Architecture

perfect harmony with the volcanic scenery

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General information

“As part of the Aegean style, traditional Santorini architecture exhibits an unusual freedom of expression as it incorporates the particularities of the island into the structured environment. The peculiarity of the ground allows for the creation of subterranean buildings under cultivated fields, buildings so closely connected to each other that you cannot tell where one property ends and where the other begins…”.
M. Danezis, 1939, “The Theraic Common Law in the 18th century”.

The basic factor in the creation of the built-up space on the island from the Middle Ages until late 18th century had always been that of safety. Living under circumstances of turmoil and being exposed to pirate raids, the inhabitants were forced to an incessant defensive struggle. Therefore, architecture ought to have had a defensive character,that is to provide security above all.
More or less, it used to serve only essential needs. Far from setting off any stylistic elements, it derived from the particular manner of development and from the structures themselves. This particular architectural morphology owes its existence to exclusively local factors: Social, financial, structural and geomorphological ones. Financial sources were limited, homes were built by unskilled workers (usually the owners themselves). Dwellings were cut in the volcanic lava in an attempt to cover life’s needs in an improvised manner lacking any intention of differentiation.
As time passed, especially from the end of the 18th century onwards, survival demands had been overcome by certain population groups and it was time for the architectural forms to serve other purposes. Lords and people well-to-do could lead a much more comfortable life but they could do it only in a large, comfortable and richly decorated home. The ability of copying foreign models was quickly acquired thanks to the improved techniques, the mobility of artisans and the import of more luxurious materials. Considering mansions, the architecture of 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the artistic intervenes of masters and reflected the models of a great art either in direct or applied imitation according to local singularities. They took advantage of the influences of western or post-renaissance models, not by imitating them but by readjusting them to a simplified local variation that could make use of the structural factors of the place. Classicism and its various forms came to be applied rather late, towards the end of the 19th century, mainly to the mansions of the wealthy, the big churches and public buildings (museum, schools etc.). Even in those buildings that imitated official architecture produced an extremely successful result. The co-existence of vernacular together with those of official architecture within the settlements, produced an extremely interesting effect but also fulfilled the novel requirements of the Theran society and the human needs.

Main types of Settlements & houses
Village settlements fell into three categories:

Linear (Fira, Oia, Therassia)
Evolved fortified (Pyrgos, Emporeio, Akrotiri village)
Rock-hewn (Vothonas, Foinikia, Karterados).
As far as their construction is concerned, buildings could be

Rock-hewn (underground)
Built
Semi-built.
Types of houses were distinguished in:
URBAN & RURAL HOUSES
In Santorini, the original type of residence was like the one found inside the Kastelia. The one-room houses were either stone-built or rock-hewn, usually two-story, due to limited space, and narrow-fronted. An external staircase led to the upper floor. The ground floor accommodated auxiliary spaces, such as stables and storage areas. The homes of the nobles inside the castles probably followed the same rationale, only at a larger scale. When settlements expanded beyond the defensive perimeters, auxiliary buildings were added to the main construction, adjacent or connected to it through the yard, where a significant part of daily activities took place. Urban houses maintained their irregular shapes.
Rural houses had a big yard and auxiliary buildings (an outdoor, usually cylindrical, brick oven, stables, etc.). They were located in the countryside or on the village outskirts. Most of them also had kanaves (wineries).
18TH AND 19TH CENTURY MANSIONS
A few homes from that time survive in all villages. Residential complexes can be found in neighbourhoods such as Sideras in Oia, Frangomahalas in Fira, and at the centre of Mesaria (see also The Unknown Santorini and Attractions sections). Their foreign influences – Renaissance or Neoclassical or both – are distinct, as their owners had various contacts abroad. They are very imposing, with symmetrical, monumental fronts.
FOLK ARCHITECTURE HOUSES.
These were built by non-experts to cover housing needs; however, they turned out to be artistic works of unique aesthetics. They are the most numerous on the island, mainly characterized by plasticity and simplicity. An interesting fact is that they overlap; they also have domes of different shapes and sizes, and their outdoor spaces are irregularly shaped. Fronts have small openings, windows, and doors with lunettes. This type of house was an inspiration for architects of the early 20th century, such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and others.
CRAFTSMEN ARCHITECTURE HOUSES
Built by craftsmen, they were bigger and more complex than the folk architecture houses. Most urban houses and churches are typical examples of this category.

Information was taken from the book “Santorini: Society and Shelter, 15th-20th century”, by Dr.Dora Monioudi-Gavala/A publication of Lukas and Evangelos Bellonias Foundation.
Also, from Kadio Kolymva’s text about Oia/ Publication of the Community of Oia.

info

  • In 1895, there were 855 inhabitants on the island; according to the 2001 census, only 268 were left, since the earthquake of 1956 forced people to leave.
  • The terrain is inclined and flat in most parts, starting from an altitude of only 5-20 m. along the sea and reaching 294 m. in the area of Profitis Elias. It consists of volcanic rocks and Theraic earth.
  • The east and south coasts are rugged and the west coasts are lower, rocky or even sandy.

Rock-hewn buildings

“If according to Le Corbusier, architecture is the wise, right and wonderful game of assembled volumes under the light, then in the old settlements of Santorini you have one of the most authentic revelations of the power of architecture’s creation. On this imperious island with a landscape marked by its great geological adventure, the roads, the houses the courtyards and all the other human residential elements compose unprecedented sculptural complexes, stereometrical formations where exquisite equilibriums of light appear during the day as if they were predesigned. And they are as many as the eye can see and count, flawless in their plastic perfection, with so much magic between them that you may forget for a moment and think that they are pictures of a fictional world, or creations of a modern artist working in the context of abstract geometry…”.
Savas Kontaratos, architect, from the book “Santorini” by Michael Danezis/1971. Editor in chief Emm. A. Lignos.

Hewn vertically into the volcanic soil, these houses are narrow-fronted and built in the rocks without any foundations. Built areas are roofed by domes, or groin vaults in a kind of mould-cast structure. They are made of stone (red or black) and Terra Theraic (Theraic earth). These, along with lime, form a very strong plaster. The Theraic earth has insulating qualities, keeping rock-hewn houses cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, this construction method allows for the creation of diverse, yet harmonious forms.
In the villages of the Caldera, private and public spaces are connected or even overlapping.
An old Cycladic saying goes: “Have a house to fit your needs and a small view of the fields”. Thus, defying the incline of the rocky soil, rock-hewn houses try to fit it all: At the front is the parlour, while the bedroom is at the back, lighted and aired through the parlour. The separating wall has openings similar to the outside wall, i.e. a door in the middle, windows on the right and left and a lunette over the door. A small, low corner connected to the parlour forms the kitchen. In the old days, the toilet was out in the yard. The rest of the architectural elements, such as staircases and chimneys, are equally intriguing.
Rock-hewn houses are often identified with Oia; however, such structures can also be found in Finikia, Vothonas, Karterados, and Pyrgos.

Information was taken also from Kadio Kolymva’s text about Oia/ Publication of the Community of Oia.

info

  • There are 21 churches in Therassia, all dedicated to saints for the protection of sailors. A big festival is organized in Aghia Irini on May 5.
  • In Therassia, as in Thera, you will have the chance to taste the delicious local produce, such as fava, tomatoes, wild capers, and katsounia (a vegetable that looks like a cross-bred between a melon and a cucumber), which grow on igneous soils.
  • Fresh cheese is made here of milk of goats and sheep grazing freely on the hillsides.
  • Consider yourself lucky if the locals invite you to taste the traditional blackberry preserves (“sykaminogliko”, as they call it).

The windmills

Over 70 windmills were built on Santorini as in the other Cycladic islands, to produce flour by exploiting wind power. It is possible that they existed from the 14th century and there are significant Ottoman documents concerning their operation. The presence of the vault, which was the characteristic element of the island’s buildings, also influenced the construction of the windmills, creating a type of interior arrangement which is not encountered elsewhere in Greece.
Another original feature was the combination of mills and ovens (bakeries), which constituted a single business, forming a whole building complex with the house for the miller and his family and various other buildings. Some of these windmills today have been converted into houses.

* Source: “The windmills of Santorini”, by architect Stephanos Nomikos, from the book “Santorini-Thera, Therasia, Aspronisi, Volcanoes”, by Ioannis Danezis/2001. Editor in chief Emm. A. Lignos.

General information

General information

“As part of the Aegean style, traditional Santorini architecture exhibits an unusual freedom of expression as it incorporates the particularities of the island into the structured environment. The peculiarity of the ground allows for the creation of subterranean buildings under cultivated fields, buildings so closely connected to each other that you cannot tell where one property ends and where the other begins…”.
M. Danezis, 1939, “The Theraic Common Law in the 18th century”.

The basic factor in the creation of the built-up space on the island from the Middle Ages until late 18th century had always been that of safety. Living under circumstances of turmoil and being exposed to pirate raids, the inhabitants were forced to an incessant defensive struggle. Therefore, architecture ought to have had a defensive character,that is to provide security above all.
More or less, it used to serve only essential needs. Far from setting off any stylistic elements, it derived from the particular manner of development and from the structures themselves. This particular architectural morphology owes its existence to exclusively local factors: Social, financial, structural and geomorphological ones. Financial sources were limited, homes were built by unskilled workers (usually the owners themselves). Dwellings were cut in the volcanic lava in an attempt to cover life’s needs in an improvised manner lacking any intention of differentiation.
As time passed, especially from the end of the 18th century onwards, survival demands had been overcome by certain population groups and it was time for the architectural forms to serve other purposes. Lords and people well-to-do could lead a much more comfortable life but they could do it only in a large, comfortable and richly decorated home. The ability of copying foreign models was quickly acquired thanks to the improved techniques, the mobility of artisans and the import of more luxurious materials. Considering mansions, the architecture of 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the artistic intervenes of masters and reflected the models of a great art either in direct or applied imitation according to local singularities. They took advantage of the influences of western or post-renaissance models, not by imitating them but by readjusting them to a simplified local variation that could make use of the structural factors of the place. Classicism and its various forms came to be applied rather late, towards the end of the 19th century, mainly to the mansions of the wealthy, the big churches and public buildings (museum, schools etc.). Even in those buildings that imitated official architecture produced an extremely successful result. The co-existence of vernacular together with those of official architecture within the settlements, produced an extremely interesting effect but also fulfilled the novel requirements of the Theran society and the human needs.

Main types of Settlements & houses
Village settlements fell into three categories:

Linear (Fira, Oia, Therassia)
Evolved fortified (Pyrgos, Emporeio, Akrotiri village)
Rock-hewn (Vothonas, Foinikia, Karterados).
As far as their construction is concerned, buildings could be

Rock-hewn (underground)
Built
Semi-built.
Types of houses were distinguished in:
URBAN & RURAL HOUSES
In Santorini, the original type of residence was like the one found inside the Kastelia. The one-room houses were either stone-built or rock-hewn, usually two-story, due to limited space, and narrow-fronted. An external staircase led to the upper floor. The ground floor accommodated auxiliary spaces, such as stables and storage areas. The homes of the nobles inside the castles probably followed the same rationale, only at a larger scale. When settlements expanded beyond the defensive perimeters, auxiliary buildings were added to the main construction, adjacent or connected to it through the yard, where a significant part of daily activities took place. Urban houses maintained their irregular shapes.
Rural houses had a big yard and auxiliary buildings (an outdoor, usually cylindrical, brick oven, stables, etc.). They were located in the countryside or on the village outskirts. Most of them also had kanaves (wineries).
18TH AND 19TH CENTURY MANSIONS
A few homes from that time survive in all villages. Residential complexes can be found in neighbourhoods such as Sideras in Oia, Frangomahalas in Fira, and at the centre of Mesaria (see also The Unknown Santorini and Attractions sections). Their foreign influences – Renaissance or Neoclassical or both – are distinct, as their owners had various contacts abroad. They are very imposing, with symmetrical, monumental fronts.
FOLK ARCHITECTURE HOUSES.
These were built by non-experts to cover housing needs; however, they turned out to be artistic works of unique aesthetics. They are the most numerous on the island, mainly characterized by plasticity and simplicity. An interesting fact is that they overlap; they also have domes of different shapes and sizes, and their outdoor spaces are irregularly shaped. Fronts have small openings, windows, and doors with lunettes. This type of house was an inspiration for architects of the early 20th century, such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and others.
CRAFTSMEN ARCHITECTURE HOUSES
Built by craftsmen, they were bigger and more complex than the folk architecture houses. Most urban houses and churches are typical examples of this category.

Information was taken from the book “Santorini: Society and Shelter, 15th-20th century”, by Dr.Dora Monioudi-Gavala/A publication of Lukas and Evangelos Bellonias Foundation.
Also, from Kadio Kolymva’s text about Oia/ Publication of the Community of Oia.

info

  • In 1895, there were 855 inhabitants on the island; according to the 2001 census, only 268 were left, since the earthquake of 1956 forced people to leave.
  • The terrain is inclined and flat in most parts, starting from an altitude of only 5-20 m. along the sea and reaching 294 m. in the area of Profitis Elias. It consists of volcanic rocks and Theraic earth.
  • The east and south coasts are rugged and the west coasts are lower, rocky or even sandy.
Rock-hewn buildings

Rock-hewn buildings

“If according to Le Corbusier, architecture is the wise, right and wonderful game of assembled volumes under the light, then in the old settlements of Santorini you have one of the most authentic revelations of the power of architecture’s creation. On this imperious island with a landscape marked by its great geological adventure, the roads, the houses the courtyards and all the other human residential elements compose unprecedented sculptural complexes, stereometrical formations where exquisite equilibriums of light appear during the day as if they were predesigned. And they are as many as the eye can see and count, flawless in their plastic perfection, with so much magic between them that you may forget for a moment and think that they are pictures of a fictional world, or creations of a modern artist working in the context of abstract geometry…”.
Savas Kontaratos, architect, from the book “Santorini” by Michael Danezis/1971. Editor in chief Emm. A. Lignos.

Hewn vertically into the volcanic soil, these houses are narrow-fronted and built in the rocks without any foundations. Built areas are roofed by domes, or groin vaults in a kind of mould-cast structure. They are made of stone (red or black) and Terra Theraic (Theraic earth). These, along with lime, form a very strong plaster. The Theraic earth has insulating qualities, keeping rock-hewn houses cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, this construction method allows for the creation of diverse, yet harmonious forms.
In the villages of the Caldera, private and public spaces are connected or even overlapping.
An old Cycladic saying goes: “Have a house to fit your needs and a small view of the fields”. Thus, defying the incline of the rocky soil, rock-hewn houses try to fit it all: At the front is the parlour, while the bedroom is at the back, lighted and aired through the parlour. The separating wall has openings similar to the outside wall, i.e. a door in the middle, windows on the right and left and a lunette over the door. A small, low corner connected to the parlour forms the kitchen. In the old days, the toilet was out in the yard. The rest of the architectural elements, such as staircases and chimneys, are equally intriguing.
Rock-hewn houses are often identified with Oia; however, such structures can also be found in Finikia, Vothonas, Karterados, and Pyrgos.

Information was taken also from Kadio Kolymva’s text about Oia/ Publication of the Community of Oia.

info

  • There are 21 churches in Therassia, all dedicated to saints for the protection of sailors. A big festival is organized in Aghia Irini on May 5.
  • In Therassia, as in Thera, you will have the chance to taste the delicious local produce, such as fava, tomatoes, wild capers, and katsounia (a vegetable that looks like a cross-bred between a melon and a cucumber), which grow on igneous soils.
  • Fresh cheese is made here of milk of goats and sheep grazing freely on the hillsides.
  • Consider yourself lucky if the locals invite you to taste the traditional blackberry preserves (“sykaminogliko”, as they call it).
The windmills

The windmills

Over 70 windmills were built on Santorini as in the other Cycladic islands, to produce flour by exploiting wind power. It is possible that they existed from the 14th century and there are significant Ottoman documents concerning their operation. The presence of the vault, which was the characteristic element of the island’s buildings, also influenced the construction of the windmills, creating a type of interior arrangement which is not encountered elsewhere in Greece.
Another original feature was the combination of mills and ovens (bakeries), which constituted a single business, forming a whole building complex with the house for the miller and his family and various other buildings. Some of these windmills today have been converted into houses.

* Source: “The windmills of Santorini”, by architect Stephanos Nomikos, from the book “Santorini-Thera, Therasia, Aspronisi, Volcanoes”, by Ioannis Danezis/2001. Editor in chief Emm. A. Lignos.

The materials

The materials

Houses were built of local volcanic rocks, such as the black, hard andesite, used in walls and fences; the red haematite, used in lintels and wall facades; and pumice, used for building domes. The Terra Theraic (Theraic earth), the hard, cohesive soil consisting of layered volcanic materials –ash, lava, pumice, and scoria– was also commonly used. Other materials included lime, mainly extracted from the mountain of Profitis Elias, rainwater, and timber. As local production was insufficient to cover the needs, timber was also imported from Ios, Crete, and Russia. Doors and windows had frames made of hewn haematite.
The exclusive use of vaults in order to cover spaces derived from the lack of timber for producing wooden framework and from the ingenious exploitation of the local volcanic materials. Vaults were cylindrical, groined, spherical and barrel-vaults, the ones usually built and used for rectangular shapes, so far the latest form to be applied).
For the floors they used a mixture of theraic earth and mortar to which they added sand in order to increase durability and resistance to friction. Floors were often covered with tiles from Ios island. Wooden floors could exist only in a limited number of luxurious mansions.
The ground floor of yards was decorated either whit black stone, or with patterns from colorful volcanic stones or sea pebbles which they called “shells” (hohlidia). Doors and windows always bore frames made of chiseled red stone arranged symmetrically. The doors were always double and the doors of the kanaves (wineries) were arched.

info