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Five: Aegean Towns: Typology and Materials

The collective fortifications of the Aegean islands were a successful response to preserving life and culture in the archipelago when piracy was a constant, daily threat. Later, when the geopolitical environment shifted, the same fortifications were transformed with equal success into springboards for the release of a remarkable and sustained burst of human energy that recaptured control of the Aegean and Mediterranean lanes of commerce for the islanders. The collapse of the feudal system imposed by Latin rule and its replacement by the island self-government the Ottoman Turks allowed offered opportunities eagerly seized by the islanders. What began as small-scale, island-to-island trade, gradually developed in their hands into control of the seaborne trade of the Ottoman empire. (Page 185)

As defined by internal organization, two dwelling types predominate in Aegean vernacular architecture: the monochoro and the courtyard house. The monochoro, a single-space dwelling unit, is the typical cell, module, or virtual Lego block that, repeated vertically and horizontally, produces the external defenses as well as the overall high-density, urban character of such settlements as the Sifnos and the Astypalaia Kastra. (Page 187)

Solid masonry staircases, indispensable architectural elements in a constricted urban space, provided endless architectural challenges to the vernacular builders? inventiveness. (Page 189)

The gate design also embodies a public message about the personality of the house behind it. Most, if not all, of the islands share a prevailing theme for gate design. As a gate frames a door opening, it is formed by a simple but powerful vernacular interpretation of a formal architectural theme, a pediment flanked by two piers or columns. These borrowed elements originated in the nineteenth-century neoclassical architecture of Athens, the nation?s capital, but were subsequently given form and expression by local means. (Page 194)

Churches and chapels are equally important components of the vernacular architecture of the Aegean islands. Scattered beyond the boundaries of towns, the numerous chapels -- each island includes hundreds of them -- are religious, historical, and physical landmarks in the islands? landscapes. These chapels impress the viewer not only by their ubiquity but also by their diminutive domestic scale, whether incorporated into the urban fabric or freestanding. (Page 198)

Built either as single units or in linear formation, windmills were strategically located on heights and ridges above the towns they served, to harness the power of the ever-present Aegean winds and to provide energy to grind grain and flour. Since waiting for the grain to be ground created opportunities to gossip, sing, exchange news, find brides, and pass along folklore, windmills were also crucial as communal meeting places. (Page 219)

The windmill and the dovecote developed outside the archipelago towns during the years of Venetian and Ottoman domination, between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. The monastery, another building type that enriched the Aegean architectural palette, had, by contrast, a Byzantine provenance. Since monasteries were built well before the thirteenth century, their function, form, and scale underscore the continuity between Byzantine and post-Byzantine life and architecture in the Aegean archipelago. (Page 227)

Stone quarried or collected at a short distance from a construction site forms the typical two-foot-thick wall that encloses every building in the Aegean islands. The stone?s thickness means that the building of a typical wall does not require special skill. Cut and roughly formed stone is used for both interior and exterior surfaces of the wall, while the space between is filled with rubble, and its interstices, packed with mortar. Stucco placed on the interior and exterior surfaces protects against rain and the elements generally, conceals imperfections, and helps to insulate the wall. (Page 240)


Table of Contents from The Aegean Crucible



The Aegean Crucible
The Aegean Crucible
Tracing Vernacular Architecture in
Post-Byzantine Centuries
Constantine E. Michaelides, FAIA
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