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cycladic settlements of the aegean sea: a blending of local & foreign influences by emmanuel v. marmaras

DDD 30013 Publication Design Phoebe Markoulis | 101783962 Typefaces: Sofia Pro & Aktiv Grotesk Swinburne University of Technology School of Design Published and Printed in Melbourne, Australia for the School of Design 2020 All rights reserved. No part of this publicaon may be reproduced or transmibed in any form or by means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any other informaon storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from Swinburne University of Technology. Declaration of Originality and Copyright. Unless specifically, correctly and accurately referenced in the bibliography, the publication and all other material in this publication is the original creation of the designer as the author. While very effort has been made to ensure the accuracy, the publisher does not under any circumstance accept any responsibility for error or omission. Copyright Agreement. I agree for Swinburne University to use my project in this book for non commercial purposes, including: promoting the activities of the university or students: internal educational or administrative purposes: entry into appropriate awards, competions and other related non-commercial activities to show my work in lectures and as an example for future students online and face to face and in lectures. In some situations, this may involve re-purposing the work to meet the requirement of Swinburne’s use. I agree to grant to Swinburne exclusive worldwide, non-commercial, irrevocable and free of fee license to use this project produced in DDD30013 in any way for noncommercial purposes.

“this paper explores the wa which cycladic architectur developed�


ay in re

Traditional urban dwelling patterns and architecture in the Cycladic islands are a result of long-term cultural and historical processes. The vernacular built environment was created through the interaction of customary rules and formal laws concerning land ownership rights, the use of and access to property, and standards for new buildings. This paper explores the way in which Cycladic architecture developed. Crucial factors include the vulnerability of the islands due to their small size and natural harbours, sporadic invasions by pirates, and longterm occupation by non-indigenous governments. Resisting this, local populations continued with their own priorities through customary rules and habits related to land and buildings.

table of contents 2



table of contents




the role of history


the pattern of cycladic settlements


the formation of the environment


the context of the rules & their consequences on the urban space


ownership patterns


the two types of rights from the customary law


the influence of the customary law’s rights and obligations


concluding remarks

“cycladic settlement pat admired by architects, and visitors today�


tterns are tourists The Mediterranean region engulfing Asia, Africa and Europe has always been multicultural. Throughout the centuries, various ethnic groups settled in the area, exchanging experience, knowledge, thoughts and ideas, and defending their own cultural legacy peacefully or aggressively. According to Fernand Braudel, Mediterranean countries are archives full of evidence, which survived fire, siege and disaster [1]. This paper focuses on the cultural archive of the insular complex of the Cyclades located in the geographical centre of the archipelago of the Aegean (Fig. 1) [2]. It explores the way in which Cycladic architecture developed. Crucial factors include the vulnerability of the islands due to their small size and natural harbours, sporadic invasions by pirates, and long-term occupation by nonindigenous governments. Resisting this, local populations continued with their own priorities through customary rules and habits related to land and buildings.

map of the cyclades

The mainland of Greece has been overrun by barbaric tribes: the Ionian islands have been thoroughly Italianized: Greece in Asia Minor, and the islands adjacent to the coast have been swamped in Islamism: yet the Cyclades have remained more or less as they were, thanks to their insignificance and unproductive soil [3].

The above observation assists in explaining the formation of the urban environment of the Cyclades, which is the central issue of this paper. The main argument is that the development of the village environments in the Cyclades was a result of a procedure where the rules were created in an isolated society with its own unique cultural background. Imposed upon this was a superstructure introduced primarily by a series of foreign invaders. In short, there was an interplay between local customary rules and formal legal structures (decisions) which were alien to the Cyclades.

the basic hypothesis is that the interaction of local customary rules and foreign formal laws concerning property has created the particular cycladic settlement patterns, which are admired by architects, tourists and visitors today.

In 1885, J. Theodore Bent, maintained that these islands, especially the smaller ones, offer unusual facilities for the study of the manners and the customs of the Greeks as they are, with a view to comparing them with those of the Greeks as they were.

the formation of cycladic vernacular settlements began during the last period of the byzantine era, that is in the thirteenth century, and continued until the mid-nineteenth century, when neo-classicism as an aesthetic trend penetrated the newly established greek state and its islands [4].

the role of history

“as a consequence, the islanders were left to their own devices; they were free to select ettlement patterns and to interpret informal (customary) rules and formal law�

After the occupation of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, the Cyclades – which were part of the Byzantine Empire – were never reincorporated in it until its conquest by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Only after their liberation from Ottoman occupation in 1827, did the Cyclades become part of Greece. Initially the Cyclades were ruled by the Venetians in 1207 when Marco I Sanudo (1207–c. 1230) [5] founded the Ducat of Archipelago or, as other sources state, the Ducat of Naxos Figure 1. Map of the Cyclades. Cycladic settlements of the Aegean Sea 505 [6]. He was appointed by the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, Enrico I [7]. Sanudo and his successors fortified the islands by building strongholds, castles and towers in the main settlements, as well as in other prominent sites of the islands in the form of fortified settlements [8] and supplied them with garrisons, simultaneously offering protection to the islanders [9]. They introduced a feudal system that was unknown to the islands [10]. In this context, the island of Naxos was divided initially into 52 feudal estates and then into 56, which were given to Sanudo’s fellow combatants [11].

During the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, the vulnerable islands of the Cyclades continued to be at the mercy of pirates from various Mediterranean areas, mainly Genovese, Maltese, French, Aragonese, Catalans, Turks and Algerians [12], who gradually devastated them [13]. The native islanders were occupied with efforts to continually defend their settlements against invaders. Nevertheless, it seems that many of the pirates eventually became established inhabitants of the island settlements and active members of the local society [14]. The situation remained the same – aside from the fact that the Franks succeeded the Venetians – until 1537, when the admiral of the Ottoman fleet, Hairedin Barbarossa, conquered the islands [15]. Only the island of Tinos remained under Frankish domination until 1715, when it finally fell to Ottoman rule [16]. Unlike the Venetians and the Franks, the Ottomans did not settle on the islands, except for a small number of families established on the islands of Naxos and Andros, mainly for administrative purposes [17]. They rarely interfered with the domestic affairs of the islands [18], except to collect the annual taxes from all the Cyclades, which were given to Kaputan Pasha [19].

Thus, apart from the annual taxes, the islanders were essentially allowed self-government. Administrative autonomy developed in the Cyclades [20], which was under the rule of the sultan, realized through administrative resolutions issued by the Higher Gate, known as ahd-name [21]. As a consequence, the islanders were left to their own devices; they were free to select settlement patterns and to interpret informal (customary) rules and formal law. These rules included the strong impact of local factors (surviving customary habits and rules since antiquity) as well as the influence of foreign invaders (Venetians, Franks, Ottomans and Mediterranean pirates).

It should be pointed out that Ottoman rule was not all-inclusive in the Cyclades. For example, the island of Syros and Tinos, although conquered by the Ottomans, were simultaneously under the protective status of the French government. This may have been related to the relatively large Roman-Catholic community in these islands, which had to be protected [22]. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were 2000–3000 RomanCatholics in Syros and only 150–200 Greek-Orthodox inhabitants [23]. In 1821, when the Greek War of Independence began, in Ano (Upper) Syros, the old capital of the island, among a population of 4000, only 200 were Greek-Orthodox; the rest were RomanCatholics [24].

In addition, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were also smaller Catholic communities in the Cycladic islands of Naxos, Paros, Ios, Santorini, Andros, Milos, Siphnos, Seriphos, Kythnos, Kea and Mykonos [25]. The historical evolution of the Cyclades was influenced strongly by external factors from the Venetian, Frankish and Ottoman occupations. As a consequence, many changes took place and foreign influences were incorporated into the local cultural structures. These forces had a significant impact on the built environment of the Cycladic islands. The settlements (architecture, patterns, street plans) were created as a protection against invasion, as 506 Marmaras well as an expression of administrative autonomy, which these islands developed, in spite of their continual occupation by outsiders.

“the historical evolution of the cyclades was influenced strongly by external factors from the venetian, frankish and ottoman occupations�

the pattern of cycladic settlements

“in order to understand the urban patterns of traditional cycladic settlements, two methodological approaches are necessary. first, the macro-urban scale, which considers the settlements as an entity within a particular natural setting that serves the basic needs of its inhabitants. secondly, the micro-urban perspective refers to architectural organization, the uniqueness of which is a result of historical influences and cultural preferences “

With respect to the formation of the urban space at the macroscale, the general pattern of a typical Cycladic settlement has been explained as an attempt to establish a defensive structure to discourage unexpected foreigners. Typical traditional Cycladic settlements – according to Radford and Clark [26] – are considered as effective structures of defence against invaders, particularly pirates, who found these isolated and unprotected communities an easy target for plundering. The defensive character of the Cycladic urban space, essentially a nucleated village located on high ground rather than a coastal area, was based on three concepts.

The formation of an outer urban ring in a kind of fortified wall; the compactness of the interior space; and the complicated road network. The combination of these three factors transformed the Cycladic urban environment into an effective fortress. The outer urban ring was constructed usually by houses with strong solid walls and few openings doors or windows. This strategy created town walls [27], apparent in the cases of the capitals in the islands of Naxos [28], Paros [29], Antiparos [30] and Kimolos [31]. The compactness of the Cycladic settlements, with the houses built densely side by side, increased their defensive capability and minimized the extension of the outer ring.

Finally, the road system was based on the concept of the labyrinth, a well-known survival tactic from Greek mythology (Minoan Crete and the Athenian hero, Theseus). It is also found in the Arab settlements of the Mediterranean to assist local people to confuse invaders and escape from foreigners; e.g. the kasbah and medina. A person’s orientation and travel along this network presupposes experience and familiarity with the terrain; only long-term inhabitants have the capacity to circulate freely. As a consequence of the labyrinthine network, strangers and enemies were often trapped by deadend streets and eliminated as potential invaders.

“the compactness of the cycladic settlements increased their defensive capability�

The main means used by the inhabitants of the Cyclades to form their built environment in the micro-urban scale were customary laws – the corpus of various rules and habits regarding the use and regulation of space acknowledged by local communities. Even so, many architectural elements in the micro-urban environment could be interpreted as evidence of defence and protection, as with the macro-urban scale. For example, the archbridges joining two buildings were not only an aesthetic element, but also served as an escape passage. Nevertheless, the construction of a room over a street joining two opposite buildings was common in European and Islamic [32] medieval architecture. The density of the built environment in its macro-scale, created by the need for defence, affected the exploitation of every public or semipublic space by the inhabitants of a dwelling, as well as in the neighbouring territory.Examples of a house ‘leaning’ on the neighbouring house or adjacent territory are abundant in communal constructions for daily use. Benches for sitting were built, outdoor staircases were constructed and stone washing basins were created [33].

Using and sharing constructed facilities in the settlement (the public/ semi-public space) were facilitated by the mild climate and resulted in an ‘outdoor life style’ in the Cyclades [34]. Aside from the above architectural elements, a number of other applications in the microscale of the Cycladic urban space can be observed. Among them, five were most important. First, the width of the roads and pathways was constructed according to a system of priorities and needs to accommodate pedestrians and the movement of loaded animals. Secondly, the wall corners at crossroads had an oblique cut to protect them from the unintentional crashing of a crossing loaded animal.

“the width of the roads and pathways was constructed according to a system of priorities and needs to accommodate pedestrians and the movement of loaded animals�

Thirdly, the formation of the rain and wastewater drainage led to the construction of a system of open-air channels on the surface of the roads. Fourthly, arches connecting opposite buildings in a road were very often used to counter any seismic activity. And, finally, the variety of static supports for the arch-bridges joining opposite buildings followed their property pattern [35]. These aspects of architecture and urban landscape emphasize the principal means used by the inhabitants of the Cyclades to form their built environment in the micro-urban scale, using their customary law regarding the use and regulation of urban space.

the form of the environm



In general terms, the customary law of a society is formed by the lower social strata through the free practice of the people’s will in matters of law [36]. As a consequence, customary rules conform to the needs and habits of a society. The introduction of new rules in the corpus of customary law results in the broadening of existent rules and contributes to the creation of new activities and relations, by modifying the former rules and, at the same time, creating the presuppositions for the formation of a new situation.

“cycladic settlements presentapparent structural and morphological similarities to those of medieval times”

Although the Cycladic islands were isolated and far from each other, they all presented similar customary rules and habits in land matters throughout the insular complex of the Archipelago [37]. These can be considered as a combination of the pre-existing Roman Byzantine law and that of the Assises de Romanie [38], on which the Frankish code was founded. The latter was introduced in the Cyclades by the dukes of the islands and was effective from the beginning of the fourteenth century [39] until 1856, when it was abolished by legislation of the modern Greek state [40]. According to J. Th. Bent: ‘… the Italian influence which was dominant in the Middle Ages in the Cyclades has left traces which extend little beyond the towns on the sea-coast’ [41]. He continued: ‘… If you leave the towns and go into the villages, you find customs existing the very nature of which stamps them as Hellenic’ [42].

Zepos [43] and Bournias [44] maintained that Cycladic customary law as an entity, besides its ancient roots, was influenced mainly by Venetian and Frankish law.

However, a careful study of Cycladic customary law also shows similarities to Islamic law [45], the evolution of which was parallel to the development of building and urban design principles concerning primarily housing and access to settlements [46]. This is probably the reason why Cycladic settlements present apparent structural and morphological similarities to those of medieval times in the north-western coast of the Mediterranean (the European coast), as well as in the southeastern coast (the Islamic one). It is clear that the native population of the Cyclades, who had their own cultural tradition, assimilated influences from various parts of the Mediterranean and created a new and unique built environment. The main customary rules in land matters developed in the Cyclades were the following [47]: respect for the land property of others; rights of original or earlier usage; the institution of condominium or horizontal property; regulations between neighbouring properties; and rules for building permits.

the context of the rules and their consequences on the urban space of the cyclades

In principle, ownership and integrity of property was to be respected and no action was allowed that could cause its value to fall or affect its usefulness or create nuisance to the owner. In reference to land property, it is remarkable that during the Ottoman occupation in the Cyclades, the local customary law was more powerful than the Ottoman law. As a result, the right of private property in urban and rural land was acknowledged in the Cyclades.

In contrast to other places in the Ottoman Empire, where the rural land belonged entirely to the state, and populations that had been conquered had the right to cultivate it [48]. This privileged treatment of the Cycladic population by the Ottoman authority attracted people to settle in these small islands with unproductive soil [49] and live together with the already existing populations. The Christian populations paid double the taxes to the Higher Gate than did Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire [50].

An indirect result of this policy was the survival of an ancient custom, according to which the right of exclusive ownership of trees was acknowledged, which means that the owner of a piece of land could be different to the owner of the trees planted on this land. This customary rule derives from Greek antiquity, when the olive trees in the region of Attica belonged to the goddess Athena and not to the owner of the land on which they were planted [51]. The right of exclusive ownership to trees survived during the Hellenistic period.

It became effective in Byzantine times through the Agricultural law introduced by the Isaurs dynasty [52]. The survival of this customary rule in the Cyclades was facilitated even more by the application of the law of the Assises de Romanie by the Franks. In these islands the right of the owner of the trees was more powerful than that of the owner of the land on which the trees grew. That is, the landowner had to protect the trees and allow their owner to take care of them [53].

ownership patterns

Similar rights regarding respect for the original or earlier usage were acknowledged in the urban sector of the Cyclades as well.

The introduction of condominium

Very often, the notary contracts

or horizontal property was in

include buying and selling building

contradiction with the fundamental

parts, such as ground floors or

rule of the Roman law: superficies

upper floors [57].

solo cedit, meaning that a building belongs to the plot on which it

In certain islands of the Cyclades

was built. However, legal patterns

there were some particularities

The most significant of them

similar to the condominium

and/or restrictions in practising the

were [55]: the obligation that the

property laws exist in Hebraic law,

right of condominium property.

posterior owners must not disturb

while eventually some elements can

In Syros, in the settlement of

the sunlight in a pre-existing

also be found in Babylonian law

Ano Syros, this right was applied

building; the right that rainwater

[56]. During the Byzantine period,

mostly in the cases of neighbouring

drainage can flow through a

although law was based mainly

buildings with very sloping grounds,

neighbour’s property; the right that

on Roman law, the institution of

where the roof of the lower building

litter must be deposited in certain

condominium property survived in

was used as the yard of the

places of a settlement; and the

certain areas of the Empire under

upper one [58]. In Santorini, in the

right to pass through a neighbour’s

the form of Popular (Demodes) law.

settlements of Phira and Oea, the planting of trees or vineyards on

property, if there was no immediate access to public space.

Among these areas were the

the roofs of the houses, which were

According to the legal definition

Cyclades, where, for instance, the

excavated inside the lava of the

of the condominium or horizontal

owner of the ground floor of a

volcano, was forbidden, in order to

property rights, someone has the

building had the right to sell the

protect healthy living [59].

possibility to own part of a building,

right to build the first floor.

for instance, a storey.

Ownership patterns over the years created rights of earlier ownership or usage, also transferring certain rights to older and established facts. One of those, in the case of the Cyclades, was the right to treat on land by a neighbouring owner whose property had no access to any public road. This right had been effective in the Cyclades since the Byzantine period, and was due to the limited area of insular space. The Ottoman authority acknowledged it. In the rural sector, the change of owner of a property would not affect the cutting of wood, the grazing of flocks and apiculture by others, under the condition that the above should take place in a respectful way [54].

Regarding the relationship between neighbouring properties, there were two types of rights deriving from the customary law of the Cyclades: the right of preference (jus protimisseus), and the regulations referring to the partition walls between two adjacent buildings with different owners. The right of preference comes

Among the rules for building, the

from ancient Egyptian law, and

most important customary rule

was effective during the Hellenistic

was the right of use of a pre-

period as well. In the Cyclades,

existing wall in the boundary line of

it was valid until 1856, when it

two properties in order to support

was abolished, like the rest of the

a building [63]. This rule could be

customary rules, by the modern

considered as an effort to provide

Greek state [60]. According to the

more urban space.

right of preference, nobody could sell a building at a prefixed price

There was also a large number

without asking his/her relatives

of rights and obligations in the

and neighbours. Only in the case

customary law of the Cyclades

of a negative answer – which had

related to building rights. One

to be submitted within a certain

rule gave the opportunity to any

limit of time – could the owner

inhabitant to build on his own land,

sell the property to another

with respect to the width of the

person [61]. In the Cyclades the

road and the boundaries of the

order in which people should

neighbouring plots [64]. Another

be asked was the following:

concerned the protection of the

the relatives of the seller, the

view of a building to the sea, the

co-owners of the building if any,

fields and the mountains, and the

the neighbours, and any other

protection to sunlight of the pre-

inhabitant of the settlement [62].

existing buildings [65].

A third building rule prohibited the opening of a door or window looking towards a neighbour’s yard without his/her agreement [66]. According to another rule, if a building was in danger of collapsing, the owner ought to repair it or demolish it, otherwise the local authorities had the right to do so; in the framework of this rule, if the ground floor of a two-storey building presented serious damage, the owner of the upper floor could oblige the owner of the ground floor to repair it [67]. Finally, a building rule, applied especially in the island of Santorini, prohibited the erection of any construction or the planting of trees close to a windmill, because both of them could create obstacles to the proper functioning of the windmill [68].

the two types of rights from the customary law

the influence of the customary law’s rights and obligations

It will now be argued that the above rights and obligations in land ownership matters, deriving from Cycladic customs and habits, influenced the formation of the built environment in many ways.

The right of earlier usage, existing since Byzantine times, contributed to a particular urban expansion pattern. The widespread use of culs-de-sac in Cycladic settlements could be explained as an outcome of this right. Furthermore, the existence of benches for sitting in the streets

With regard to the existence of

and troughs for washing clothes

private ownership in urban and

in the streets (Fig. 8), could be

rural areas, thanks to the Ottoman

explained as a consequence of

law, land in the islands could be

the right of earlier usage, which

divided into smaller plots in order

remained valid even after the

to facilitate its sale; this was not

extension of the roads by the

possible in the feudal Venetian and

erection of new buildings.

Frankish regimes in the Cyclades. As a consequence, to some extent, the small building volumes in these settlements were probably due to this possibility, given by the Ottoman authority.

“one should also refer to the healthy way of living, the sunlight for all the buildings in a settlement, and the protection of the privacy of each family by prohibiting the opening of doors and/or windows overlooking neighbouring houses without their permission�

The right of horizontal property, deriving from the ancient custom of the condominium property, contributed to some extent to the avoidance of repeating the same characteristics in the floors of a building. Thus, the Cycladic settlements obtained a more plastic and sculptural appearance. The rigour in the application of the right of preference contributed to the social cohesion of the Cycladic community.

Finally, building rules included a number of instructions that reflect a deep knowledge of building construction and a sensitive management of the relationship between people and the built environment. In particular, avoiding blocking the view of pre-existing buildings constitutes a cultural tradition, which undoubtedly has contributed to the amphitheatrical setting of the Cycladic settlements in their physical environment. This regulation could be explained as an attempt to secure optical contact of each family with the main places of interest, especially

Probably the ‘liberal’ character of the

the sea, which in fact connected the

right of horizontal property, together

islanders with the rest of the world.

with the ‘conservative’ nature of the right of preference, created the

One should also refer to the

two poles between which Cycladic

healthy way of living, the sunlight

society moved and produced its own

for all the buildings in a settlement,

culture, as far as the formation of

and the protection of the privacy

the built environment is concerned.

of each family by prohibiting the

Moreover, the right of preference

opening of doors and/or windows

also resulted in a stronger bond

overlooking neighbouring houses

between the members of a typical

without their permission.

Cycladic family [69].

“Cycladic settlements created a unique micro-urban space with simplicity, originality and inspiration�

concluding remarks

This paper has explored some of the aspects of the system of internal and external factors which contributed directly or indirectly to the formation of the built environment in the Cyclades. Cycladic architecture resulted from a long historical procedure, which included the strong impact of local factors surviving since antiquity, as well as the influence of foreign invaders. This approach of the phenomenon makes clear that the customary rules covered a wide spectrum of real estate and building construction matters, while, at the same time, permitting a significant degree of freedom in the formation of the built environment. The elements of customary law in the Cyclades established a predetermined pattern of location of any building in the urban insular space. Aside from the fact that building construction was based on the co-operative spirit of the inhabitants, the final outcome was essentially determined by the logic of an urban pattern, and demonstrates how these settlements combined harmony and discipline in structure, as well as variety and freedom in expression. The relationship between customary law and built environment was not a simple relationship between cause and effect, but functioned in a broader sense and gave the possibility to local artisans of building with respect to human individual and social needs. Thus, the indigenous populations had the opportunity to invent and adopt urban and architectural ideas, which fitted the micro-urban environment of the Cycladic settlements and created a unique microurban space with simplicity, originality and inspiration.

“Cycladic architecture resulted from a long historical procedure, which included the strong impact of local factors surviving since antiquity, as well as the influence of foreign invaders”

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