The architecture of the island of Crete has been for long closely tied to the natural physical landscape – not just with respect to the materials employed but even to the forms and types of the structures.
Amongst traditional architectural forms live on elements of Minoan practice, which have survived the passing of the centuries down to this very day.
The Cretan Village
A typical feature in the landscape of Crete is its villages. In essence their architecture has remained unchanged through the years: the use of local materials – stone, wood and mud, especially in the hill and mountain villages. The settlements are usually built like an amphitheatre on the side or top of a small hill. The reason for this is the better defence it gives against possible attacks. The settlements are characterized by being closely packed together and almost touching, their streets narrow. At the same time, other elements like stairs, pergolas, chimneys and so on, break up the uniformity of appearance – so creating an notable whole.
The most prominent point in a village is usually the church, while the square or market is also a centre of social life – the ‘sell-everything’ shop, the cafenion and the other commercial stores cluster around it.
After WW II, the appearance of many villages began to alter. In many cases, they had to be rebuilt after the catastrophes that had befallen them in the Occupation, whilst at the same time the needs in village life were different. Thus, the ordinary Cretan village house has acquired colour, is more outward looking and so removed from the traditional norm: it has begun to readopt all those elements that were lost in the downtrodden centuries of serfdom.
Although the bigger and richer villages on the whole have altered and in so doing have lost their traditional character, there remain today many villages whose basic fabric is unchanged: whole neighbourhoods of traditional houses with exterior yards and flowers in pots, stone-cobbled streets, arches and whitewashed walls.