There’s the saying “a wise man built his house upon a rock,” and the people of Sparta did just that when choosing the location for Ancient Thera. Our class recently went to the ancient Spartan’s house upon a massive rock: the site of Ancient Thera.
Ancient Thera was established when Santorini untied with Sparta and was built on top of Mesa Vouno. Santorini was an influential addition to the Pelloponesian war because atop Mesa Vouno, you are able to see the entire island. This includes a great view of both sides of the island, which we saw first hand on our hike(1). Not only was the location ideal because of its tactical advantages during battles, the hike up to the site is no walk in the park. The incline increased fairly quick, turning into a pretty intense hike, even steep enough to cause our uncoordinated group to slip a few times. I realized that this was indeed the walk of true Spartan warriors.
The Spartan culture is known for their intense lifestyle and intimidating warriors, so their location for Ancient Thera is quite fitting. While the high ground was perfect for anticipating threats, geologically it was also a great choice. The mountains of Mt. Profitis Ilias and Mesa Vouno are composed of limestone and phyllite These particular rocks are extremely hard and durable and create a solid foundation for building. Because the base is made of these rocks, we are still able to visit this historic place today.
The location of Ancient Thera, if built elsewhere on the island, would most likely not have been preserved. While there are other high parts of Santorini that could have been chosen for this settlement, the majority of the ground is composed of various volcanic and non-volcanic rock that create an unsteady base. If the Spartans had chosen a location with an ash and pumice base, or even other volcanic deposits, their military bases could of been highly effected by erosion and weathering. If Ancient Thera was built anywhere else than on Mesa Vouno, there’s a chance that many of the artifacts that archeologists have excavated would not have been found in their almost perfect condition.
Though our hike up was more difficult than I would of imagined, the view from the top is something I will never forget. To imagine that I walked where actual Spartans once walked, is incredible. While hiking down the metamorphic basement rock of Mt. Profitis Ilias, seeing the ash and pumice deposits from the Minoan eruption, I realized that this was just the first of our many adventures here on Santorini.
(1) Friedrich, W.L., 2009, Santorini: Volcano, Natural History and Mythology, Denmark: Aaruh University Press, 19 P.