The oldest remains found on Santorini date human presence back to the 3rd millennium BC. First settlements were built in the south of the island. Unfortunately there are no written records of this era, also called proto-Cycladic period. Typical for this culture are the IDOLS – small marble sculptures in abstract style, found on different Cycladic islands. Due to the islands strategically good geographic location it played a significant role in the maritime trade of this time supporting the development of the island.
During the 2nd millennium the inhabitants where driven out or assimilated by the MINOANS from Crete. Still it is not clear whether Santorini was political independent or a fore post of the Minoan Empire the cultural connections and influence from Crete are especially evident in the frescos found in the ancient site of AKROTIRI (see SITE & VILLAGES section). AKROTIRI is recognized to be one of the most important archeological sites of the prehistoric era in the Eastern Mediterranean. During a vast volcanic eruption the whole settlement was covered by a thick layer of volcanic deposits which preserved the village until today. In this prosperous era the island was known as STRONGYLE (the Round One).
In the middle of the 177th century BC one of the biggest volcanic explosions destroyed the island completely and all traces of human presence vanished for centuries from Santorini. After about 1300 BC the PHOENICIANS came to the island and called it KALLISTE (the Fairest One). The current name THIRA originated from a new colonization at about the change of millenniums after one of the leaders of the Lacedaemonians. They founded the new capital on the rock of Messa Vouno: ANCIENT THERA (see SITE & VILLAGES section). In about 630 BC the only colony, CYRENE in North Africa was founded.
During the Persian Wars Santorini, like many other Cycladic islands, took the side of the Persians who looked as the sure winners. During the decisive battles between 490 and 479 BC they did not participate, though the sympathies were still with the Persians. In the Peloponnesian War Santorini sided with Sparta to whom the aristocratically organized society had better relations than to the democratic ATHENS. Later a coalition with Athens was established. In the 2nd half of the 4th century BC SANTORINI became part of the Macedonian Empire.
After the death of Alexander the Great Santorini became a marine base for his successors.
In the beginning of the 2nd century BC, after the 2nd Macedonian-roman war Santorini was integrated in the Roman Empire. First governed by RHODES, later the Cyclades became a roman province of its own. In this period the island of PALEA KAMENI rose from the sea caused by new volcanic activity.
In Byzantine times Santorini played no important role. As part of the Byzantine Empire it was reigned from Constantinople. But it was impossible for Constantinople to protect the island from recurring pirate attacks devastating the island. The most significant traces of the Byzantine predominance are the churches that have been founded in this time.
In Pyrgos the Church Theotokaki (10th century) or the church of the Panagia Episkopi above the village Messa Gonia, founded by the emperor Alexius I. Comneus in the beginning of the 12th century.
After the 4th crusade (1204) and the fall of Constantinople Santorini came under the influence of the Venetians under different dynasties. First independent finally it was integrated in the Duchy of Naxos. The Venetians renamed the island to Santorini, after the Church of Agia Irini (Santa Irene Church) in the north of Thirassia. Others claim this church to be at Perissa.
The danger of pirate was present as well in the Venetian dominance. This resulted in the foundation of different fortified villages. The most important were Pyrgos (centre of the orthodox community), Oia, Emborio and a castle (catholic community) on the rock of Skaros, close to Imerovigli, on the highest point of the cliffs. Unfortunately there are no remains of this castle.
In 1537 the Turkish pirate and Admiral Chareddin Barbarossa conquered the Cycladic islands, consequently also Santorini. As part of the Turkish Empire Santorini had to bear the burden of very high taxes and payments, therefore the pirate attacks ceased and shipping trade developed. Connections where established to all major ports of the Mediterranean. The Turks did not occupy or settle on the island. They left the Santorineans to govern themselves and granted freedom in religious believes.
In the 2nd half of the 16th century parts of the island’s south coast were covered by the sea after new volcanic activity. Between 1707 and 1711 the island Nea Kameni was formed.
During the Russian-Turkish War Santorini took the side of the Russians and kept their freedom for nearly 4 years.
From 1821 Santorini supported Greece´ fight for independence against the Turks with their strong fleet and became in the year 1830 part of the Greek state. The industrial development, for example the change of shipping from sail to steam engines, had a negative effect on the before flourishing economy of the island.
In the course of the 2nd world War Santorini was first occupied by Italian troops in 1941, later by the Germans, who stayed until 1944. After the Civil War between the Communists and Royalists, Greece entered in 1952 the NATO.
On the 9th of July 1956 a devastating earthquake awoke the people of Santorini. Many houses collapsed and more that 50 deaths had to be reported. The strongest destruction happened in the villages up on the caldera, such as Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia.
Tourism began to develop in the end of the 1970s and brought up an economic boost to the island.