General information

"As part of the Aegean style, traditional Santorini architecture exhibits an unusual freedom of expression as it incorporates the particularities of the island into the structured environment. The peculiarity of the ground allows for the creation of subterranean buildings under cultivated fields, buildings so closely connected to each other that you cannot tell where one property ends and where the other begins...".

M. Danezis, 1939, "The Thiraic Common Law in the 18th century".

The basic factor in the creation of the built-up space on the island from the Middle Ages until late 18th century had always been that of safety. Living under circumstances of turmoil and being exposed to pirate raids, the inhabitants were forced to an incessant defensive struggle. Therefore, architecture ought to have had a defensive character,that is to provide security above all.

More or less, it used to serve only essential needs. Far from setting off any stylistic elements, it derived from the particular manner of development and from the structures themselves. This particular architectural morphology owes its existence to exclusively local factors: Social, financial and structural. Financial sources were limited, homes were built by unskilled workers (usually the owners themselves). Dwellings were cut in the volcanic lava in an attempt to cover life's needs in an improvised manner lacking any intention of differentiation.

As time passed, especially from the end of the 18th century onwards, survival demands had been overcome by certain population groups and it was time for the architectural forms to serve other purposes. Lords and people well-to-do could lead a much more comfortable life but they could do it only in a large, comfortable and richly decorated home.

The ability of copying foreign models was quickly acquired thanks to the improved techniques, the mobility of artisans and the import of more luxurious materials. Considering mansions, the architecture of 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the artistic intervenes of masters and reflected the models of a great art either in direct or applied imitation according to local singularities. They took advantage of the influences of western or post-renaissance models, not by imitating them but by readjusting them to a simplified local variation that could make use of the structural factors of the place. Classicism and its various forms came to be applied rather late, towards the end of the 19th century, mainly to the mansions of the wealthy, the big churches and public buildings (museum, schools etc.). Even in those buildings that imitated official architecture produced an extremely successful result. The co-existence of vernacular together with those of official architecture within the settlements, produced an extremely interesting effect but also fulfilled the novel requirements of the Thiran society and the human needs.

Main types of Settlements & houses

Village settlements fell into three categories:

Linear (Fira, Oia, Thirassia)

Evolved fortified (Pyrgos, Emporeio, Akrotiri village)

Rock-hewn (Vothonas, Foinikia, Karterados).

As far as their construction is concerned, buildings could be

Rock-hewn (underground)



Types of houses were distinguished in:


In Santorini, the original type of residence was like the one found inside the Kastelia. The one-room houses were either stone-built or rock-hewn, usually two-story, due to limited space, and narrow-fronted. An external staircase led to the upper floor. The ground floor accommodated auxiliary spaces, such as stables and storage areas. The homes of the nobles inside the castles probably followed the same rationale, only at a larger scale. When settlements expanded beyond the defensive perimeters, auxiliary buildings were added to the main construction, adjacent or connected to it through the yard, where a significant part of daily activities took place. Urban houses maintained their irregular shapes.

Rural houses had a big yard and auxiliary buildings (an outdoor, usually cylindrical, brick oven, stables, etc.). They were located in the countryside or on the village outskirts. Most of them also had kanaves (wineries).


A few homes from that time survive in all villages. Residential complexes can be found in neighborhoods such as Sideras in Oia, Frangomahalas in Fira, and at the centre of Messaria (see also The Unknown Santorini and Attractions sections). Their foreign influences – Renaissance or Neoclassical or both – are distinct, as their owners had various contacts abroad. They are very imposing, with symmetrical, monumental fronts.


These were built by non-experts to cover housing needs; however, they turned out to be artistic works of unique aesthetics. They are the most numerous on the island, mainly characterized by plasticity and simplicity. An interesting fact is that they overlap; they also have domes of different shapes and sizes, and their outdoor spaces are irregularly shaped. Fronts have small openings, windows, and doors with lunettes. This type of house was an inspiration for architects of the early 20th century, such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and others.


Built by craftsmen, they were bigger and more complex than the folk architecture houses. Most urban houses and churches are typical examples of this category.


Information was taken from the book "Santorini: Society and Shelter, 15th-20th century", by Dr Dora Monioudi-Gavala/A publication of Lukas and Evangelos Bellonias Foundation. Also, from Kadio Kolymva's text about Oia/ Publication of the Community of Oia.