Ancient Santorini: During ancient times, the island was called Thera. It took its present name from the Venetians in the Middle Ages ("Santa Irini" progressively became "Santorini"). In antiquity, the island had periods of prosperity and decline as well. The site of Ancient Thera is perched on a hill called Mesa Vouno above Perissa Beach, on the southeastern coast of the island. The town initially constituted a religious center due to its high location and marvelous view.
The first traces of human inhabitancy in Ancient Thera reveal activity in the Neolithic Period (in the mid-5th century). Scattered settlements, mainly Akrotiri, evince human activity until the middle of the 16th century BC when a volcanic eruption destroyed the entire Minoan settlement, leaving no traces behind. Since then, Thera remained deserted for centuries until written sources mention Santorini in the Peloponnesian War of 431 BC and the Roman Empire. Ancient Thera became prosperous and populated during the Hellenistic period, as witnessed by the cemeteries and the numerous places of worship.
Through the prosperous period, the Agora (meeting place) was greatly extended. Numerous buildings were constructed, including places of worship to honor the gods and kings. Houses had rich decoration as well. After the 3rd century AD, though, the town of Ancient Thera started to decay.
Several excavations in the early 20th century revealed certain parts of the town. The items discovered are today hosted in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira Santorini. In addition, the archaeological site of Akrotiri is open for visitors to admire the well-preserved structures of the ancient town.