Dhe earth trembles. A dull rumble and a cloud of ash herald something ominous. A huge explosion follows, which rips apart the top of a volcano with a deafening bang. Lava rock the size of a truck flies towards the viewer, glowing red streams, murderously hot, roll over the land, into the bubbling sea.
What follows are tidal waves as high as a house, which sweep over the sea at breakneck speed. Instinctively you raise your arms to protect yourself from the elemental forces, that’s how realistically you experience the apocalypse today, which destroyed all life on Thera three and a half thousand years ago.
Thera – that’s what Santorini was once called. For a year now, an Atlantis museum has been welcoming visitors to the Greek Aegean island, which it claims to be the first in the world. It is equipped with the finest high-tech.
The Atlantis Museum explains Thera
In a cinema with 3D film material, visitors sit on hydraulically operated chairs and can enjoy even more: water splashes out of the armrests. When entering the “Lost Atlantis Experience”, as the museum calls all of its illusionary magic, you have to make your way over virtually glowing lava rocks.
At the end of the Feuerstraße you will find a touchscreen on which you can follow Plato’s life. The world-famous Greek philosopher reported on Atlantis for the first time around 360 BC in his late works “Kritias” and “Timaeus”.
A few meters further, Plato comes to life. As a projection, it answers questions from museum visitors. Shortly afterwards you stand in front of rotating holograms that trace the geological development of Santorini from prehistoric times to the present in three dimensions.
The viewer learns about research results from 1989. According to this, Thera looked surprisingly similar to Plato’s Atlantis image 3600 years ago: a hill surrounded by rings of seawater and earth. On the upper floor, a huge Atlantis diorama provides insights into the daily life of the residents.
At the end of the exhibition there is a reality check: Plato’s descriptions are compared with the reality of Santorini using examples.
After the beach to the archaeological site of Akrotiri
The similarities with Atlantis have not stopped Giorgos Koukoulas since he came to the island 13 years ago. In 2012 he wrote a novella with “Atlantis will never go down”. Seven years later his dream of a museum came true, which he and five friends had planned and financed himself; today he is its director.
“Plato wanted to embed his idea of an ideal state in a real environment,” he is sure. “With its highly developed culture, its geological features and its dramatic history, it is very obvious that Santorini and the surrounding islands are the origin of Atlantis.”
If one goes in search of evidence that supports this thesis, a holiday on Santorini can also be a journey of discovery outside the museum. The first stop is the archaeological site of Akrotiri.
Bathers who relax in intense sunshine in the 20 degree warm water on Red Beach until the end of October like to combine their beach stay with a walk through the nearby archaeological site, where a city reached the height of its culture in the Bronze Age three and a half thousand years ago. Plato saw Atlantis sink in his work through earthquakes and floods, Akrotiri was also destroyed by an earthquake around 1620 BC.
A society as described by Plato
In 1967 the excavations began in Akrotiri – which will drag on for many years. However, the work has been very insightful so far. The roughly two hectare part of the archaeological site that has been exposed so far provides information about a society as outlined by Plato as a “great and wonderful empire” in his works.
Wall paintings show a civilization shaped by trade and seafaring, which at that time was far ahead of its time. Currently they are hidden from visitors, but mostly still in the museum’s magazine. Particularly noticeable is the frieze found in the so-called West House with an armada of ships, which comes very close to Plato’s description of “The largest port teeming with ships and merchants”.
When walking through the alleys of the 3600-year-old city, one can hardly stop being amazed at the techniques that people already had at their disposal. Houses up to three floors high, cantilevered stairs, sewers, cobblestone streets, bathtubs and toilets in the buildings illustrate the prosperity in the city, which is so well preserved under volcanic ash, that is otherwise only found in Pompeii or Herculaneum. Plato had also reported on canals and bathhouses in his “Kritias” dialogue.
When hiking on Santorini you can see the stones
Unlike in Italy, no human remains have been found in Akrotiri so far. Archaeologists suspect that in the face of increasing earthquakes, people saved themselves on their ships from the great volcanic devastation. It is unlikely that they could escape the lava flows and sea waves up to 30 meters high.
Museum guide Eugenia Liodaki considers another explanation: “The residents of Thera were used to earthquakes. Perhaps they only evacuated the city temporarily. ”Bed frames in front of the uncovered houses indicate that clean-up work began after the earthquake. Obviously, the population was not ready to give up the prosperity achieved through trade and seafaring and the fertile soil of volcanic origin.
There was also plenty of building material on the island. Once again there are parallels to Plato’s Atlantis, whose inhabitants built “towers and gates” from it. “The stones for it,” he wrote, were “partly white, partly black, partly red” – typical stone colors for a volcanic island.
On a hike from Oia in the north of Santorini to the island’s capital Fira, the black and white layers of rock on the cliffs can easily be made out. The cliffs themselves are covered with a sea of whitewashed houses as if they were snow-covered.
The color contrasts are the black volcanic pebbles of many island beaches, the most beautiful Santorini can be found near Perivolos. Imposing red rocks can be found on Red Beach or on the way from Oia down to the port of Ammoudi.
So far, however, archaeologists have not come across traces of the Temple of Poseidon, whose location Plato established in the center of Atlantis. The islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni are located in the middle of the crater, which is now filled with seawater, the remaining rim of which Santorini is semicircular. Some of the hot springs praised by Plato bubble there.
If you sit on a restaurant terrace in Oia or Imerovigli with a glass of local Assyrtiko wine on a mild autumn evening, the islands enchant you in the light of the setting sun. Myth and reality slowly merge in front of the orange, then deep red horizon, which inevitably stimulates the imagination.
Tips and information
Getting there: From Berlin, for example, with the Greek airline Aegean, stopover in Athens. Lufthansa flies non-stop from Frankfurt, and Condor from Düsseldorf. For entry by sea, air and land, there is an online registration requirement due to Covid-19. An online form (“Passenger Locator Form”) on the travel.gov.gr website must be completed at least 24 hours before departure for Greece.
Accommodation: From the “Mystique Hotel Santorini” in Oia you can enjoy a spectacular view of the crater, a night in a double room costs from around 320 euros, depending on the season and the offer (mystique.gr); It is cheaper to stay in the “Heliotopos Boutique Hotel” in Imerovigli, double rooms from 165 euros (hotel.heliotopos.net); The “Istoria” is located directly on the beach of Perivolos near the archaeological site of Akrotiri and the Atlantis Museum, double rooms from 260 euros (istoriahotel.gr).
Lost Atlantis Experience Museum: The museum is located in Megalochori in the south of the island; admission is normally 12 euros, children from 6 to 12 years pay 6 euros. Due to Corona, you have to register and inquire about opening times (lost-atlantis.com). Closing time in the low season from November to the end of April.
Akrotiri archaeological site: The archaeological site of Akrotiri is open daily, entrance fee 12 euros (santorin.gr/akrotiri.php).
Information desk: discovergreece.com/de
Participation in the trip was supported by Marketing Greece. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.