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Where is Atlantis and What Does it Have to Do With Greek Santorini?

Updated on July 26, 2014
The island of Santorini, looking across the collapsed caldera and the buildings decorating the lip of it. Where is Atlantis? Not here.
The island of Santorini, looking across the collapsed caldera and the buildings decorating the lip of it. Where is Atlantis? Not here. | Source

June, 2011, the third international conference on "The Atlantis Hypothesis" was held on Santorini Island, Greece. I regret that I was unable to attend, but I did write an abstract for an article for that conference, which they graciously accepted.

Why was it held on Santorini?

Not only is it a beautiful Greek island and hot tourist destination, but according to some theorists, this was the real Atlantis which gave Plato his inspiration. Philosophers and researchers have asked "where is Atlantis" for more than two thousand years.

Atlantis, The Lost Continent (Remaster)
Atlantis, The Lost Continent (Remaster)

George Pal was a master of stop-action animation, but MGM didn't give him the budget he wanted for this would-be masterpiece. It's a bit campy in places, but lots of fun, too.

 

To be blunt: Greek Santorini is not and never was Atlantis.

In fact, the real Atlantis, if it existed, was never in any of the Greek islands.

Santorini (ancient Thera) may well have been an inspiration—or possibly the inspiration—for Atlantis, but any "real" Atlantis would have to follow Plato's description of the place. His two dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, define the subject.

Atlantis Defined

If there was a "real" Atlantis, it would have to have existed as Plato described.

  • A large island.
  • Beyond Gibraltar.
  • In the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Between "this" continent (Eurasia) and the unnamed continent across the great (Atlantic) ocean.
  • Facing Gadira (modern Cádiz, Spain).
  • As large as Libya and Asia combined.

Composite satellite map of the Mediterranean with political borders superimposed. Where is Atlantis? Not within the Mediterranean.
Composite satellite map of the Mediterranean with political borders superimposed. Where is Atlantis? Not within the Mediterranean. | Source

A fellow researcher on the topic of Atlantis had found one reference to "Atlantis" being 11-days sail from Gibraltar. Nearly all of his material is impeccably referenced, but he couldn't tell me where this tidbit came from. He suspects it came from Plutarch or one of the other classical sources. I'm still looking for this reference. Was it talking about the "city" of Atlantis (the capital)? Using the sailing ships of Columbus as a yardstick, 11-days sail would put this part of Atlantis at about the middle of the Azores.

Facing Gadira (the old Phoenician name for Cádiz, Spain) indicates that part of Atlantis was close enough to southern Spain to be considered as "facing," or "looking out onto," that region of Spain.

Map of Greece with Santorini marked by the red box. Where is Atlantis? Not here.
Map of Greece with Santorini marked by the red box. Where is Atlantis? Not here. | Source

And the description that Atlantis was the size of Libya and Asia combined lets us know that this was no small island. The Greeks of Plato's day knew of Sicily and Sardinia. The Greeks had founded Marseilles, France in about 600 BC—roughly 200 years before Plato. Sicily and Sardinia are the two largest islands of the Mediterranean. Crete, the largest Greek island is only fifth of the largest Mediterranean islands.

"Libya," as defined in the days of Plato was all of North Africa, excluding Egypt. Likely this did not include much, if any, of the deep Sahara. "Asia" referred to "Asia Minor," most of what is modern Turkey. This would make Atlantis roughly two to three times the size of Texas—the largest state in the contiguous United States.

Landsat photo of Santorini Island from space. Where is Atlantis? Not here.
Landsat photo of Santorini Island from space. Where is Atlantis? Not here. | Source

Where is Santorini and Why is It So Important?

Santorini Island is one of the Greek islands of the Sea of Crete. In fact, the island appears as a semi-circle on any map less than 200 kilometers north of the island of Crete.

The island is a partial volcanic caldera that blew its top approximately 1600 BC. In fact, according to tree ring data in China, 1628 BC was the year that massive crop failures occurred in that country. You have to understand that the climate of the entire planet was affected by Thera (modern Santorini) erupting. A 2006 scientific study showed that the Thera explosion may have been far larger than once thought, ejecting roughly 61 cubic kilometers (15 cubic miles) of rock and magma far into the planet's atmosphere. That's a cube nearly 4 kilometers on a side.

Besides affecting agriculture worldwide, the Thera explosion likely created a massive tsunami which greatly affected the Minoan civilization on Crete—a disaster from which that civilization never fully recovered.

An ancient fresco of a spring landscape found in the excavations of bronze-age Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece.
An ancient fresco of a spring landscape found in the excavations of bronze-age Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece. | Source

Excitement About Santorini (Thera)

In 1967, the late Professor Spyridon Marinatos began excavations at Akrotiri on Santorini, unearthing a rich body of archaeological finds. Santorini had a thriving Minoan culture before the volcanic eruption. How incredible that disaster must have been for them to have been living on top of such a time bomb.

Some came to theorize that this disaster was what inspired Plato to create his story of Atlantis. And that may well be the case. However, some of the logic used to support that theory proves to be less than exemplary.

Archaeological dig on Santorini, at Akrotiri. Photo by Klearchos P. Kapoutsis on July 4, 2006.
Archaeological dig on Santorini, at Akrotiri. Photo by Klearchos P. Kapoutsis on July 4, 2006. | Source

Problems Santorini as Atlantis—the "Minoan Hypothesis"

Historian K.T. Frost, in 1913, proposed that Plato's dates were off by a factor of ten. Instead of 9,000 years before Solon's visit to Egypt (c.600 BC), where he supposedly heard the Atlantis story, Frost suggests that Atlantis was a mere 900 years before that visit. This would put the destruction of Atlantis about 1500 BC, and very close to the destruction of Thera (Santorini).

The problem with this idea is that Plato also mentioned another date that makes this far from likely. The Egyptian priest who told the Atlantis story to Solon (the 6th century Athenian lawgiver), said that their own current history began 8,000 years earlier and 1,000 years after the Atlantis event. If the factor of ten error were true, then Egyptian history would have started about 1400 BC. That would mean that the Egyptian priest would be admitting to a lack of knowledge of the first 17½ dynasties.

Looking from the town of Fira, across the caldera to the central island, Nea Kameni.
Looking from the town of Fira, across the caldera to the central island, Nea Kameni. | Source

Another part of the Minoan hypothesis suggests that copyists who transcribed Plato's works made a scribal error. When Plato supposedly said that Atlantis was as large as Libya and Asia Minor combined, "The island [Atlantis] was in between Libya and Asia combined." They suggest that the Greek word "mezon" (larger than) was really "meson" (between). Researcher, R. Cedric Leonard, points out a couple of flaws in this idea. First of all, the wording doesn't make sense. The word "combined" is entirely out of place if the meaning had been "between." For another thing, the Greek letter "z" of the time looked nothing like their "s." So, it would not have been as "easy" for the scribe to make such a mistake. But more damning to this theory is the fact that Plato makes this comparison twice—once in Timaeus and once in Critias. For a scribe to make the same mistake twice in two separate manuscripts proves to be very unlikely.

The Minoan hypothesis also suggests that the circular shape of Santorini is similar to Plato's description of Atlantis. This proves to be perhaps the most laughable aspect of the Minoan hypothesis. Plato did mention circular islands and circular canals—all concentric—at the heart of the city of Atlantis, and with a canal leading to the ocean beyond. To the North of these several concentric rings stood a large, fertile plain with crisscrossing canals for irrigation. This plain was roughly 550 × 370 kilometers. Santorini is only about 15 kilometers across and there are no fertile plains north of it. Not only that, Plato said that the bulk of Atlantis was mountainous, surrounding the fertile plain. In other words, even the fertile plain was small compared to the mountainous ranges of Atlantis.

Another panoramic view of Santorini and the Thera caldera.
Another panoramic view of Santorini and the Thera caldera. | Source

In Favor of Plato's Atlantis

We still have no direct proof of Atlantis. It remains possible that it could merely have been a myth, but new evidence bolsters the likelihood that Atlantis was a real place.

One widely-held argument against Plato's Atlantis, until recently, was that there is no archaeological evidence for any civilization that far back. First of all, this is logically fallacious—an "argument to ignorance." All it takes is one discovery to blow that notion to smithereens. In the mid 1990s it happened at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. Archaeological ruins were found with bass relief carvings of animals and numerous structures dating to about 9500 BC. If Atlantis existed, then it's only a matter of time before direct evidence of its past existence is found.

One other widely-held argument against Plato's Atlantis is that there is nothing in the geology of the North Atlantic to support the past reality of a large island where Plato said Atlantis existed.

The location Plato picked for Atlantis is perfect. Why? Because there is a tectonic plate boundary running from Gibraltar to the Azores. Why would this be significant? Because most mountains on Earth are formed near tectonic plate boundaries. It's all about subduction and crustal folding. There are numerous signs that the plate boundary has been damaged. Could this damage have been caused by the creation and later destruction of Atlantis? Certainly further investigation is required to determine this, but it remains a possibility.

Atlantis; The Antediluvian World
Atlantis; The Antediluvian World

The 19th century best seller that ignited the modern interest in Atlantis.

 

More information on the geological aspects of the Atlantis mystery may be found in the article, "Atlantis: Was it Geologically Possible?" at the Mission: Atlantis website (see references, below).

A less technical video on the Atlantis geology subject can be found at, "Geology of Atlantis."

Plato's date for Atlantis has received much criticism, but we also have proof of an Atlantis-like event right when Plato said the legendary island was supposedly swallowed by the sea. For more on this surprising discovery, read "Atlantis: Proof that Something Very, Very Big Happened 9620 BCE."

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    • lone77star profile imageAUTHOR

      Rod Martin Jr 

      4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I would like to thank Jason Rubin for contacting me about the "11-days" from Gibraltar. I had mis-remembered it as a statement by Plato, but it may instead have been Plutarch or one of the other classical sources. If anyone can track this down, please let me know.

    • lone77star profile imageAUTHOR

      Rod Martin Jr 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Thank you, karaabasa. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      karaabasa 

      6 years ago from Santorini

      Great article about Santorini. Thank you

    • lone77star profile imageAUTHOR

      Rod Martin Jr 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Thanks, @prasetio30. Glad you enjoyed it. I have several hubs on Atlantis.

    • lone77star profile imageAUTHOR

      Rod Martin Jr 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Well, @Writer Fox, thanks for the insights. What tectonic events were you referring to (3500-3000 BC)? Plato's Atlantis sank about 9600 BC and we have proof of some large, world-changing event occurring about 9620 BC (+/- 100 years or so).

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very interesting hub. I know that Atlantis still become mystery for us. But I found a new fact through this hub. Thanks for writing and share with us. Good presentation and very well written. Good job and rated up!

      Prasetio

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      6 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      The Atlantis mystery has always fascinated me. I have always presumed that since Plato was retelling a much older account, that the real facts remain to be discovered. What we do know is that a very large land mass disappeared and that substantial tectonic activity occurred globally sometime between 3,000 and 3,500 BC. Thanks for the great article. Voted up!

    • lone77star profile imageAUTHOR

      Rod Martin Jr 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Thanks, @one2get2no. Glad you liked it.

    • one2get2no profile image

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      Very interesting hub. Very well thought out. Vote up!

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