Museum of Prehistoric Fira
Remarkable finds from the Minoan city of Akrotiri.
A visit to the local museum is always a good way to get a glimpse of Greek history and nowhere is this more true than at the Museum of Prehistoric Fira on the Greek holiday island of Santorini.
This remarkable museum displays a very large number of ancient artefacts from excavation sites across Santorini, most notably from the fabulous Minoan city site at Akrotiri.
The lost city of Akrotiri is Santorini's very own Pompeii, a bustling and busy Minoan centre that was buried beneath tons of volcanic ash and left undisturbed since 1500BC.
The excavation site has recently been reopened. It remained closed to the public for many years following the dramatic collapse of a huge roof built to cover and protect the ruins.
Now visitors can once again walk the ancient streets, dally in the former city squares and peer at the buildings and houses preserved in pumice for generations.
Preserved in the mountain of ash were many ancient items, from everyday domestic articles to precious jewels and ritual objects, and many of them can now be seen in the Museum of Prehistoric Fira.
It's located in the holiday resort of Fira that sits high on the edge of the Santorini caldera rim and it was built on the site of the old Ypapanti church which itself was destroyed in an earthquake in 1956.
The displays cover the island's history from the Late Neolithic to the Late Cycladic I periods includes the lifespan on Akrotiri which was founded in 3300 BC and flourished as a maritime trading port during the mature Late Cycladic I period in 1800 BC.
The museum collections are displayed chronologically, and take in ceramics, sculptures, jewellery, wall paintings, and several ritual objects as well as quantities of Neolithic pottery, from ancient amphorae to Early Cycladic marble figurines.
But this is no run-of-the-mill museum, not only because it features finds from one of the most important centres of the ancient Mediterranean world but also because, buried in pumice for centuries, many of the museum's objects are in pristine condition.
Most impressive of all are the wall paintings that survived the volcanic eruption and give us a glimpse into the life and times of these ancient people.
The fresco painting of the blue monkeys stands out as a masterpiece of design. The wall painting marries a delicacy in drawing with a freedom of movement that captures the playful character of the subject matter.
Many of the pots and jugs on display echo the delicately drawn motifs of the wall paintings while the gold ibex, discovered in mint condition as recently as 1999 is one of the few items of wealth left behind when the Minoans took flight from the volcanic eruption.
There are around 500 exhibits on permanent display in the museum covering research into finds on Santorini as well at the geology and history of the island.
But it's not just the artistic stuff that captures the imagination of the visitor. ordinary, but beautiful household items have been excavated from Ancient Akrotiri and the collection includes plant fossils; Early Cycladic marble figurines; Middle Cycladic bird jugs decorated with swallows; plaster casts of furniture, tools and weapons as well as scores of clay vases.
It' is a good idea to combine a visit to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira with a tour of the archaeological site at Ancient Akrotiri in order to capture the full experience of this extraordinary place.