As in its geological evolution this remarkable Aegean island has assumed many forms, so in its historical development it has acquired many names; even today it retains two. Originally referred to as Stronghili(the circular isle) on account of its very round shape and Kalliste( the fairest isle), the aptness of which is self-evident. According to Strabo, the name Thera was given to the island by the hero of that name, son of Autesion and descendant of Polyneikes(a legendary greek hero), who arrice at the island of Kalliste with a group of Mycenean settlers from Sparta. They founded a Lacedaemonian colony to replace the pre-existing Phoenician, which has been established by the Cretan Kadmos. The more recent name of Santorini is of Venetian origin, probably derived of the chapel of Saint Irene in the Riva region of Therassia where the first Venetians morred.
Apart from myth and legend, there is a considerable body of tangible evidence to augment the picture of the island’s socio-cultural progress since it was first inhabited during the third millennium B.C. Artifacts characteristic of the final two phases or the Early Bronze Age or Early Cycladic have been discovered in the ash and pumice mines.
During the Middle Cycladic period Minoan elements infiltrated the indigenous cultural repertoire. Beneath the Minoan ruins exposed in Akrotiri on the south coast of the island, we can find ample evidence of a previous Middle Cycladic settlement. Similar to other Cycladic settlements, located in a shallow bay,protected from the prevailing northerly winds and surrounded by fertile plains.
In 1550 B.C. destructive earthquakes occurred in this region and the Late Minoan settlement exposed in Akrotiri was subsequently erected. The foundations of two-,three- and even four-storey buildings were sunk into the leveled rubble of the earlier ruins.
In Akrotiri the marvelous state of preservation is particularly helpful in proving the rather complex economy of that period, a correspondingly rich material culture and ,by inference, a high degree of specialization and social stratification in this Late Minoan Ia town
Its floruit was ,however, shortlived as a series of natural disasters occurred, presaging the ultimate obliteration of this once thriving community. The town was severely damaged by earthquakes and largely abandoned. There is evidence that many inhabitants returned and there was an effort to salvage, clear and rebuild.
All was in vain, for the volcano has already begun to erupt in stage and in its final paroxysm a mantle of volcanic ash, even today 30m thick in certain areas, enveloped the entire island in about 1500 B.C. What happened to the citizens is still uknown.
Santorini remained unoccupied throughout the rest of the Bronze Age, during which time the Greeks took over Crete.
As with other Greek territories, Thera then was ruled by the Romans. When the Roman Empire was divided, the island passed to the eastern side of the Empire which today is known as the Byzantine Empire. According to George Cedrenus, the volcano erupted again in the summer of 727, the tenth year of the reign of Leo III the Isaurian. He writes: "In the same year, in the summer, a vapour like an oven's fire boiled up for days out of the middle of the islands of Thera and Therasia from the depths of the sea, and the whole place burned like fire, little by little thickening and turning to stone, and the air seemed to be a fiery torch." During the Crusades, the "Franks" – i. e. Catholic Western Europeans – settled it, while in the 13th century AD, the Venetians annexed the isle to the Duchy of Naxos and renamed it "Santorini", that is "Saint Irene". Santorini came under Ottoman rule in 1579.