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Castles of the Aegean

The hostile intentions of invaders, mainly pirates, led many islanders to fortify their settlements. The outer houses of those settlements were built very close to one another forming a wall with only a few openings to the inner castle. The streets between the village houses, which are 1 to 2.5m wide, follow the outline of the houses with their recesses and protrusions. The walls on the corners of the buildings have been cut out, so that beasts of burden could pass through the narrow streets. At some parts of the settlement, the streets are flat and paved with large irregular stones that are whitewashed at the joints for cleanliness reasons, while in other parts the cobblestone streets are inclined and have steps big enough for an animal to climb. All of the streets are full of surprises, impasses, width variations and unexpected openings with a view. They pass under low arches that constitute an excellent shelter in case of rainfalls and storms, they become narrower or wider when they reach a square and they even unite with the house yards at some points.

A distinctive feature of the Aegean architecture is the fact that Aegean houses are tangled up in a tight clasp with their yards protruding into one another. The way the houses are built portrays the solidarity among the locals and the safety of traveling on a common road and sharing a common destiny in a hard life that brings them closer together.

Fortified Settlements Around The Castle

These types of settlements surround a Venetian or Frankish castle located at their centre. Their houses are attached to one another forming a second wall of protection against pirate attacks. However, their residents sought refuge inside the castle in cases of large invasions. Such settlements can be found on Astypalaia, Patmos, Amorgos and Skyros, as well as, at Lindos of Rhodes and Molyvos of Mytilene.

The fact that the houses of fortified settlements were built so close to one another forming a protective wall was the key of the defense mechanism of those settlements. There were large gates at the entrance of the settlement, which were sealed for further protection in the face of danger. Such settlements can be found on Serifos, at the Castle of Sifnos and at Ano Syra.

The castle in Chora of Naxos is one of the rare cases where a civil engineer accurately defined the relation of the castle walls to the mansions and houses of the settlement. As a result, a fortified settlement that became the seat of the Venetian Duchy of the Cyclades was built. The castle was built by Marco Sanudo, the first governor of the Duchy, over the ruins of ancient temples in 1207 and protected the Venetian colony against pirates, invaders and the hostility of the locals.

While most Aegean settlements exist from the ancient times and have developed according to the needs of each period (expansions, fortifications, inland connections to the harbors), there are two settlements, one on Antiparos and one on Folegandros, that have been built according to plan from the very beginning and constitute unique examples of organized urban planning. The settlement of Chora on Antiparos, which is still in excellent condition, was built by the Venetian rulers Sommaripa and Lorenzano. It has a square yard in the middle surrounded by 24 two-storey houses, where the peasants of the region lived, while the tower of the governor stands tall at the centre of the settlement.  

 

Author: Dr. Marios Theodorakakis 

 

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