Ancient Thera, Santorini's most beautiful archaeological site

It's hard to guess the existence of ancient Thera from the wide, black sandy beach of Perissa: the ancient city, founded around the 9th century BC, is perched on the summit of Mesa Vouno, a mountain that plunges steeply into the sea, protected from prying eyes.

In contrast to the Caldera, towards which all eyes turn on Santorini, ancient Thera is no less a grandiose site: as well as its remarkably well-preserved archaeological remains, its position overlooking the immensity of the Aegean, a veritable Big Blue in this area, gives it a unique setting.

That's why everyone must tackle the steep steps up to ancient Thera: an archaeological site that's not just for lovers of old stones and ancient history, but also for lovers of beautiful Cycladic landscapes, quite simply!

The theater of ancient Thera
© ecstk22 / Shutterstock

Ancient Thera, Santorini's fresco of antiquity

The history of Santorini has nothing in common with the other Cycladic islands, which are so close. The major event that forever marked the island was the gigantic volcanic eruption of 1600 BC, one of the greatest cataclysms in living memory!

The site of the ancient Thera, in bloom this spring
© Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock

This titanic eruption drove out the Minoans who had settled on the site of ancient Akrotiri, to the south of Santorini, and left the island completely uninhabited for several centuries. Legend has it that a son of the King of Sparta, Thiras, landed on the shores of this deserted Santorini to found a colony: this was around the 9th century BC.

This legendary king gave his name to Santorini and to the newly founded city: Thira, or Thera, which are still the official Greek names of Santorini today! In those remote times, when the sea was infested with pirates, people looked for sites that were easy to defend, high up and offering far-reaching views of the surrounding area: all the characteristics of ancient Thera.

The Christian basilica marks the entrance to the site
© kataleewan intarachote / Shutterstock

Perched at an altitude of 365m on the summit of Mesa Vouno, a sort of protrusion of Profitis Ilias plunging into the sea, ancient Thera remained inhabited until the Byzantine period (10th-11th centuries), before the Venetians took over. Several civilisations left their mark: the Dorians from Greece, the Ptolemies from Egypt, the Romans and the Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire...

Visit to ancient Thera, a plunge into Santorini's past

Along with ancient Akrotiri, ancient Thera is Santorini's other must-see archaeological site. The site can be visited on foot from either Perissa or Kamari: the path climbs up to the Mesa Vouno pass, where the entrance to Ancient Thera is located.

The sculpted temenos
© Erica Ruth Neubauer / Shutterstock

Next, a flight of warming steps leads up to the site itself: the remains are fairly sparse, but give an idea of the composition of the ancient city, and above all, the traces left by its various occupants over the course of its history: the 4th-century Christian basilica, the agora and theatre, the ancient temples, the sanctuary of the Egyptian gods, the temenos and its sacred animals, the Roman baths, etc...

Advice from the Editor

👉 From the ancient theatre, you can see the many planes gradually descending below the site to land at Santorini airport... an astonishing sight!

A map of the site is recommended to help you find your way around! While you're there, don't lose sight of the incredible panoramic views over Santorini and the Aegean Sea from ancient Thera, and take a break under a wind-blown pine tree: opposite, little Anafi, the last of the Cyclades, makes you want to take to the sea in the manner of the ancient Greeks!

Below, the view also opens out onto Santorini's two great volcanic beaches: Perissa on one side and Kamari on the other. The two are linked by small boats in summer, providing an opportunity to make a loop with a swim once you reach the very bottom of ancient Thera.

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Practical information

👉 How do I get to Ancient Thera?

  • By car, parking at the foot of the site via the Kamari road.
  • By bus, regular service from Fira with Santorini's KTEL buses to Perissa or Kamari.
  • On foot, a signposted path links the ancient Thera to the two resorts (45 min ascent).

👉 When should you visit Ancient Thera?

Go to the site entrance as soon as it opens, in the morning, to take advantage of the best light and avoid the heat: it's a steep climb to get to the site, and there's not much shade! In any case, bring water with you for the visit.

⏰ Opening times at Ancient Thera:

  • Daily, 8.30am-3.30pm
  • Closed on Tuesdays

👛 Admission tickets:

  • Admission: full price €6, concessions €3.
  • 3-day combined ticket: €15 (includes the archaeological site of Ancient Akrotiri and the Fira Prehistoric Museum, both must-sees)
by Jude JONES
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