large city with many multi storied buildings in colors reminiscent of Plato's description.  Plato described stones on Atlantis of white, red and black. These rocks are found on Santorini and were used in construction. Plato also tells us that many of the palaces were gilded in gold.  Many of the buildings depicted on the central island in the Flotilla Fresco have a golden hue.

When the Theran volcano erupted, the central city was obliterated, blown high into the upper atmosphere, gone forever. The other cities on Thera were covered in ash, buried and forgotten for centuries. The great cities on Crete suffered a similar fate, as a massive tsunami swept over the island and fire balls rained down from the sky. The great civilization could never recover to its former glory. It was the end of one of the greatest civilizations of all time..


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Druitt, T. H. and Francaviglia, V. "Caldera formation on Santorini and the physiography of the islands in the late Bronze Age". Bulletin of Volcanology, Vol. 54, No. 6, p. 484-493. 1992.

James, Peter (1995). The Sunken Kingdom. The Atlantis Mystery Solved. Jonathan Cape.

Rainer W. Kühne (June 2004). "A location for "Atlantis"?". Retrieved 2006-08-10.

Paul Rincon (June 6, 2004). "Satellite images 'show Atlantis". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-08-10.

Scranton, R. L. (1949). Lost Atlantis found again?. Archaeology. 2: 159—162.

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