pompeii-versuvuis-eruption (Image: Discovery Channel via Wikipedia, public domain)

Imagine everything you’d ever known – your friends, family, old high school and hometown – vanished one night. How would you feel? What would you do? It’s an idea we’ve all toyed with: the thought of being the ‘sole survivor’ of some unnamed cataclysm that wipes out the rest of civilisation. It’s the stuff of fiction, of ancient Biblical myth… and, just occasionally, it’s really happened. In our long history there are towns, cities and even entire ancient civilisations that vanished overnight, disappearing into the realm of myth and legend. Some became stories, some were never anything but, and some remain frighteningly real…

Akrotiri (Ancient Thera)

ancient-thera-2 (Image: Klearchos Kapoutsis, cc-3.0)

Western civilisation has long been fascinated with the Ancient Greeks: a race who advanced art, science and mathematics at almost superhuman speed. But the Greeks weren’t the first highly-complex civilisation to arise in Europe. Just as modern Europe is in awe of people like Archimedes, Plato and Homer, so were the Greeks in awe of the Minoans.

Put simply, the Minoans were brilliant. Arising on Crete around 2,700 BC, they spread across the Aegean Sea, building towering palaces, three-storey buildings, cobbled roads and establishing Europe’s first drainage and water systems. While we were still living in huts, smashing each other across the head with flint axes, the Minoans had created a highly-sophisticated Empire that would span a thousand years…  before collapsing in under fifty, following the overnight destruction of Akrotiri.

akrotiri-ancient-frescos

akrotiri-ancient-minoan-city (Images: Smial, public domain; Roland Turner, cc-sa-3.0)

A small, unimportant trading port, Akrotiri had the misfortune of being at ground zero when the Thera volcano exploded, detonating with the force of four Krakatoa’s. The town was instantly swamped with ash. The blast triggered tsunamis that smashed Crete to pieces. Crops were destroyed, the sun blotted out and the entire Minoan civilisation reduced to ashes. In a single lifetime, an Empire that had lasted sixty generations fell into ruin and disappeared, it’s incredible achievements all but lost to history.

 

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