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Architecture of the Northeastern Aegean

      Αρχιτεκτονική του Βορειοανατολικού Αιγαίου (5/3/2006 v.1) Architecture of the Northeastern Aegean (5/4/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Sarantakou Efi (5/19/2005)
Translation : Dovletis Onoufrios (10/2/2006)

For citation: Sarantakou Efi, "Architecture of the Northeastern Aegean", 2006,
Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago

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1. Introduction

Islands Lesvos, Limnos, Chios, Samos and Ikaria are large and blessed with considerable resources and a rich hinterland, the Asia Minor coastline, which influenced them to a great or smaller extent. Although regarding architecture they have things in common, each Eastern Aegean island has developed a settlement character of its own created under particular historical circumstances. The architecture of Samos, Lesvos, and Limnos is quite similar, and also related with that of the settlements of the opposite coasts.

2. General characteristics

2. 1. Lesvos

Lesvos’s architecture stands out for its outgoing bourgeois character reflecting the development of a strong middle class during later years. Its approximately 100 settlements are separated into 8 groups, each of which is dominated by a relatively large main settlement, such as Mytilene, or Lesvos, Molyvos, Plomari and Agiasos.

2. 2. Samos

Building tradition of Samos has more of an introvert folk character preserving ancient old characteristics of the Aegean islands’ building tradition. Older settlements were built in the islands’ hinterland, out of view from the sea out of fear for pirate predations. In later –safer– times, anchorages were built, and the settlements acquired a building character of their own. Samos is the only Eastern Aegean island where the ancient tradition of buildings with a terrace has survived until recently, maybe because up to the early 19th century it was still an agricultural island, secluded and self-sufficient with no external cultural influences. Architecture of such residences on Samos is exceptionally modest, standing out for the austere plainness of cubic measure, lacking special morphological characteristics.

Buildings are usually two-storey high. Ground floors were used for farming activities, whereas upper floors were the family’s main dwelling. Upper floors were accessed with an exterior stone staircase, leading to a centrally focused entrance. At one side of the room, there was a small jut creating the sofás, used by the entire family for sleeping, whereas the rest of the room –which included a fireplace– was not separated, in order to fulfill dwelling needs. The sleeping “room” was frequently separated from the rest of the room with a light construction (wood or tsatmas, a thin wall) or the mesandra, a large elaborately carven closet.

2. 3. Limnos

Being the large flat island it is, Limnos has mostly small settlements of a stock raising/ agricultural character. Limnos has developed a considerable entirely local agricultural architecture, following folk tradition with all its Eastern Aegean variations at the same time.

2. 4. Ikaria

Also in the case of Ikaria, the location of the settlements and their architecture reflect the island’s hardships during the years of pirates’ predations. Settlements are small and sparsely built, with no connecting town planning, reflecting their farming character. This modest Ikarian architecture with its agricultural character is a bit peculiar: most importantly, sloping roofs of local slate dominate.

2. 5. Chios

The architecture of Chios differs from those of the aforementioned islands. Preservation of characteristics of the Byzantine and Genoese traditions has created a fully developed local architectural kind not found anywhere else in Greece. Constructing techniques and forms characterizing Chios’s architecture up to now (general use of vaults or highly developed stone dressing) originate from these periods.

At Chios’s southern part that produced mastic, the Genoese organized settlements in fortresses in order to repel possible attacks and control mastic production. Houses normally had two storeys and an internal staircase. The ground floor was used for auxiliary activities, whereas the living rooms were on the upper floor. The terraces, all of which were equally high, were also used for other activities. Created on the upper floor, the atrium (agerto or poundi) was the heart of this construction, useful for ventilation and lighting. At Pyrgi and other places of Chios, we have a peculiar ornamenting technique, called xystá: the exterior plaster of walls used to be engraved.

A purely local tradition of artful architecture was developed at Kambos and Chora, influenced by the Byzantine and the Genoese. Imposing mansions of noblemen and rich people were built in the 17th century at Kambos, within large fields of citrus fruits, with high stone fences. The Kamboustika manors were large two- or three-storey buildings. The ground floor served a variety of additional activities, whereas the main reception room, the kioski, was on the upper floor. Modest proportions, arcades and projections created the asymmetry and plasticity of the façades. Monumental staircases leading up to the upper floor were common. A high quality open-air environment including treelines, cisterns and pebbly floors surrounded the manors, creating an aesthetic ensemble.

The oldest residence type on other islands mentioned is the island single-room long house with a terrace. It had spread across the entire Aegean Sea. It is the simplest type, deriving from older accommodation techniques, and residents themselves could easily construct it with the essential materials.

2. 6. The 18th century

In the 18th century, new models were introduced from the building tradition of neighboring hinterland shores into local Eastern Aegean societies through the development of trade and improvement of their standard of living. An architecture of an advanced level (tile-roofed houses) was gradually substituted for experience-based architecture of houses with a terrace.

Lesvos soon developed trade relations with chief mainland cities of the East, e.g. Smyrna and Constantinople, and from the 18th century on its architecture began to coincide with that of the opposite Asia Minor coast. This connection grew stronger with movements of craftsmen and imports of building materials. The Asia Minor type of the two-storey narrow-façade building with a sachnisi (covered balcony) had dominated the island by the end of the 19th century. Apart from urban houses, great mansions were also built on the island. They too belong to the Balkan building tradition; some have a linear hayati (reception room) on the façade and others have a central or cruciform hayati. A peculiar type of manors in the island’s tradition is that of Towers. They were built in agricultural areas near the city of Mytilene and were used as secondary residences by rich Turk or Greek bourgeois. They were put up vertically, in approximately three storeys, with a single-room square floor plan, whereas their last floor was freely organized with “balconies” of the sachnisi type.

The type of tile-roofed residences with a sachnisi came to Samos relatively later, as trade and economy flourished when Samos was a self-governed reign (1834-1912). What’s interesting in this case, is that a transitional type developed at the same time. It combined the most distinctive features of the two chief architectural types: the terrace and the graceful tsatmas-made façade of the upper floor or a sachnisi. This coexistence means the new architecture spread through locals gradually transferring these new types to the island, and not through organized artisans’ teams, as the case probably was on Lesvos.

After substituting roofs for terraces, the residence type dominating on Limnos was the single-room house, usually with a wide façade, one or two storeys, and a gabled and later on hipped roof. Two-storey buildings were accessed through an external staircase parallel to the façade. At the landing, there was a veranda, the axata. The roof was sometimes supported by a crossbeam supported by another column standing in the center of the room. Buildings are modest, with lowered roofs and rudimentary cornices. No lime-cast used to be applied on older buildings. The dominant morphological characteristics are the texture and shades of the masonry seen from the outside. It was meticulous, and that specific jointing austerely formed a high quality ensemble. Low standards of living and frugal life also kept local architectural types simplified. The sachnisi type residence also got to Limnos, but it was used mostly in the capital, Myrina, which contacted more with Lesvos and Asia Minor.

The oldest type of house on Ikaria is called chyto (“cast”). It is a long single-room house with a ground floor, a narrow façade, a pitched roof of slate and a series of interior characteristics (fireplace, kiln, conches) always at the same spots. Out of fear for pirate predations, this type had no windows or chimney, apart from a small door and an aperture on the ceiling above the hearth, which was an air duct and a skylight (anefantis). A 1,7 m high wall, called “antipiratic”, was built in front of the house, blocking its view from the sea. During later safer times, the antipiratic house got windows, whereas the wall was moved and gradually died out. Two-storey houses were accessed through an external stone staircase parallel to the narrow side. Adapting to ground morphology was the main characteristic of this type. Exterior masonry was constructed with crude or semi-dressed stone without being bound with mortar. In the past, no lime-cast used to be applied to it. Therefore, it was in perfect harmony with the surroundings. Exterior ornamenting was reduced in an effort to maintain some kind of central symmetry regarding apertures. Circular lintels and the slight extension of the roof are the only morphological characteristics on the plain practical shape of these buildings.

2. 7. The 19th century

On rich Eastern Aegean islands after the mid-19th century, there was a turn towards a “literary” kind of architecture influenced by trends in western architecture. Organizing the industry and exports on Lesvos, Samos and Chios resulted to the Greeks’ economic development bringing a series of socioeconomic changes that led to this turn.

As a result of the prosperity brought by the industrial development of Lesvos, houses took on an even more bourgeois character. The exterior and interior structure of the dominant type of urban folk residences became symmetrical. The central balcony was substituted for the sachnisi. In the largest settlements, a semi-basement was built in many houses shaping the exterior in a base, body and ridge according to the classic view. There were several local variations of this basic type according to ground morphology, quality of local materials, occupations of locals and cultural idiosyncrasy of each area of Lesvos. Through trade with the metropolises of the East, a new kind of society was born, that of an open society with a cosmopolitan mentality and a tendency to show-off. Regarding morphological choices of Lesbians, neoclassical characteristics were joined with the daring eclecticism of Constantinople and Smyrna. In the early 20th century, bourgeois residences built on Lesvos were perfect copies of European models, as seen in albums with examples of buildings at suburbs of Vienna, Berlin and Paris.

Things are also similar at industrialized Karlovasi of Samos, where most tan yards were located. Grand residences were built within the same area along Aghiou Nicolaou Street, signs of the wealth of the rising big bourgeois class. The architectural style developed on Samos is more connected to mainland Greece models of the Athenian classicism, influenced also by the urban architecture of Asia Minor.

Buildings with neoclassical characteristics were also built at Myrina of Limnos during the 19th century, setting the example also for larger settlements of the island. They are characterized by the artful use of the distinguishing dark brown – grey granite stone for sub-decorative features (coigns, aperture frames, cornices). From the 19th century on, under the influence of neoclassicism, late variations of folk buildings characterized by the simplistic search for symmetry both in the interior structure and their façade dominated on Limnos.

The 19th century was a difficult period for Chios. After the 1822 massacre by the Turks and the great 1881 earthquake, a significant part of older architecture was gone. Most of the manors of Kambos were destroyed. Nevertheless, the new buildings built were adequately adapted to the existing environment using the same materials and the same practical model. In years to follow, buildings were reconstructed within a general feeling of resurgence. New public and urban buildings of Chora and Kambos showed signs of influences of western neoclassicism, as well as influences of eclecticism approaching the style of neighboring Smyrna.




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