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Four: Collective Fortification: Kastro

As larger islands with fortified cities, Crete and Rhodes played pivotal roles in the perennial wars between the Venetians and the Knights Hospitaller, the Latin Christians, on the one hand, and the Ottoman Turks, on the other. The massive and sophisticated fortifications in the cities of Rhodes and Candia (present-day Irakleion) indicate the scale of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century warfare in the region and the immense human and material resources invested by besiegers and defenders alike.

The smaller islands suffered the ravages of war as well, but seldom were major resources invested in protecting or conquering their towns. Defenses were based on locally available means, however limited, and had also to address the small-scale threat of a raid by a single ship or by two corsairs joining forces. And the towns had to be defended from assaults originating in rivalries among the local lords and the warfare that resulted from such assaults. (Page 115)

Located on the east coast of the island of Sifnos, the Sifnos Kastro crowns a dome-like hill that stands 250 feet above sea level? The most vulnerable side of the hilltop settlements was the western side where, in the past, footpaths led to its guarded gates. Today, those same gates continue to defend the Kastro by keeping vehicular intruders out. (Page 127)

The Astypalaia Kastro was built at the top of a massive rock formation crowning the promontory 400 feet above sea level. Erected in one stage, it follows the collective fortification system of the vernacular architecture tradition common to the Aegean island towns. The Kastro is defined by a completely enclosed defense perimeter, with access to the interior limited to one powerfully built gate. The Astypalaia Kastro is no longer inhabited, the last occupants having moved to the Chora below at the end of World War II and the Italian administration. (Page 137)

Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911), the son of a Greek Orthodox priets, was perhaps the greatest Greek prose writer of his time?Ftochos Ayios (Poor Saint) is among Papadiamantis?s nearly two hundred works of short fiction. The story is particularly useful to an understanding of the vernacular architecture of the Aegean islands, since the narrative gives us revealing information about both life and architectural form in the fortified settlement of the Kastro on Skiathos. (Page 155)

The massive architectural volume of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian is, in the words of Lawrence Durrell, ?grimly beautiful in a rather reproachful way? and sits on a 190-meter ridge on the southern half of the island, hovering protectively over the successive rings of houses and churches that comprise Chora. Another inspiring variation on the Aegean collective fortification system, Patmos?s contribution to an understanding of the vernacular architecture of the archipelago is unique. (Pages 163-164)

Those who would later engage in the rediscovery of Greece with the Acropolis of Athens as the focus should certainly have wished that the Patmian monk?s curse had had an immediate effect on Morosini. For it was he who, while leading another Venetian army against the Ottoman Turks, besieged the Acropolis twenty-eight years after the Patmos disaster. Informed by a deserter that the Turks were using the building for ammunition storage, on September 26, 1687, one of Morosini?s artillery lieutenants trained his fire on the Parthenon, exploding the stored gunpowder and inflicting maddening damage on this incomparable building, which had survived intact for more than two thousand years. (Pages 173-174)

The abandonment of Skaros in Santorini and Kastro in Skiathos bears witness to a dramatic change in the geopolitics of the archipelago after the 1830s in the form of the elimination of piracy, both Christian and Moslem, from the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The Sifnos, Antiparos, and Kimolos Kastra still boast residential occupancy and remain precious and refreshing examples of the system of collective fortification that confirm its inherent versatility as well as the unity and variety of its vernacular architecture expression. (Page 180)


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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