What could be more indicative of the Greek Cyclades Islands than whitewashed homes, built into the cliffs hanging over the sea, decorated with bright blue roofs, doors and windows?
If you think of Greece, this image has to instantly pop into your head:
Ahh, so beautiful, right?
Well actually, there is a much more practical purpose behind the architecture and paint choices of the homes in the Cyclades. And while different islands have different traditions, there are many similarities among them.
If you’ve ever been the Greek Islands in summertime, you know how hot it can get. The sun beats down the entire day, rarely a cloud in the sky and there are few, if any, trees for protection. Therefore, maintain a cool comfort level was a major factor in how homes were not only built, but decorated too!
Homes were built into the cliffs to provide insulation from harsh sea winds and bright summer sun and were originally constructed from stone, many times a dark, volcanic stone. This provided a sturdy protection, especially when piracy was a threat during the medieval era. The stone also acted as a really great insulator, the only problem being that the dark color absorbed a lot of sunlight, making the interior of the homes even warmer. As a solution, residents began painting their homes white to reflect the sunlight and stay cool.
As white paint was not readily available, especially in the middle of the ocean, the residents of many of the islands used asbestos to produce a white color for a low price. This was also used to paint roads and kill pests. In Santorini, however, they covered the stone in a layer of plaster made from limestone. Many people also used many different colors as an accent to the white color. Over time, blue became the cheapest and most readily available.
While blue and white homes have become synonymous with the Greek Cyclades islands today, this isn’t true off all of them and even the most famous, Santorini, used to be full of vibrant, vivid colors.
During the period of 1967-1974, however, Greece was under rule of a military government. For political reasons, such as to show support and unification, the government ordered that all new homes be painted with this blue and white concept and those that were already built must be repainted.
Here are some of my favorite photos of homes during my visit to the Cyclades islands of Santorini and Ios: