Design of a Dream: A hymn to an unknown Architect
From the old years, the settlements of Sifnos are divided into two categories – the defensive and the traditional. Defensive is the settlement of Kastro, with its fortification, medieval structure where the rows of houses form the outer wall. Traditional are the seven main settlements of the island that form a unique grid with Cubist architecture. They are built on a large plateau and united together as they are one of the most beautiful features of Sifnos.
The most affluent families lived in Artemonas and Ai Lukas, so these settlements include several houses with neoclassical elements (early 20th century). Katavati and Kato Petali have rural houses. In the countryside of Sifnos, fishermen and potters built their houses, without forming villages – only small complexes with houses and workshops. The basic construction materials are stone and wood. Lime, sand, soil, clay soils, Thera soil, algae are also used. In the houses of the rich and in the churches a characteristic of the architecture is the “volto” (as in Tinos and in other islands of the Cyclades). These are stone transverse arches that divide the space into smaller openings. The same role is played by the large wooden beams, the axes. Another feature of the Sifnos house is the characteristic ceramic chimneys which they call “flaroi”. Along with the gutters, the access stairs to the terraces, the terraces and cornices complete the Cubist architecture.
The villages of Sifnos can be characterized by the prevailing circumstances during the successive stages of development throughout history. The street layout in the region of Kastro for example is completely different from the other regions because it has a clearly defensive architecture. Despite the years that have passed, Kastro has maintained its clear and unalterable medieval character, narrow streets with many carved marble sarcophaguses and the easily defended lodges (gates through which you enter the village). Most of the houses are terraced, two and three storeys high with one wall forming the perimeter wall of the village.
Most of the traditional villages of Sifnos can be found in the central region of the island. The growth and development of such villages as Apollonia, Artemonas, Petali, Agios Loukas and Exambela has resulted in them practically losing their discernable village limits so much so that they now collectively resemble one large town. There are in fact many traditional paved footpaths in existence, the main one starts in Artemonas, goes through Ano Petali and Apollonia until it reaches Katavati. There are others which are interesting walks, like the one from Artemonas to Kastro via Kato Petali or Agios Loukas to Exambela.
A basic characteristic element of the villages of Sifnos is the cubic architecture. Buildings interspersed with churches that form an integral part of the community, all painted bright white. This is of course typical of many of the Cycladic islands, however the lack of heavy commercialism on Sifnos makes the villages more natural and authentic rather than just aesthetic. The only real exception to this typical Cycladic architecture are the neo classical mansion houses in Artemonas.
The villages that have developed around the beach areas of Sifnos would mostly have started from the construction of pottery workshops along the seashore, which made it easy in those days to deliver the finished articles by caique straight off the beach. Some of them are still working today. The buildings that followed were very simple, usually single rooms with a few auxiliary storage spaces, a cellar perhaps, for storing products, a wine press, a stable or barn, a pigeon house and in many cases a threshing floor.