by Paul Donnelly
Powerhouse Museum Curator and Archaeologist
While driving along the twenty minute winding drive between the Zagora site and the dig HQ at Batsi the team convoy enjoys the twice-daily morning and evening sight of the distant sparkling sea patterned by fingers of sunlight silvering patches of blue and only broken by the peaks of neighbouring islands and far-off mainland. The proximity of these neighbours demonstrates the commonality of Greek island life while at the same time emphasising their independence from each other. Our daily scene makes it easy to understand the development of the small city-state or Polis that is so distinctive to ancient Greek political and social development.
It also explains how it is possible to have distinctive island-by-island design features that are the result of local responses to the availability of materials as well as the demands of the landscape and local climate. My previous post on the schist field walls of Andros is one example and another is the distinctive corrugated and white-washed rendering covering the exterior walls of many buildings right across Andros.
Typically, such features are rarely unique to any single place but rather, identified with one place more than others. This was confirmed when recently I met a practising stone mason, Herakles Gavras, who was able to tell me what he knew about this distinctive element of Andros’s built environment. Herakles is involved with the restoration and consolidation of what is arguably the earliest surviving church in Greece – the 5th Century, St John the Theologian at Korthi in the south of Andros and one weekend he kindly gave the Zagora team access to view the remaining interior painted frescoes (unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside or out). While a surviving stone structure, its function as a church was replaced centuries ago by a larger church next to it that dates back to the 1600s. This later church’s corrugated rendering was redone by Herakles 15 years ago and he says he prefers to add crushed pumice from the island of Santorini for extra strength.
Inevitably there are many variations on the theme. Some of the ones I have seen are probably due to varying degrees of skill (see photo, above) while others are aesthetic choices such as leaving reserved patches of exposed stone (see photo, above). So what would have been the origin of this practice? I wondered whether it was inspired by the effect of painted schist (see photo, right) but as is frequently the case in cultural design there would have been a practical intent too; the long horizontal lines create shadows over the walls when the sun is high and would serve to reduce glare, keep the walls cooler, and the occupants more comfortable. The fact that the same treatment is now given to garden walls and boundary fences may suggest that in this age of air conditioning it is as much an aesthetic decision as practical but the preference and identity has been long cast over the centuries and Andros is all the better for it.
Thanks to Herakles Gavras and our hosts at Kafé Kantouni, Alexandra and Giorgos, who both favour the cooling explanation for the corrugations: Every degree counts in a hot Greek summer!