Rural Architecture in the Aegean

1. Introduction

A significant part of the cultural heritage of the Aegean is farming architecture, which has not yet been systematically studied and seriously protected.

In the hinterland of most islands, there are farming buildings built either as independent structures or in the form of groups. They are elemental to the farming image of the Aegean, along with terrace cultivation, paths and dry-stone walls. They have plenty of variations and different names. They are called choria (“villages”) on Mykonos, kellia (“cells”) on Andros and thimonies (“haystacks”) on Sifnos. At all events, they illustrate the residents’ life style and the agrifarming production model adopted by each area.

2. Farming buildings

Farmers and stockbreeders use farming buildings mostly for seasonal accommodation. Such buildings are located far from organized settlements, in the farmer’s field or pastoral land. “Farming buildings” includes an ensemble of structures and facilities necessary for people to live and work. They are appropriate for specific production types: agriculture, stock farming or both.

2. 1. Agricultural unit

The building where farmers accommodate seasonally or permanently is fundamental. Typical island agricultural units are one-storey, single-room buildings. Their small dimensions are defined by the potential of the materials. This type evolved with rooms either being added in a row or a Γ-shape, or with more complex groups being formed around a yard. This house obviously has two functional zones: for dwelling and sleeping. In the living room, there are built benches around the corner of the fireplace-hearth. The sleeping room –used by all family members– was also a storage room. On the Dodecanese, we find a simplified kind of sofas; it’s an elevated loft called kreatsoula on Karpathos, and krevvatos on Leros. Beneath it, there is a storage room, the abari, and an underground cistern for collecting rainwater from the terrace. Sometimes, there is a transitional room between the living room and the exterior; that is a roofed yard called stegadi on Kea and Sifnos.

2. 2. Farming or mixed unit

Save the farmers’ house, there are two more kinds of structures: seed-related ones (e.g. thresh, store room, wine press, kiln) and others related with homebred animals (e.g. stables, hayati, dovecote, hog pen).

At stockbreeding places, such as Kea, Karpathos and Limnos, farming buildings (called stavlia, stavli or voskarees and mandres) in their simplest form are refuges where farmers and stock share the same room. In some advanced types, there is a separate room fulfilling both dwelling and working needs (e.g. cheese-making). The building where the cattle are kept is called avoidosto on Tinos, voidokelli (“ox cell”) on Mykonos and voudomandra (“corral”) on Syros. It’s usually an oblong building with two doors. Therefore, when farmers enter, animals are forced to exit the other way. On stockbreeding island Limnos, the hayati is a fundamental part of that type: it’s a semi-outdoor rectangular tile-roofed space, where sheep are protected from the rain and the sun.

3. Fundamental characteristics of agricultural architecture

Stone threshes are necessary to agricultural production. They are always located at windy places, so that hay, which is lighter, can be separated from the seed. Kilns (called fourmaria on Kos, fournokellia on Karpathos and psomadia on Limnos) are small and adjacent to the house or close to it.

The outdoor space enclosed with a dry-stone wall is fundamental to agricultural architecture and is surrounded by the complex’s indoor spaces. Bartons are equally important with building units regarding function and structure. At bartons of sheepfolds and stables, called xomandra on Anafi, animals are kept and several activities are carried out (e.g. milking).

Island agricultural architecture also includes buildings for specialized use. They are sometimes separate –they are not part of a family house complex– and they are frequently used by the community. These very buildings attest local pre-industrial production. On all islands, there are windmills exploiting strong Aegean winds, whereas at areas with water (e.g. Tinos, Andros) there are watermills. Closely connected with the Greek country are oil-presses, which became a kind of industrial building during the 19th century. A special category of agricultural buildings are those related with local drinks’ production. Wine processing buildings are called ambelospita on Karpathos and kanaves on Santorini. They have an exterior or interior wine press, another wine press for must collection and a storeroom for wine. There are also the distilleries of raki, called kazanaria on Nisyros and rakizia on Tinos. Dovecotes of Tinos and Andros are also unique. They were used for housing pigeons bred by residents for their meat and dung. They are located at conspicuous places and have impressive slate decoration with symbols (cypress, sun, rose, etc.).

4. Construction, morphology and location

All buildings are stone-built, either with dry stone or jointing different from place to place. Sheepfolds of Limnos are an impressive example of folk technique. They have solid masonry and rough-hewn blocks at lintels of apertures and window frames.

Roofing techniques vary according to economic tradition and each place’s materials. Dominant on the Cyclads are terraces supported by wooden beams made of thick logs, the traves, or by stone-built arches, piers or even a central column. On Tinos and Andros, the main masonry is built according to the age-old bearing system, so that width is limited, and large slates called stegadia are used for roofing. Successive layers of materials (seaweed, pumice, thin branches waterproofed with a coat of volcanic rock) are used for waterproofing the terrace. Because of the use of local pumice (santorin), vaulted roofs were easy to build and therefore dominated on Santorini. This technique also spread to neighboring Anafi. On Limnos and Ikaria, roofs were gabled or pitched. The difference in the case of Ikaria is that roofs were made of local slate.

Farming houses of the Aegean are a paragon of fulfilling fundamental needs with extraordinary simplicity and completeness. They genuinely express a kind of folk architecture with no decorative demands, where the interesting part is the plasticity of volumes, the use of rectangular and curving characteristics, the range of shades on the rough-hewn masonry and the perfect harmonization with the natural environment.