Greece – Ios Island Architecture

Architecture plays its own special role in the formation of the cultural identity of a place. In the case of los or the Cyclades in general, this role is particularly important. Architecture is one of the basic elements in the distinctive character of these islands. The brilliant white houses with their vaults and arches cling to the bare rock, creating a superb contrast with the deep blue of the sea, which is unmatched anywhere else in Greece, not to say the entire world. The architectural style of the houses is spare, uncluttered, even severe. There is no adornment, merely plain lines and curves. Above all, there are no building regulations. The houses are built next to each other, one above the other, in a clear example of free, unplanned development. The required design is executed without any hesitation.

The design effortlessly links the house to the landscape and reconciles it with the environment. At the same time, it serves another purpose: that of protecting the inhabitants against extreme climatic conditions and against any other unwanted “visitors”, such aspirates or invaders. The houses are cramped in the narrow, labyrinthine streets to withstand the strong winds. Porticoes offer protection against rain in winter and sun in summer. Great care is lavished on whitewashing the structures, to protect the houses from the heat of the summer by reflecting the sun’s rays. Finally, the thick walls afford excellent insulation against both high and low temperatures. As for protection against invaders, the inhabitants would withdraw to the castle in times of danger, but the tiny windows and doors of the houses were also designed with defense in mind.

Most of the houses in Chora were built over 200 years ago. The only exceptions are a number of old houses and a few neoclassical buildings. These neoclassical houses, the “mansions” (archontika) of the island, which were built at the beginning of the 20th century, have two storeys, with a pediment and plaster columns on the facade. On the ground floor is a large room with a hearth in one corner, used for heating and cooking, and a table in the middle for the daily family meal. The formal dining room, in which dinners were held on the occasion of weddings and all family celebrations, is on the upper floor. It is a large room known as the sala, furnished with a table in the centre on which a Venetian lamp used to stand, and with a   sofa  decorated with traditional embroideries or textiles, and a cupboard with a mirror, usually adorned with a few family photographs. To enter this room, one had pass through a veranda known as the boudi, which was reached by way of an exterior staircase. There was often a secondary, interior spiral staircase called the klavani. The bedrooms are to right and left of the sala, with which they communicate directly.

In the countryside there are still a number of old houses whose purpose was to serve the needs of the inhabitants’ farming activities, mainly during the summer. They are very simply constructed and are normally single-storey buildings with one or two rooms. These little houses are normally found together in groups of five or six, forming small settlements known as katikies.

In the context of architecture, mention should be made of the numerous, very interesting churches to be found in Chora or scattered through the entire island, which add their own characteristic tone to the landscape.