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Architecture

The architecture of Ikaria presents a particularity and uniqueness around the Aegean and therefore is not well known and studied, both from Greek and foreign researchers, like the traditional architecture of other Greek islands.

The major characteristic of the Ikaria is the very large residential dispersion. It has over 70 settlements, densely built throughout the island. From the early 16th century AD to the 19th century, the residents didn’t want to be seen by the enemies, especially the Turks and the pirates, so they were living only in the mountains and not in coastal areas. In that way, they created ‘’secret settlements’’. The ruins of such settlements are found mainly in western Ikaria and elsewhere, as in Magganitis, in Laggada, in Pezi, in Messaria and in Perdiki. Many people used the cavities of big granite rocks (known as 'louroi ') as residences, which were usually single-spaced, with one room (known as ‘kamares').

In the eastern part of the island these residences were known as 'hostokelia'. This is where the phrase "spiti oso na horeis kai topo oso na thoreis" comes from, meaning that a house could be very small, enough to fit inside, but in a place as big as you can see. Therefore, in order to maintain a settlement secret, the residents did not build high buildings and thinly one from the other. For this reason, every house had its own farm with crops and stood at a distance from the other houses and together they created ‘neighborhoods’. These neighborhoods later had their own church and school, and took their name after the families who created them. They still exist and known in Ikaria as Mavrikato, Glaredo, Mavrato etc. The residential tissue around the island appears simple and adapted to the particular nature and geomorphology. This is the basis of all modern residential settlements.

The residences of Ikarian people, for many centuries were known as 'hyto', meaning that roofs, made of schist, had one slope parallel to the ground and they were single-spaced, mostly rectangular. The walls were constructed with stones that were nearby, while the roofs had an opening on the top, called 'anefantis' which used to ventilate the house. All around the house there was a wall made of dry stones (‘xerolithia’) which hid the house. Older houses didn’t have a fireplace, only two opposed stones and a hand mill. An important equipment were the jars that were buried in the ground and were used to store wine and oil. There weren’t any beds inside the house, but people laid animal skins on the floor to sleep.

In later years the Ikarian houses started evolving. So, windows  were created, which had an external recess so as to protect against the rain and didn’t occupy any space inside the house. In the walls they created recessions which functioned as shelves for various items. They built a big bed with stone or wood for the whole family. The entrance door was divided into two sections, up and down, either single leaf or double leaf. In the early 19th century, houses with a gabled roof and two-storey or three-storey houses were appeared, such as in Agios Kirikos, while at the same time the number of rooms increased in two or three. People built fireplaces and ovens in a simple form of circular stone inside the house or outside in the yard walls with chimney.

The houses had a simple household equipment. Almost all the houses had wooden plate racks, wooden bed and chest of drawers. The courtyard had a wall and crops. Toilettes were built away from the house, while inside the plot, there were various constructions, such as ‘gisterna’ (an open water tank), a thresh, a coop, a stable etc. The materials used for the construction of the residences were schist slates, granites, reeds, grasses, mud and wood, that they found around them. Most households had watermills or windmills for grinding cereals and preparing flour. Today, only about 70 watermills and 16 windmills. The modern architecture, today, is affected by the past and some modern features are alike, such as the windows, the doors and the yard wall. Agios Kirikos is a seaside village with beautiful colored neoclassical buildings and narrow traditional streets, that combines modern and traditional Ikarian architecture.

Finally, due to large residential dispersion and high relief, Ikaria had a quite extensive road network, created by the willingness and personal work of the locals, usually with plates littered the ground. In modern times, roads became vehicular and sidewalks have been created. Port facilities are totally absent from the island, until recently. Bridges have a particular importance for the local architecture, due to the strong presence of streams around the island . It is also noteworthy that significant architectural projects in Ikaria, are the churches. The churches are more than 300, throughout the island.

Nominated Traditional settlements

Since 2003, Akamatra was officially declared as traditional settlement, due to the special architectural character of its buildings, representing the traditional character of the island. Other Nominated traditional settlements are Pezi and Laggada, where the building rules are strict in order to maintain these areas unchanged. An important role has played the absence of massive tourism, which would meant a significant loss of such traditional sites.

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