The story behind the white and blue

A blue gate

Last week I shared with you some of my favourite images of the windmills in Mykonos. In the post, I mentioned that houses are painted white with blue trim. As a matter of fact, Mykonos and Santorini are well known for their distinct architecture. But why are Greek Island’s houses blue and white?

You may recognize blue and white as the iconic colours of Greece: they are the colours of the flag. They are also the colours of the bright sea and sky, synonymous with the beautiful Mediterranean. However, on the Cycladic islands, the distinctive blue and white colours of the homes are not based on the colours’ symbolism within Greece. In fact, there were several reasons behind this iconic characteristic of Greek island architecture, and these reasons were mostly practical.

Many homes on islands like Mykonos, Paros and Naxos were originally built out of stone, a practical reason as wood was not easily found on rocky Aegean islands. Rocky terrain is a darker colour which presented a problem during the sunny Greek summers as the sunlight beating down on the homes would be absorbed by the dark stones, making the interior very hot. Residents then began to paint the stones white in an effort to cool down their indoor spaces. And it worked.

In 1938, a national order mandated the painting of island homes in blue and white. At the time, Greece was suffering an outbreak of cholera. In an effort to curb the disease, Ioannis Metaxas ordered citizens to whitewash their homes. It may sound strange, but the whitewashed used to paint the houses contained limestone, which is a powerful disinfectant when no others were in common use at the time. Thus, the citizens whitewashed their homes to help sanitize them and reduce the spread of cholera.

What about the blue? Blue is the most common accent colour for doors and shutters in the Cycladic islands, but it’s not the only one. If you walk around, you will notice accents of red, green and brown in addition to blue. I also saw some gray and turquoise. However, vibrant blue still dominates the Cycladic landscape.

If you are wondering why, it came down to cost. Fishermen and other seafaring men painted their windows and shutters with whatever was left over after painting their boats. Because of its components, blue was usually the cheapest paint colour available.

The blue used for Greek island homes was made from a mixture of limestone and a cleaning product called “loulaki,” which was a kind of blue talcum powder most islanders had ready at home.

The pretty colours of Greek island homes became mandatory during the military dictatorship of 1967. The regime believed the colours would inspire patriotism and were reflective of Greek nationalism. Eventually, they passed a law in 1974 to mandate the painting of Greek island homes in blue and white.

Although these regulations have now been relaxed, the blue and white colours of the Greek Islands have become a huge draw for travellers. Therefore, many islanders continue painting their homes in these colours. Essentially, this is both for the practical reasons they started using these colours and because they are good for tourism.

Thank you to Antonio our guide for sharing the story. And to Greekreporter.com for writing about it.

Until I write again, keep creating …


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