Archaeological research on islands offers unique insights into the evolution of human societies. For instance, early Cycladic communities used clubs to hunt and carved stone for their houses. Necropolises reveal that they organized their societies with hierarchies and dominating chiefs.
Agios Georgios Cave has revealed habitation traces from phases 3 and 4 of the Late Neolithic Period (3300-1100BC). It is an important finding, as it challenges earlier notions that the island civilizations were influenced by outside cultures.
Akrotiri of Thera
The excavations of Akrotiri in Santorini are revealing one of the most advanced civilizations in prehistoric Greece. The first habitation here dates to the Late Neolithic period (4th millennium BC) but it was during the Early and Middle Bronze Age that the settlement developed significantly. It eventually became one of the main urban centers and ports in the Aegean. Its sophisticated multi-storeyed buildings and magnificent wall-paintings are evidence of its thriving cultural life. Various imported objects found at the site also indicate the broad network of its external relations, as it maintained close ties with Minoan Crete and other parts of mainland Greece, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, and Syria.
What is particularly remarkable about Akrotiri, and what has earned it the nickname of “Greek Pompeii”, is that there is no evidence of bodies being found at the site – a fact that suggests the inhabitants took their belongings with them before the city was covered by volcanic ash around the 16th century BC. It’s likely that an earthquake preceded the eruption but it’s not certain.
It’s best to visit Akrotiri as part of a guided tour that also includes visiting the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira. You can also get there by public transport from the central bus station in Fira. Check out the official timetables here.
Located on the northern island of Milos, Phylakopi was inhabited continuously from the late third millennium BC until the Mycenaean period (1100BC). It is one of the most important sites of prehistoric Cycladic civilization. Its ruins are not particularly extensive but they include buildings that are quite different from the typical palace-like constructions of other Aegean cities.
The site was first excavated between 1896 and 1899 by Duncan MacKenzie, a colleague of Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, and by the team of James Gandy. It was a pioneering project that established standard stratigraphic practices and a clear chronology of the Bronze Age settlement.
Archaeological finds suggest that Phylakopi had a sophisticated urban infrastructure, with houses arranged in blocks and streets leading to central buildings. Its inhabitants were skilled potters and painters. They also used Linear A writing to record their history and trade.
The Phylakopi settlement was heavily traded with the rest of the Aegean islands and beyond. Trade items include Melian obsidian from Crete and pottery, as well as stone, clay and metal figurines. The Phylakopi culture was influenced by other cultures and this is seen in its art, which reflects influences from the Minoans, Egyptians, and Mycenaeans. It is the first truly international age and we see it in the way that, for example, Minoan wall paintings owe much to Egyptian ones and later Cypriot pottery imitates Mycenaean models.
A beautiful beach located a few kilometers south of Parikia, Agia Irini is boarded with lovely palm trees and its namesake church. The place looks very tropical and, during peak season, it can get really crowded. However, you can also visit the relaxing campsite behind the beach and enjoy some privacy in one of the most secluded spots on the island.
It might not be a hiking trail as famous as Samaria or Imbros but the Agia Irini Gorge is just as impressive. The walk begins at the exit of the village of Agia Irini and follows a wide path which passes by a stone house where you will have to pay your entrance fee (the warden might collect it later during your hike as well). Soon, the path narrows down and the gorge opens up.
After a few minutes walking, you will reach the last refreshment point in the form of a tavern called Kri-Kri. From here, it is a short walk to the gorge’s end. The walk is around 15km and it will take you about 5 hours to complete it.
There are a couple of companies offering ferry services to Nisyros including Blue Star Ferries and Hellenic Seaways. Both companies operate large conventional ferries with plenty of deck space, cabins and garages. Ferry tickets through them are moderately priced.
Agios Georgios Cave
The Agios Georgios Cave is a site of great interest. It contains inscriptions that record visits by prominent figures from the Neolithic period, including Alexander the Great and the first king of Greece, Otto. The lyric poet Archilochus of Paros also left his name engraved here. The cave is also the final resting place of a monk who was a great protector of Zakynthos.
The cave was used as a shelter during a drought, and remains of fires indicate that the inhabitants tried to cultivate the land around it. The archaeological excavations revealed that the cave was inhabited from the late Neolithic period to the Middle and Early Bronze Ages. The discovery of a series of domestic objects in the cave demonstrates that the people living in this settlement had a high standard of living, and it is one of the most important urban centres of the prehistoric Aegean.
Delos is a fascinating island that can be visited as part of a day trip from the ports of Mykonos or Santorini. Running On Waves recommends catching the early ferry to Delos so that you can visit before the crowds arrive, and the weather is cooler. This way, you can enjoy the ancient ruins of this once great city before most of the day tour groups arrive.