Imagine for a brief moment how it would be to live or work in a cave type setting, do you think you would like it? You may think caves were mainly used by our prehistoric ansectors, but cave houses were the main source of shelter in Santorini after the 1956 earthquake hit the island. (For more information on the 1956 earthquake reference my 2nd blog The tragic events following the 1956 earthquake). Today, there are still a good amount of structures built into caves, and they are all around the island.
Cave houses were more in use after the 1956 earthquake because there weren’t any building materials left on the island after most of the buildings were destroyed. Tree vegetation was limited as well, and what was there wasn’t sturdy enough to build with. Wealthier families ended up leaving the island but poorer families had to stay and live off what resources were left on the island.
The rock resource that was carved into to make these cave structures is known as phase 3 and sometimes phase 4 of the Minoan eruption that happened in 1613 BC.
Phase 3 is a massive, cool, pyroclastic flow of material. A pyroclastic flow is formed when an eruption column of a volcano goes up into the air and then falls down across the landscape following it until it finally stops and all that material–including gas, ash, and pumice is deposited right where it stopped.
Phase 4 is also a pyroclastic flow but a hot one instead of cool.
Phase 3 and 4 were picked to build cave structures in because of the location of where it was at, meaning they were the top layers of material deposited. They could also carve into it easily and it protected them from weather and wind when they did build structures into it.
Even though cave structures were one of the main options for shelter after the 1956 earthquake, they are known to be more dangerous in some cases to live in compared to normal (built on top of the ground and not into it) structures. Cave structures could be more dangerous because they have a higher risk of rocks collapsing in if a strong enough earthquake hits. It’s also known that open spaces can be more problematic during shaking since there’s no material for shock waves to go into. Since a lot of the cave structures here in Santorini are positioned on the edge of the caldera rim there’s risk of landslides too, on top of rocks collapsing in and problematic shaking.
Cave structures are mostly built into phases 3 and 4 of the Minoan eruption because of the accessibility to those phases. Every type of structure will have its pros and cons though, and you just have to evaluate them if you plan on living in a potentially risky structure.
Overall, admiring the architecture of a cave structure can be a visually fulfilling moment. Especially seeing how cave structures are like here in Santorini. For me they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s definitely a unique experience to add to your bucket list.
1) Druitt T. H. (2014) New insights into the initiation and venting of the Bronze-Age eruption of Santorini (Greece), from component analysis. Bull Volcanol 76: 794