Cretan artifacts are unique, unlike those of any other civilization.
How had such a civilization vanished? What had become of the Minoans of Crete? It was a mystery.
In 1965, I married my wife Marina. To celebrate, we took a cruise that stopped at the island of Santorini. While visiting the many sites, we met a Greek archeologist, Professor Marinatos. Santorini had become his obsession. There were many ruins on the island, from both the Roman and Hellenistic periods, mostly of little importance. With a bold idea fixed in his mind, Marinatos sought to do the impossible. Four meters of lava stood in his way. Undeterred, Marinatos succeeded at locating and excavating the remains of an astonishing Minoan city. It was the first Minoan civilization found outside of Crete. Marinatos recounted to us the tragic fate of Minoan Crete and its empire.
In 1500 BCE, the world witnessed history’s greatest natural disaster, with Santorini as the epicenter. After measuring the effects, Marinatos compared it to the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia at the end of the 19th century, which literally shook the entire world. Sitting on the crumbling steps of the ruins he was examining, Marinatos described what had taken place in Santorini.
The island, at that time, had been dominated by a large volcano. Earthquakes began to shake the ground. When they became too frequent the population abandoned the island, explaining why no skeletons had been found during the excavation. And so it was on a deserted island that nature would unleash itself. The volcano not only erupted, it quite literally exploded, sending thousands of tons of debris into the sky before collapsing in upon itself, creating an enormous void that the sea quickly filled. The island, then called Strongili, literally “round,” remains today only a crescent of its former self; most of the island had disappeared in the explosion. Smoke and debris filled the sky, clouding the atmosphere for weeks. Clouds of ash rained down over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers. Darkness reigned for days if not weeks.
The volcano is still active, and continues to emit worrisome vapors that break the surface of the sea. Minor volcanic activity is constantly shifting the black and angular coastline of the bay. Beneath the water, now home to yachts and cruise ships, the earth continues to move, constantly changing due to small eruptions. I have learned while writing this that volcanic activity in the area is increasing.
I also learned from Marinatos that the worst effect of this great catastrophe was the tsunami. Originating at Santorini, wave reached over a hundred meters in height before reaching Crete, and was still over ten meters when it reached the Egyptian coast. In Minoan Crete, mostly confined to the northern shore of the island, and directly within the path of the tsunami, almost nothing remains. The civilization had disappeared not only from the surface of the earth, but also from then memory of mankind.
Minoan Crete, along with its treasures, was forgotten. Then, in 1910, Arthur Evans, following the intuition of the late Schliemann, discovered the ruins of Knossos.
This catastrophe, and the sudden and tragic disappearance of the Minoan civilization, gave birth to one of the most famous and mysterious legends of antiquity.