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SANTORINI VOLCANO Some Words on the Minoan Tsunami of Santorini

It is suggested that certain waves of the tsunami of Santorin could reach Ayia Irini of northwestern Cyprus. Observations on the respective coast of Cyprus show that the waves might have penetrated inland with a terrible force.

Archaeological excavations revealed that some of the ancient buildings were in fact destroyed by the tsunami in Minoan times. Pumice of Santorin (or that of an Italian volcano, as suggested by some workers) is to be found on the shore of Cyprus. The waves which reached Ayia Irini were deflected at the northernmost tip of island Saria.

According to the investigations carried out by Greek scholars (e.g. Galanopoulos, Marinos, Melidonis, see in the "Acta" 1971) after the caldera-making collapse of the cone of the Santorin volcano in Minoan times, a tremendous tsunami or series of seismic sea waves originated. The size and force was comparable with the most powerful tsunamis in human history and in all likelihood the Minoan tsunami was at least as strong and devasting in its effects as the sea wave created by the eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia.

There is some evidence according to which the Santorin tsunami also reached the northwestern coast of Cyprus, which lies at a distance of some 700 km from Santorin (Hédervári 1976 and RGPGV Report, 1975). 700 km is not a too great distance for a strong tsunami and therefore it can be supposed that the effects of this particular one might have been very destructive on the parts of Cyprus which it touched.

In this respect I wish to quote some sentences from a book, written by Professor Wilson E. Strand (1974). "When in the summer of 1970 he (namely Dr. Karageorghis, a leading Cypriote archaeologist) was asked if the destruction (in Cyprus) could have been caused by tidal waves caused by the eruption of Thera, he smiled, then added cautiously, that it fitted nicely into the history of Cyprus as known, but that there was not yet enough evidence to say. It might also explain the shift in important population centers to the southern and eastern coasts which took place about this time. The northern and western coasts would have been hardest hit by a volcanic explosion on Thera" (Ibid. 62 - 64).

Three and a half years ago our research group asked Dr. Nicolaou, Curator of the Museum of Antiquities at Nicosia, Cyprus, his opinion about the ancient relationship between Cyprus and Santorin. His answer was as follows (Nicolaou 1974): "I am afraid there is not much that I can tell you about the relations of Cyprus and the Aegean and about the possible effect on Cyprus of the Thera eruption of the volcano in the sixteenth century B.C. We know that there were relations between Cyprus and the Aegean in those days and recent excavations at Ayia Irini on the northwest coast of the island may throw light on the Thera tsunami reaching Cyprus".

Just two days before the outbreak of the war on Cyprus in 1974, I had a lucky opportunity to visit Ayia Irini on Cyprus in the company of Dr. Peter Hédervári, leader of our research group and Mr. Gábor Gellért-Kis, co-worker of the Hungarian Radio. We were able to study the structure of the sea-coast there and we observed that the sea-side in front of the old ruins is very gently sloping. The ruins themselves lie only some metres above the medium level of the sea. It is important to note that there are no natural obstacles, for example rocks, reefs or cliffs in the open water in front of the ruins. Therefore it is clear that the waves of the tsunami could have reached the former buildings with great force and without let or hindrance.

Unfortunately, we had not time enough on the spot to collect rocks along the shore. However, we inquired from Dr. Th. Pantazis of the Geological Survey Department of Nicosia concerning the presence of pumice in Cyprus. Our group received his answer only at a much later time, because of the war in Cyprus. Dr. Pantazis (1975) had the kindness to inform us about the following facts: "It has been reported that pieces of rounded pumice occur near the top of the raised beach deposits near Ayia Irini and along the coast near Vavilas and Davlos. These deposits are sea-borne, probably originating from the Greek islands or southern Italy. Since it does not occur in the recent beach deposits and is restricted to the upper part of the raised beach, it is presumed that accumulation of pumice occurred at some time in the past and has now ceased... William Dreghorn (1971, 79), suggests that about 1500 B.C. the Island of Santorin erupted and showers of pumice were shot high into the sea".

As a conclusion Dr. Pantazis has suggested that as this rock floats, the prevailing westerly winds made the "rafts" of pumice drift onto the north and western beaches of Cyprus. This may be true, of course, however I think that at least a part of the floating pumice could reach the shores of Cyprus by the help of the waves of the tsunami as well.

Finally I would like to mention that according to the opinion of our research group, the waves that reached Cyprus were not direct ones from Santorin but were reflected waves. Between the volcano in question and Cyprus, namely, there exists the large island of Rhodes (cf. figs. 1 and 2), which represented a large obstacle in the way of the tsunami. Studying the map of the Eastern Mediterranean Region we can recognize that the most probable way along which the waves could reach the sea-shore at Ayia Irini of Cyprus lay just north of Saria which is a small island at the northern tip of Karpathos, and exactly south of the southern edge of Rhodes. The waves had to change their direction when the northern tip of Saria was touched. Fig. 1. shows the suggested way that waves of the tsunami could have reached the coast of Ayia Irini. Fig. 2. demonstrates that the waves could follow their direction exactly towards Ayia Irini of Cyprus if they arrived from Santorin at the northernmost tip of Saria with an angle of about N 74 W. At Saria the waves changed their direction by a small amount only; however the line Santorin -› Saria and Saria -› Ayia Irini is not perfectly straight. It is broken a little and the angle is about 2 X 84 = 168 instead of 180, measured just at the northernmost tip of the small island in question. In the case of an angle of 2 X 82 = 164 the waves could never have reached Ayia Irini; they would have touched the southernmost tip of Rhodes. The tsunami originated from the outer part of Santorin as Zarudzki has suggested (1971).

Written by: - S. Mészáros
Research Group on Planetary and Geophysical Volcanology, 1023 Budapest, Årpad fejedelem utja 40-41, IV. 3, Hungary
Source: "Thera and the Aegean World I" Papers presented at the Second International Scientific Congress, Santorini, Greece, August 1978



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