ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF AKROTIRI
THE FRESCOES FROM AKROTIRI
The exceptional state of preservation of all artifactual categories buried deeply under meters of volcanic debris from the eruption of ca. 1500 B.C. has almost automatically made Akrotiri one of the two or three most important prehistoric sites in the Aegean. The study of perhaps no other category of artifact has been so deeply affected by the discoveries at Akrotiri as that of mural painting or frescoes. Not only are the Theran frescoes preserved in larger fragments than the more or less contemporary murals from other sites in the Cyclades (Ayia Irini, Phylakopi) and on Crete (Knossos, Tylissos, Ayia Triadha) but most of them can be assigned to specific positions on particular walls which are themselves extremely well preserved, so that the decoration of entire rooms can be reconstructed with a considerable degree of confidence. Most of the frescoes thus far published from Akrotiri are figured, but rarely occur in more than one or two rooms within what is identifiable structurally and functionally as an individual building unit. A whole series of fascinating iconographic problems has surfaced as the result of the recovery of these magnificent paintings. For example, what is the function of mural painting within a building (i.e. in what rooms/spaces does it appear, with what artifactual associations, and depicting what sorts of figures and/or scenes)? How are the different scenes within a given room, sometimes at different scales and at different levels on the walls, to be "read" as a unit? Indeed, are they necessarily to be viewed as closely connected thematically simply because they appear in the same room?
The major groups of frescoes from Akrotiri published thus far are:
1. West House:
(a) Room 5: Two life-sized nude fishermen in narrow panels below a frieze of variable width on the upper wall showing a fleet of ships moving between two towns (south wall; 40 cms. high), a riverine landscape (east wall; 20 cms. high), and a religious ceremony on a hill and warriors disembarking from their ships in two seemingly distinct scenes (north wall; 40 cms. high). The frieze ran along the west wall as well, but little of this portion of it has survived.
(b) Room 4: A series of life-sized stern cabins (ikria) on the north wall, a thin partition shared with Room 5 which bore the fleet scene on its other side; a life-sized "priestess" from the east jamb of the doorway connecting Rooms 4 and 5; flower pots with lilies on the two jambs of a window in the west wall, the sill and the lower jambs of the same window being painted to resemble veined stone such as marble or gypsum. The rest of the room was in the process of being plastered and painted when work was suddenly stopped and the site was abandoned.
2. Sector Beta, Room 6: Blue Monkey Fresco, closely comparable to a more fragmentary and stylistically somewhat earlier composition found in the palace at Knossos.
3. Sector Beta, Room 1: Pairs of gazelles on two or three walls juxtaposed with a single pair of boxing boys in one relatively narrow panel.
4. Sector Delta, Room 2: Springtime Fresco or Fresco of the Lilies.
5. House of the Ladies, Room 1: The west half of the room features life-sized clumps of papyrus, while in the east half two life-sized women dressed in a Cretan fashion wait on other figures who are largely missing.
6. Xeste 3, Room 3: The frescoes from this area of the building decorated the walls of both the ground floor and an upper storey. On the ground floor, the northeastern part of the room was occupied by a sunken "lustral basin" of Minoan type. At the level of the upper storey, young women on the north and east walls gather crocuses in a rocky landscape and bring them from both sides to a central "goddess" seated on a platform supported by altars on the north wall. Immediately flanking the "goddess" to left and right and in postures of worship/adoration are a monkey and a griffin respectively. On the north wall at the ground floor level, three more girls appear as follows: at the left, a girl walking right and holding out a necklace in one hand; in the center, a seated girl facing right and clutching her forehead in pain because she has hurt her foot, which is bleeding; and at the right, a girl walking left but facing right toward the door or altar on the east wall. The east wall is entirely occupied by what appears to be an ashlar wall with an elaborately decorated, closed door at its center, directly above which is a pair of "horns of consecration" dripping with a red substance which is likely to represent blood; the "wall", "door", and "horns of consecration" may all together constitute a large altar toward which the attention of all the girls on the north wall is directed. Other fragmentary figures, including more girls as well as at least one male figure, are considered to belong to the decoration of the west and south walls at both levels.