Santorini Constructions of Earth and Light 【GREECE IS. COM】

Here I would love to share an article by Natasha Blatsiou | October 9th, 2015 @ GREECE IS.COM

The first time I came to know this fabulous magazine was from Athens ( or perhaps thetheloniki ) airport several years ago. Loved its graphic design, calm and balanced layout, and great contents about what is going on in Greece. Now that I am living on Crete Island, it isn’t a bad time to read more about Greece.

Last December (2019) we travelled to Santorini and a few other islands in Aegean area, did some island hopping, which was not easy during winter time, with less available transportation options and less operating frequency, plus bad weather and cancelled or delayed schedules. But anyway, we managed it and got back safely. And this was pre- COVID-19. Funny, isn’t it? As now we found a turning point to define our travelling activities. This year we are definitely grounded, having no plans to travel at all , thus retreat to living rooms with KINDLE and paper books lying around and bedrooms with breakfast on bed ( ideally ). Ok, so much for my monologue, here is this article I like and hope it is enjoyable to read for you too;>

The island’s anonymous builders were the unwitting forefathers of the modernist movement and bioclimatic architecture. What was once a matter of expediency has today become a paradigm of esthetics.

Celebrated Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier visited Santorini in the 1920s and his enthusiasm for the plasticity of the ekistic forms, the wisdom of anonymous vernacular architecture and the whitewashed homes is clearly reflected in the modernist movement of architecture. The scene that greeted Le Corbusier a century ago has remained virtually unchanged today: gazing down from Oia at the caldera and its lava-tinted walls, with the volcano in the center; scanning the landscape and the almost organic form of the settlement’s buildings; wandering through this vibrant, outdoor museum of architectural sculpture. The creators clearly had centuries of experience behind them but also seemed to enjoy complete freedom of expression. Some excavated into the rock, others balancing right at the edge of the caldera, the buildings coexist so harmoniously that it is difficult to see where one property begins and the other ends. The very notion of private property acquired a different definition. The courtyard of one house is the terrace of another; below one field lies the home of a different owner. Private and public space are fluid concepts.

Some dug into the rock, others balancing right at the edge of the caldera, the buildings coexist so harmoniously that it is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends.

Summer house at Oia. The stone building was part of an old factory that manufactured socks in the early 19th century. Openings were made in the central vault to create a bright and pleasant interior space for the family’s main activities: living room, dining area, kitchen. To both sides, four bedrooms/guest rooms were created
(Architect: Voula Didoni). 



A cave system on the left bank of the river begins low down and takes full advantage of the height, equivalent to that of a four-story house. The spaces nearest the ground (old storerooms and canavas), have been converted into guest rooms, while the main house – comprising two large excavated rooms – is high up. 



Residence, Vothonas. A cave system on the left bank of the river begins low down and takes full advantage of the height, equivalent to that of a four-story house. 



“ Santorini’s yposkafa (excavated into the rock) are built along the caldera as well as on the sloping banks of dried-up rivers of settlements in the island’s interior. ”

Santorini’s key architectural feature is its “yposkafa” (excavated into the rock). These can be homes, a canava (where grapes are pressed), storage rooms, stables and even churches. They are built along the caldera as well as on the sloping banks of dried-up rivers of settlements in the island’s interior, such as Finikia, Vothonas, Gonia, Karterados and Pyrgos. The materials used in their construction are red and black stone, and “Theran earth,” which when mixed with water and lime creates an incredibly strong mortar.

The structures are dug into the soft earth, either entirely or with added extensions. These extensions are roofed with vaults or cross-vaults using a type of casting method. A typical excavated house has a narrow facade and goes deep into the rock. The living room is at the front and the bedroom at the back. The kitchen occupies a small corner with a low ceiling, usually vaulted and connected to the living room. The bathroom is set apart, in the yard. Each dwelling has a cistern for collecting rainwater. The stairs, chimneys and other distinct elements have all been endowed with their own character. 

In modern-day terms, these buildings would be described as bioclimatic. The construction materials, their orientation and overall ekistic structure protect the environment and conserve natural resources.

With the passage of time, the qualities of Santorini’s vernacular architecture became widely accepted. In Oia, the captain’s houses expanded on this tradition with neoclassical and Venetian elements, making it distinct from other Greek settlements that flourished thanks to shipping.

The excavated houses never lost their charm, even after Santorini entered a period of decline following a major wave of immigration in the aftermath of World War II and a major earthquake in 1956, while the subsequent tourism boom gave them a new lease of life.

A pilot program launched by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) for the “Preservation and Development of Traditional Settlements,” implemented in Oia between 1975 and 1993, was awarded by Europa Nostra (1980) and at the Sofia Architecture Biennale (1986), contributing to a resurgence of interest in yposkafa.

Today in Oia, as in other settlements on the island, these unique structures have been converted into beautiful houses, luxury hotels, wineries that are open to the public and entertainment and art venues.

If you like this article, please read more on https://www.greece-is.com/santorini-constructions-of-earth-and-light/

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