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Greek Island Architecture

Throughout the ages, Grecian Architecture has played a leading role in shaping the architectural landscape globally, having a significant impact on other leading styles like that of the Italian Renaissance. Each Greek Island possesses its own style of architecture in addition to unique customs and traditions. The principal aspects of indigenous Greek architecture are Minoan, Mycenaean and Greco-Roman.

Cretan Architecture

Minoan architecture comprises of numerous constructions which acted as nerve centres for commerce, religion, and administration. Crete is bursting with examples of Minoan architecture; archeologists excavated a Minoan town from around 1900 BC where the graveyard, castles, houses and roads are still intact to provide enough proof that this Minoan civilization was able to endure and develop amidst the ravages of the Aegean Sea. Crete also

Crete also displays many fine examples of Venetian and Turkish architecture still standing today; many of the Venetian buildings that remain were public buildings or houses and palaces with some of the best examples being in Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno in particular Chania’s Megalo Neorio, which houses the Arsenali Centre of Mediterranean Architecture. Architecture from Western Renaissance has also played a key role in shaping the Cretan landscape with many houses, churches and monasteries bearing its influence; the clock tower in Chania and several forts and castles there are good examples of the legacy from Venetian rule of the island. The Ottoman Turks also left their mark with several bath houses that are still in existence. Throughout Crete there are many examples of simple rural architecture, mainly cubed shaped buildings made from wood, earth and stone with few entrances or windows. In later examples, the walls are painted pink, blue or ochre. Inside, these dwellings consist of one room, which has a tiered roof made from elongated wooden planks and reinforced by a wooden crossbeam in earlier examples, which was later replaced by a semi-circular stone arch known as the “kamara”. Other more sophisticated Cretan houses are two storey “L” shaped buildings with whitewashed walls and windows and door frames painted in bright colours.  

Architecture on the Cyclades

Cycladic architecture developed because of the lack of construction materials here, which meant that the inhabitants had to make do with the resources available. Flat roofs and a cube shape were used to provide protection from the elements – the hot summer sun and the harsh winter winds. On Santorini architecture was influenced by the fear of raids from passing groups of pirates. This caused the island dwellers to build their homes on tall, craggy cliffs away from the coast. The style of architecture on Santorini is common across the Cycladic islands and generally consists of narrow streets lined by attractive, tiny, white houses. Such dwellings gave the villagers protection by restricting the amount of hiding places. Even the modern houses built today, particularly in Kamari or Perissa tend to follow this old traditional style. In the capital, the feeling is one of a radiant, white labyrinth rampant with bright colours amidst the chaos that hints at a lack of design plan; Fira, Oia, Imerovigli and Megalohori display the best examples of  Santorini’s wonderful architecture

Mykonos also displays some typical picture-postcard rural architecture with many whitewashed cubed houses with flat roofs, coloured wooden windows and doors and balconies bursting with flowers.  Architecture on Mykonos differs slightly from other islands in the Cyclades, because many churches, houses and chapels all bear a flat, irregular shape on the corners. The exceptions to the rule on Mykonos are the Town Hall and the quarter close to the sea known as “Little Venice”, which as the name suggests carries strong Venetian influences including brightly coloured wooden balconies and porches.

North- Eastern Aegean Architecture

In the Eastern Aegean Islands there is a precise, traditional architecture best seen on the island of Samos. It evolved from the fact that most of the earlier inhabitants were of mixed descent. Architecture here combines elements of Neoclassical, Venetian and Byzantine architecture with many stylish mansions, whitewashed houses and Byzantine churches.  The constricted, winding streets envelop the buildings giving a cosy atmosphere. In the capital, Vathy, Venetian houses stand side by side with those of neoclassical design but all of the dwellings and public buildings have red-tiled roofs and some have their walls painted in bright colours. Pythagorio on the southern coast is jam-packed with whitewashed houses with signature blue doors and shutters. Some of the exterior walls are decorated with crude murals.

Lesbos also displays some unique architectural beauty. Its many scenic villages have been constructed in tiers on the mountain slopes rather like a Greek amphitheatre. Dwellings on this island are usually two storeys high and constructed from heavy stone. The roofs are tiled and the facades are decorated with laced balustrade and embellishments in dark wood. Some of the older more traditional mansion houses were built using Dorian and Ionian columns, classic fronts and curved arches adorned with ancient statuettes. Many have attractive, painted facades and all of them possess long, wide windows and weighty, wooden doors. Tiny, narrow alleyways with stone staircases wind their way between the houses adding to the timeless atmosphere of ancient Greece. Lesbos also houses some excellent examples of ancient Greek and Ottoman architecture in particular, the Mytilene and the medieval Valide Mosque.