Iconic Roofs: Santorini
Not all of the world’s roofs are flat. Across the planet, there are numerous aesthetically breath-taking roofs on historic and modern buildings alike, standing out as architectural wonders in a drab world of gables and demarcation barriers. The Greek island of Santorini is known for its striking and unique architecture: white walls and blue domes abound within its Mediterranean villages, painting a picture of bright houses set against cerulean seas.
The notable architecture of Santorini has made the island a popular tourist destination – the local volcano has led to an excess of volcanic material, which has been used over the centuries to create the iconic white houses that are associated with the area.
There are three types of buildings common to Santorini:
- cave houses dug completely out of volcanic rock
- houses dug partly into the rock
- regular buildings built on the ground.
Cave houses are caved into Theraic earth, a hard volcanic soil containing pumice. This building material was useful for keeping warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and safe in all seasons from earthquakes. Historically, cave houses would be carved out by the poorer families who could not afford homes above ground, but ironically, many have become expensive hotels for holidaymakers to stay in when visiting the island. Cave houses, being subterranean, originally lacked both roofs and foundations, yet with time have become modernised suites with balconies overlooking beautiful views.
The second type of building largely consists of farmers’ houses. These would be built atop hills or in the fields, and most would include what is known as a canava. A canava is a large underground winery with wide arched doorways. Santorini, being rich in volcanic soil, is a perfect environment for grapes to be grown in, and as such is known for producing high quality wines. As such, canavas are common across Santorini, and are a typical way of making more money for farmers on the island.
The rest of the buildings on Santorini are built above-ground. They are usually painted white; most agree that this has been done for centuries as a way of heatproofing the houses, as white reflects the sun and keeps the interior of the building cool. Other explanations suggest that whitewashing was adopted as a form of disinfectant to safeguard the island’s population against Cholera. Urban homes in Santorini tend to climb upwards as they are all built very close to one another and as such have little room in which to spread out. Houses in towns therefore appear to be oddly assembled as they have steadily grown higher and higher piece by piece over the years. Plenty of churches in Santorini are marked by blue roofs, one of the island’s most notable characteristics, perfectly matching the sky and sea. From the 20th century, local ship captains and noble landowners began to construct magnificent domed stately houses in the centre of the towns with large yards and gardens.
Santorini’s roofs are iconic for their churches and domes, and the island’s white walls are a familiar sight in travel agents and tourist websites. The distinctive architecture of the island is well-known across the world and marks the island as an unforgettable tourist destination.