Perhaps there is no way to describe that eruption in words. It occurred in 1,600 BC, in what is now the Santorini caldera. It was an explosion so vast the debris made its way around the planet. Sources say that smoke and ash filled the skies of the Mediterranean for long afterwards, and dark grey clouds were observed above China. Even the great eruption of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa, in the late 19th century, cannot compare with the tremendous explosion at Santorini in the Aegean.

What was once a much larger island lost much of its land surface during the eruption. To the south, in Crete, a tsunami caused devastating effects. Some experts say that the gargantuan wave may have brought the downfall of Crete’s Minoan civilization. There is even the possibility that the event gave rise to the myth of Atlantis, mentioned by Plato in his dialogues.

Certainly there are a number of coincidences between the fallen civilization and the mythical land mentioned by the philosopher. The lost island mentioned by Plato supposedly ruled over parts of Europe and North Africa, just as the real Crete once did. Furthermore, as the Minoan Empire declined as the result of a natural catastrophe, the story goes that the dominion of Atlantis did likewise.  

Was Plato talking about the eruption at Santorini? Several details argue against such a possibility. The time difference, to start with: a difference of several thousand years. According to Plato, Atlantis disappeared in 9,000 BC. Another discrepancy is the supposed size of the legendary island, compared with the real area of Crete. Crete is around 8,300 square kilometres in size, while Atlantis is said to have been “larger than Asia Minor and Libya together”. Furthermore, Plato located Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar), past the limits of the world known to the Greeks.

Such an island could never have been submerged by the effects of a volcano, even one as explosive as Santorini. However, it is likely that the great eruption somehow contributed to the legend that built up over the centuries.