On an ancient stone Artemidoros carved his wish to remain immortal, to live beyond the stories held within the crumbled ruins. So he has. Visitors to Ancient Thera on the Greek island of Santorini may find, if they look closely, his face etched in stone, the details defined by moss and mold and a sculptor’s hand.
Theras, mythical leader of Sparta and Laconia, founded the city named after him sometime during the ninth century B.C. It sits atop a 1500-meter high mount covered with limestone and volcanic ash. It hardly seems the place for a teeming city, yet at its peak it claimed 10,000 residents. Its location overlooking a pass through the Aegean Sea, on the southeast corner of the island, gave Thera a vantage point for blocking invasions by common marauders and, worse, Romans.
Ancient Thera had at its center an urban core. A few sites have been identified as shops, residences, an amphitheatre and sanctuaries. Of these a fairly sophisticated temple was dedicated to Apollo, the Greek god of the sun.
Later in the third century Artemidoros constructed a temenos, an open-air sanctuary dedicated to a handful of Greek gods. He carved altars, various relief decorations and inscriptions to Priapos, Hecate and Omonoia among others.
In the 17th century A.D., the volcano that rocked Akrotiri and buried it under tons of lava and ash also smothered Thera. Tourists have a choice of visiting either archaeological site. They typically choose Akrotiri which, according to local knowledge, now charges a sizable entrance fee for a mediocre tour. The more adventurous sort may prefer a self-guided tour of Thera where the ruins have survived natural and physical threats.
The citizens of Ancient Thera honored Artemidoros for his work by presenting him twice with an olive wreath, the highest honor one could attain, and citizenship. Of course, there’s also the remembrance he left behind of himself, the carving aged by time and the winds that sweep over Santorini.
The Lezovi visited Santorini, Greece, in March 2013, the eighth country on their European tour.