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There used to be a time when the islands near Santorini were united in a single Greek prefecture – Cyclades. It means ‘’circular’’ in Greek – the name refers to the islands forming a circle around the sacred island of Delos which was inhabited by nymphs and other mythical creatures. The nymphs didn’t have much time to get cosy though, according to Greek mythology, their behaviour infuriated Poseidon, the God of the sea, and he turned them into these islands as they tried to escape his wrath in all directions. For long the trademark of these islands has been the mix of colours from the Greek flag – white houses and white churches with blue domes along with the blue of the ocean that surrounds it all. How did this happen and how did we get to this?

First, let’s talk about how other Cycladic islands came to use white in their buildings so much. It turns out that the reasons were purely practical at the beginning – the people just tried to reflect some of the rather harsh sun and this was a way to do it to keep some of the heat out. This was not ‘’painting’’ houses in a traditional sense, because this look is older than white paint (mass production of paint started only around 1900’s) – traditionally asbestos was used to reach a nearly white look. That was the reason for adopting this colour scheme in most of the Cycladic islands, but the case of Santorini was a bit different.

You see, the houses of Santorini used to be very brightly coloured and in some ways the colours rather resembled Venice than Cyclades. Some of these houses are still preserved in their original colour, but they were mostly repainted white. Why? Most of the houses had some sort of shade of red, either intense red or brown-red etc. and the military government of in power around 1970’s was not very pleased of the political concepts this colour suggested. Therefore, a law was issued that the houses were to be repainted white, and since 1974 all newly built houses have to oblige this regulation. The white and blue of the Greek flag became the trademark of the houses of Cyclades, including Santorini.  So the decision to use these colours transformed from a practical one to a purely ideological and esthetical one.

Nowadays there are some slight exceptions for the rule, some other light colours are allowed. There is some debate on whether to keep on going like this or to change the rules. What do you think?

Santorini blue church dooms Santorini white church Santorini blue doord

Photography by Anna Shulte, holiday photographer located in Santorini.


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