Christos Doumas amid new Santorini frescoes

A remarkable man named Christos Doumas directed the extraordianry excavations at Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (aka Thera) for many years. All of the beautiful fresco wall paintings found on that island had come from his work and that of Spyridon Marinatos who preceded him there. But more were coming.

When I arrived on the island in 2004 to research a new book, I had no idea how to reach this busy professor who constantly traveled between the Greek mainland and its many islands. So I got to work and tracked down an associate of his, who was very helpful. We got along so well that he gave me Doumas’ home phone number in Athens.

I went straight to the nearest phone and called. His wife answered. When I asked if it was possible to talk with her husband, she said he unfortunately was not in Athens at the moment . . . he was on Santorini. Incredulous, I told her I was on Santorini too! So she gave me his direct number at the excavation site. Moments later I rang that number and Doumas answered. We arranged to meet  in two days when he got back from a short trip.

Christos Doumas

At the appointed time I arrived at the excavation site to find groups of people waiting to talk with the professor. But he quickly wrapped up his prior meeting and took me aside so we could talk. Apparently his associate had put in a good word for me.

Leaving the public area we went back into his private work area and the conservation lab where his staff was busily trying to restore more frescoes. Laid out on tables were thousands of 3600-year-old bits of plaster with dabs of paint on them.

Doumas was particularly excited about some pieces coming together from what appeared to be the city’s lavish trading house. It was tantalizing to see the large fresco starting to take shape under expert hands.

We also talked about what he had learned of the people in that ancient city. They had been sane enough when small volcanic eruptions happened to leave Akrotiri in an orderly manner. He knew this because no bodies were found under the heavy layer of volcanic ash which quickly encased the island. Nothing was in disarray. The people simply packed up and went elsewhere.

The professor was clearly not just a world-renowned archaeologist but also a man who cared about people’s safety and their lives. The things he shared with me brightened the pages of my book which came out the next year.

Despite his best efforts the funding ran out for that fresco recovery work in 2014. His staff dispersed. And the new fresco he showed me was never finished or released to the public. If you’ve seen the other beautiful frescoes from Santorini you  know each of  them  is unique. Somehow enough funds have to be found to finish his work, and give the world another of those wonders from 3600 years ago.

Sanford Holst

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