Traditional architecture of Lemnos IslandThursday, October 20, 2016 Sightseeing and Landmarks by Iuliana Marchian
In the first post about Lemnos Island, I wrote about the three major archaeological sites that stand out on the eastern side of the island – Poliochni, Hephaistia, and the Kabeiroi Sanctuary. However, there is more to Lemnos than just those three sites. You can find numerous representations of the Greek authentic lifestyle and architecture on the island, which withstand successfully mass tourism effects unlike the surrounding islands of Thassos and Samothraki.
The architecture of Lemnos is a strong evidence of the island’s rich culture. On Lemnos Island, one can see the variety of architectural sites – from quaint churches and 19th century stone mansions along Myrina seashore to simple rural folds, which are the best examples of the mainstream architectural wisdom. Traditional houses, stockyards, old windmills, and countless churches spread all over the island are among the most typical local architectural sightings.
The Lemnian house – the pearl of traditional architecture of Lemnos
The Lemnian traditional house is the original local hut that can be distinguished from other houses by its simplicity and innovative technical solutions, but also famous for its harmonious bonding with the natural environment. Most of the local houses are built with stone and garnished with tiles. A traditional house has a fireplace and a cooking corner on the ground floor. The two-story house with external stone stairs is an evolution of the original hut (e.g. it has a cellar as an extra storage space and the top floor as the living area).
The area of Moudros in the eastern part of the island is another typical representation of the traditional architecture of Lemnos island. Among small hidden picturesque ports, rocky beaches with caves, and lush wetlands, on the eastern coast of Lemnos lies Kontopouli village. Located on a fertile plain near the lakes Alyki and Chortarolimni, today the village has about 700 residents. Most of them are farmers or pastoralists.
Kontopouli village consists of stone houses with green courtyards and vegetable gardens, a central church dominating the main square, and pastoral atmosphere to finish the idyllic countryside landscape. Near the village, there is a number of traditional pottery workshops (locals call them tsoukaladiko) as well as companies that make and sell religious icons. The main square has several Greek tavernas hidden in the shade during the day that gets lively and animated during the evening.
The vernacular stockyards
Local stockyards, called mantres, are a large agricultural-livestock complexes of great architectural value. The stone-built stockyards are interspersed around the island. They are built with a specific angle and orientation to protect the stock against strong northern winds. At the beginning, they were built to house the local shepherds (called kechagiades) and after – animals and fruits. Most of them have an earthen floor, wooden roof, small entrance door, one small south window, and a stone bench used by the shepherd as a bed. The construction is built directly on the soil, imitating all the inclinations of the ground. This kind rural architecture embodies all the features of a vernacular culture that mimics the natural landscape, creating oddly outlined buildings and structures.
The old windmills
The old windmills hold a prominent position in the traditional architecture of Lemnos island. The Franks began building windmills in Greece in 1204. They had chosen Lemnos first because of its strong winds. The tradition of building windmills lasted for nearly 800 years. Unfortunately, today the windmills cannot be used for their original purpose. Nonetheless they remind us of the island’s bygone past. In some areas of Lemnos the windmills have been restored and reintegrated into the local heritage.
As a traditional settlement, Kontias village has the original architectural beauty and elegance, which is reflected in numerous renovated stone houses and cobbled streets. The style of the houses resembles the architectural style of other Aegean islands and sometimes the one of Peloponnese.
With about 600 residents and a local administration, Kontias is an active village from a cultural point of view. Some of its recent initiatives are the two fully restored windmills dating back to the end of the 19th century, which stand as a proof of Kontias long history at the entrance to the village. In the past those windmills ground the grain that was harvested in this region.
Behind the nearby hill, there is a similar complex of five other restored windmills. A foreign travel agency rehabilitated the windmills by offering tourists an authentic way of discovering the local architecture by living in the windmills. The rehabilitated old windmill comprises two stories: the ground floor divided into a small kitchenette and a private bathroom; an open first level that accommodates a private area furnished with a double bed, dressing room, and working space.
The country churches of Lemnos
There are over 400 Lemnian chapels scattered like wildflowers around the island. The chapels were built on the sites of ancient temples and places of worship of old gods. Some of them even preserve the marble foundations of those temples. The stone chapels are the works of great masters and stone sculptures of Lemnos (locally called petropelekani) from the 19th and early 20th century. The chapels adorn literally every village, many foothills, seashore, and even most remote hilltops.
The wider area of Atsiki includes the amphitheatric village of Dafni, which is a mountain village that lies on the slopes of Mount Chouchlis. The village has been built among hills abound in thyme. Dafni was first mentioned in 1284 under the local name of Sverdia. It was named Dafni after 1956 because of a large oleander growing in the village (pikrodafni in Greek means oleander) .
Today Dafni only has 150 inhabitants. The village has narrow streets with cobblestone and stone houses with ceramic tiles on the roofs. The church of Agioi Anargiroi, built in 1872, dominates a small square located at the periphery of the village. The church was built with stones brought from Malta by Lemnian sailors. The bell tower of the church was built later by Greek immigrants from the US and has three floors. In the surroundings of Dafni village, one can find also the chapels of Panagia tou Charaka and Profitis Ilias tou Paliou Charaka.
The castles and watchtowers
The castles and watchtowers of Lemnos are visible elements of the structured environment used in the old times for the defence of the inland territories. Evidence of the past Frankish presence is very often seen around the island. Castles in poorer condition are also found in Moudros and Kotsinos. Among the dozens of Frankish military constructions, the castle of Myrina is has preserved the best.
The capital of Lemnos, Myrina is located in the south-west of the island. The area was inhabited since prehistoric times. According to the Greek mythology, Myrina was the wife of the first king of Lemnos, Thoas. The Byzantine fortress, which lies on top of a rocky peninsula above the port of Myrina, is one of the largest fortresses in the Aegean Sea and in Greece respectively. The fortress covers an area of 144,000 sq.m. and has a triple curtain wall (maximum 8 m high 1,5 m width) and 14 defence towers sorrounding it.
The Emperor Andronikos Komninos built the fortress on top of an ancient Pelasgian wall around the year of 1180. The Venetians reconstructed the fortress in the 13th century. The Turks inhabited the fortress during the Ottoman Empire and built a Turkish temple and water tanks inside the castle. Unfortunately, in 1770, the Russian fleet substantially damaged the fortress only leaving the ruins for the modern day spectators.
This is the second post of a trilogy. The first part was dedicated to the main archaeological sites on Lemnos Island. Stay tuned for the third part.