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Architecture and Traditional Settlements

THE CYCLADIC ARCHITECTURE

Unique aesthetics. Plasticity. Simplicity. Moderation. Urban planning “by instinct” (without a plan). Folk architecture that serves the human needs, while at the same time producing masterpieces, internationally recognized by Le Corbusier himself who visited Cyclades in 1939 and by other representatives of modernist architecture.

The settlements of the Cyclades, built with the strong winds, the cold and heat, the extreme natural phenomena and the best way to make the most out of the limited space in mind, do not fight against nature or seek admiration and reward –even though they have been winning them for centuries. The high aesthetic creations of the simple man, the craftsman with limited knowledge but strong instinct and love for his hometown fit perfectly into the surroundings taking advantage of the slopes and the peculiarities of the terrain, "conversing" with the landscape in a timeless language.

The Cycladic settlements with their houses, squares, schools, bridges and churches are not homogeneous. They have many common features, but differences as well, depending on the history of each island, its nature, the resources available (stone, wood etc.), the landscapes, the water, the wealth of the subsoil and how active and capable the residents, who often built the houses they stayed in themselves, were.

The Aegean Sea, with its dangers and the aquatic communication routes offered throughout the centuries, was the cohesive link between them and the neighboring mainland areas.

The architecture and the urban planning of the islands complied with the historical cycles. They served the human needs and were determined by each conqueror or by the dangers that the islanders faced due to the raids.

So similar and yet so different… Those who visit the islands of the Cyclades are astonished to discover that each one is unique maintaining its position within the renowned “circle” (Cyclades –islands with a circular formation around the center, which is the island of Dilos).  They admire the caves of Santorini, as well as the towers of Naxos, the tile-roofs of Kea’s and Kythnos’s capitals, and also the traditional Cycladic settlements of Tinos with the marble fountains and the dovecotes. Ermoupoli in Syros with the neoclassic mansions of Vaporia and the cube-like capital of Mykonos. The “sirmata” (lodges for the boats) of Milos, and the industrial monuments of Serifos and Milos that many years of mining left behind.

The evolution of the traditional architecture. The first settlements in the Cyclades were coastal. During the Mycenaean period barricaded settlements took their place. This happened once again when the pirate raids forced the residents to abandon their coastal settlements and build fortified ones during the Venetian rule. Some of them were built around a castle with their houses actually forming a second wall (typical examples are Astypalaia’s and Amorgos’s capitals). In others, the lack of space usually led to the building of two-storey houses with a narrow façade and small openings that were next to one another and formed the fortification wall of the settlement (e.g. the Castle of Sifnos, Serifos’s capital and Ano Syros).

The roads were narrow –one to two and a half meters in width- paved and white-washed for sanitary reasons and had stairs. The corners of the buildings in tight turns of the road were curved to allow mules and donkeys loaded with supplies and materials to pass. 

 

Moreover, from the 13th century onwards the landowners and the nobles built tower-houses in the countryside, as well as dovecotes since pigeon breeding was a privilege of the aristocracy.
Over the last three centuries a type of simple cottages was developed, which evolved to important architectural entities -agricultural compounds and later settlements that were in complete harmony with the environment. The main materials used were stones, rammed earth and wood for the rooftops. Soon the needs of that time led to the building of stables, warehouses, windmills, watermills and threshing floors.

Stepping into the 19th century the architecture once again expressed the prevailing socio-economic developments and trends. The boom of shipping and trade, the contact with foreign countries and the migration caused westernized winds to blow over the islands. The mansions and the captain houses with their neoclassical and eclectic features are the legacy of that period.

Another feature of the settlements in the Cyclades is the interconnection between the houses and the public spaces (rooftops, terraces, passages, stairs, recesses), since the former penetrates and assimilates the latter causing it to evolve and vice versa.

 

DODECANESIAN ARCHITECTURE

The architecture in the Dodecanese presents similarities but also important differences compared to that of the other Aegean islands. The single-room house is a common feature here as well. However, the history and the location of the islands which is very close to the coasts of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Crete led to the formation of special features, which were reinforced by the fact that the Dodecanese were united with Greece in 1948, after three decades of Italian occupation.

The similarities with the Cyclades are of course more obvious on the islands near them, like Astypalaia. The small barren islands’ economy was based on shipping and trade, but in recent years the local economies became more specialized. Thus, sponge fishing was developed in Kalymnos and Chalki, while shipping was developed at Kassos, Symi and Patmos. On larger islands such as Rhodes and Kos, the settlements are more diversified, reflecting the complex role they played throughout history.

They attracted various conquerors each of whom made ​​significant interventions. Thus, the foreign influences were either assimilated with the local elements (e.g. the Ottoman ones) or foreign architectural styles were applied without any modification (Venetian architecture, colonial architecture of the Italian occupation between 1912-1943).

Rhodes from the 14th to the 16th century was the home of the Knights of St. John and the magnificent monuments of the Old City are a valuable legacy of this period. The impressive Muslim mosques are also preserved to this day, which is also the case in Kos as well. The traces that the Venetian rule left behind in the Dodecanese are indelible. Older settlements such as Paleo Pili in Kos, Ano Poli in Symi, Horio in Kalymnos, Olympos in Karpathos, were built inland so that the islanders could escape the pirate raids. During the Venetian rule the wall that was formed by the walls of the outermost houses took the form of a castle.

Since the late 18th century, neoclassicism, already widespread in the Ottoman Empire, greatly influenced the architecture in the Dodecanese. The economic growth of the 19th century led to population growth and to the expansion of the settlements outside their original core. It was during that time that they became urbanized and emphasis was placed on public open spaces. Depending on the terrain and the density of the town structures, the buildings had narrow (Castelorizo​​) or broad façades (Chalki). Later on, the twin narrow front houses with single roofs or separate ones prevailed on these islands and Simi. The impressive residences of the wealthy merchants and sailors (captain houses) were built on the front line of the coastal settlements.

There were substantial interventions to the structured environment of the islands that served the political goals of the conquerors during the Italian occupation (1912-1943). The Italians remodeled the historical centers, made ​​restorations to the monuments from the period of the Knights’ rule and built impressive public buildings.
Lakki of Leros is a unique case in the Archipelago. The admirals of Mussolini focused their architectural efforts on this area thus the largest urban intervention by the Italians in the Dodecanese occurred. Initially, a naval station was created and then a brand new town which they called Porto Lago.

 

The traditional house. The oldest type of dwelling in the Dodecanese is the single-storey single-room building. The elevated wooden loft (bed, loft, sofa) is used for sleeping, while there is also a cooking space, a fireplace with a chimney and a day use space. A variation of this type is the Γ-shaped building with an added auxiliary space, which was used as a cooking place in Karpathos and Kassos. The two-storey house is an evolution of the basic type. The living room is upstairs and in some islands, like Nisyros and Patmos, there is also the upper yard, a large terrace which is either an interior patio or it is located in front of the building. The ground floor was used by the family as a day use space. The buildings were made of stone and the beams of cypress or pine. The gaps between the beams were covered with sticks or canes. There were layers of rushes, reeds and algae on top of them. A final layer of cohesive clayey soil (“patelia”), which was renewed every September, made the bedroom waterproof. 

 

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