Much of Akrotiri’s excavation finds are housed in the museum of Thera that aims to give visitors a comprehensive idea of the ancient Akrotiri settlement at its height of popularity. There are detailed plaster casts of furniture household equipment in amazing variety and a range of bronze weapons, tools and bowls. While these pay tribute to the metalwork talent, artistry and living standards of the civilization, the seals and tablets pay tribute to the administrative structure and laws of those times.
The centrepiece of this museum is definitely the collection of lovely wall paintings that include the wall painting of Papyri and ladies, the painting of blue monkeys etc. There are heavily ornate and marvellously crafted clay vases that were found to be important from different Aegean sea islands… this indicates the wealth, cultural tastes and trade links of the Akrotiri civilization. There is a stunning pithos with bull and an equally remarkable golden ibex figure amongst other eye-catching exhibits.
The Prehistoric Museum of Thera is considered by many historians as one of the most brilliant and aesthetically refined archaeological collections in the world and it succinctly shows everyday life that existed in a city almost 3700 years ago (1800 years before Pompeii). Naturally, the museum is deeply connected to the Akrotiri Excavation Site and visiting both consecutively will allow a more holistic understanding.
It’s said that an ancient Ypapanti church used to exist on the site which now houses the archaeological museum of Thera. The church fell down in the disastrous 1956 dated Amorgos earthquake and much later a decision was taken to erect a museum in its place. The decision was taken after S Marinatos excavated the Akrotiri area around 1967 and the entire archaeological world was surprised by the remarkable condition of the archaeological finds.
It’s unlike the popular perception that says that only finds from the Akrotiri archaeological sites are housed here, this museum also holds finds from the archaeological site of Potamos and exhibits that belong to other Cycladic islands. Note that all major excavation works and decisions regarding the upkeep and display of the findings are taken by the Archaeological Society of Athens. Much of the excavation finds were also shifted to Athens but after the establishment of this museum, many exhibits are being returned back.
The museum actually covers the whole Santorini island’s history from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Cycladic period and these sections offer 80% of the exhibits. The collections comprise ceramic ware, wall paintings, pottery and vases, sculpture, ritualistic items, household objects, weapons and some jewellery. Some of the wall paintings and frescoes presented in this museum are said to be the oldest surviving pieces of this sort.
Everything falls into perspective when you consider the fact that ‘ancient Thera’ was as ancient to the Greeks as ‘ancient Greeks’ are to the rest of the world. Apart from these, sections were established to represent the geological changes in Thiras and its conversion into 5 scattered islands (Santorini, Therasia, Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni). Items from the Bronze Age are also displayed in this museum.
The Major Attractions
The museum is spread across a very large room that’s chronologically separated into different sections. The entire museum is well segmented and exhibits are spaced out. Plentiful information plaques (both in Greek and English) are provided for a better understanding of the exhibits. Remember that many exhibits have been moved to the Athens museum but what remains is completely original. Take lots of photographs… it’s free and allowed and there is no gift shop selling photo prints inside the museum complex.
History of Research
Research has been conducted in different prehistoric settlements in Santorini for a very long time and this section demonstrates the summary of work done by different archaeologists. There are exhibits from the Bronze Age including bronze weapons, arrows and a very remarkable saw. Utensils made of stone and rudimentary drawings are also put on display. This section showcases the very beginning of life on the island of Thera and how it was discovered.
Geology of Thera
There is a scale model of the Akrotiri Archaeological Site that showed how the settlement actually looked like. Fossils of bugs, insects and other small animals from earlier times (before humans came and settled here) are also displayed. This section will fascinate science lovers and anyone who is interested in volcanoes. The entire history of the island right from the earthquake to the multiple volcanic eruptions and their effects are explained here. There are photographs, drawings, information boards that make the entire history come to life and it’s a fascinating journey.
Island’s History from Late Neolithic to Late Cycladic I period
There are large ewers on display here and a huge collection of household objects which show how the common people went about their lives. There is tableware, furniture, incense holders and even a bathtub on display. The Neolithic period pottery found on the island looks especially interesting and so do the marble figures from the Early Cycladic period.
There are many lovely pieces of pottery including ornate jugs that date from 2200 BC to 2000 BC. Pottery from the Late Cycladic II to Late Cycladic III period is also displayed and some of this is from the Christiana Islands. Metal artefacts from Megalochori and Akrotiri and swallow decked pottery from many other Cycladic islands are also displayed. Clay made (rudimentary ceramic) vessels that were used to store, cook and serve food, as well as lamps, are on display… these bear evidence to the way people used to organise their lives.
Mature Late Cycladic Period (17th century BC)
This was when the Akrotiri civilization really flourished. The architecture and plan of the city are demonstrated through various exhibits and the administrative system is also showcased. The best exhibits of wall paintings, richest pottery and elegant jewellery are seen in this section and the wealth and prosperity of the citizens can easily be estimated.
Some of the most beautiful original Minoan frescoes are found here. The subjects are varied like humans wearing flowers, women, blue monkeys, papyrus plants etc. The blue monkey and papyrus plant frescoes showed that the Minoans had travelled to Egypt. The abundant use of flowers in art shows the fondness of this Minoan civilisation for flowers.
There are frescoes of port with ships displaying oars; the logical conclusion is that the prehistoric Thirans travelled around the Mediterranean zone for trade (cereals, tin and copper). There are frescoes depicting different trades like pottery and fishing and they show the different livelihood trades of the civilization. Other frescoes depict customs & traditions like an older lady handing out clothes to a younger one and these provide really meaningful insight into the social life of the Minoans.
Not much jewellery was recovered but what’s displayed is refined and aesthetically pleasing. It’s estimated that the Akrotiri citizens fled with their valuables before the volcano erupted (no human remains were discovered). The artistic finesse of the pottery and frescoes surpasses anything that the Romans created many hundreds of years after.
One of the top attractions of the museum is the beautiful golden Ibex statue that was excavated in1999. The Ibex was carefully sealed inside a clay box that was enclosed in a wood chest. Ibexes aren’t found in Europe, so it showed that Akrotiri had trade links with other civilizations. The Ibex is in a very good state… it’s incredible to see that it’s dated back to the 17th century.
The museum becomes more interesting when you cease looking at the collections merely visually and try to decipher the trade, cultural and historic links that they signify. For example, there are a lot of exhibits from the Late Cycladic period i.e. 17th century BC and this is because the city flourished during this period. It’s interesting to see design trends like the many bird decked jugs; a close look will tell you that swallows were a favourite design trend all over Santorini during this period.
Lovers of art and history will immediately like this museum. For others, a visit to the Akrotiri archaeological site first will help put things into perspective. The museum isn’t too big, so half an hour is the average time needed to go through the exhibits. If you are visiting Santorini in the summers then you will be tempted to linger inside the museum for a long time… after all it’s fully air-conditioned!!
The museum is basically contained inside one very large room and there are no stairs so it’s completely wheelchair accessible. There are some negative points though like the washrooms are usually out of toilet paper and some of the information boards are poorly translated, these can be overlooked. It’s hard to find a museum that offers so much priceless and original art in such a space!!
The Museum of Prehistoric Thera is open every day except Tuesday.
The opening hours are from 8.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. But timings keep changing so keep an eye on the official website.
This museum is a staple stop on all Fira tours and around 12 p.m. you will see a large assortment of tour groups descend on the museum with guides. It gets really noisy with all the tour guides communicating in different languages and it leads to a lot of chaos. So the best time to visit this museum is in the morning between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Tours & Tickets
There are local guides wandering around the museum premises and you can easily contact any of them for booking a guided tour… these aren’t very expensive.
The Museum of prehistoric Thera is an important stop on any Santorini full-day guided tour. For example, a 5-hour popular shore excursion guided tour offered by Viator includes a walk-through of the museum and island wine tasting besides other attractions. You can book this tour from this Viator website.
At the museum entrance, there is a ticket kiosk selling tickets (single as well as a combination). For a 14 euro fee, you can get a 4-day package ticket that includes entry to many other sites apart from Ancient Thera like Akrotiri, Archaeological Museum, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Collection of Icons and Ecclesiastical Artefacts at Pyrgos. The package ticket is a great offer as the Akrotiri entrance ticket alone costs 12 euros.
The admission fee is 6 euro per adult if you buy the Prehistoric Thera museum ticket only. Students and retired people get a discounted entry ticket (3 euro).
How to reach
There are two archaeological museums in Fira, so many people get confused and visit the small archaeological museum next to the cable car station. This also holds a good collection of objects recovered from archaeological sites in Santorini but all the information plaques are in Greek and French. The museum described in this article is larger and modern looking and is situated between Fira bus station and cathedral. Enter from the entrance near Taxi station… that’s where the ticket booth is.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira
Fira, Santorini, Greece
Phone: (+30)2286023217; Website
The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is the next logical place you should visit if you want to gain a better understanding of the exhibits you have just seen. Most of the exhibits you see at this museum are well preserved and that’s because a 3 feet high cover of ash and volcanic materials fell on the settlement after the eruptions sealing everything under it. The exhibits ere are strongly tied to the volcanic eruptions of 1620 which is why you can also try out other volcanic experiences on Santorini after the museum visit.
Exploring the red Akrotiri beach and the black Kamari beach or even going up the volcanic islands of Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni may help in gaining a deeper understanding of the eruptions that marked the end of the historic civilizations of Thera.
The lack of a gift shop selling copies, postcards and souvenirs related to the Akrotiri site, will sadden you. The Goulash Art Studio does stock some ceramic ware with the Akrotiri swallow motif. The pieces are not cheap but they are worth it especially if you liked the swallow theme at the museum.