In Mykonos, the wind blows all year-long. This is the reason why bushes are more abundant than trees, this is why yards are surrounded by high walls, and this is also the reason why its windmills have become the island’s landmark.
There is no more iconic postcard of Greece than the magnificent windmills from Mykonos; however, windmills are almost on every Cycladic island. They were active and functioning until the early 20th century.
The Anatomy of the Windmill
Tradition wants the windmill from the Cycladic islands to be a heavy three-story building, circular in shape and made of stone. Many of them with very small windows and a pointed roof, often made of wood.
The windmill top is made of 12 wooden fan blades each with a triangle-shape wing made from a very resistant fabric, usually, the same cotton used for sails in boats. When the wind blows, the windmill will carry the movement to a central axis inside the building, which forces the grind stones into a rotational movement.
In order to take advantage of the force of that movement from the very beginning, the grinding mechanism used to be on the top floor while the flour was gathered on the second floor. The ground floor served to store raw grain and processed flour.
On the Aegean islands, the windmills took advantage of the northern wind, the Meltemi, to grind barley, wheat and other cereals produced locally. On Mykonos, the resulting flour was either given back to the farmers, who baked their own bread, or sold to local bakers. Some of that resulting flour was also shipped to other areas of Greece and often abroad.
History tells us that there were over 25 windmills on Mykonos, ten of them were part of the complex called Kato Mili, which means the mills down. These mills were located across from the harbor of Alefkandra, and this strategic location was key to the island’s economic growth.
The harbor was a necessary stop for sailing boats passing through the Cyclades, so the flour coming from those windmills was used to produce rusks or paximadi, a kind of dried bread that can be preserved for months which was the main source of carbohydrates for sailors. The Pano Mili, or windmills from above, served the same purpose but the flour produced was mostly consumed locally.
Electricity brought new advances, and traditional flour production consequently ceased. There are still 16 old windmills standing on the island, most of them renovated. Some are still visible near the old town, and ones by the sea visited by thousands of tourists every year. A few have been renovated and turned into modern houses or exclusive lodging. All of them remain proof of the island’s agricultural past.
Visit the Windmills
Just two of the standing windmills of Mykonos can be visited nowadays. Geronymos Mill which dates back to 1700, is the oldest windmill on the island, and it produced flour until the 1960s. It has been renovated and still keeps most of its original grinding machinery. The other windmill open to the public is Bonis Mill, and it is part of Mykonos’ Agricultural Museum. This mill has been restored respecting its original condition. Here it’s possible to access the three floors and learn everything about the whole process of flour making, from grinding the grains to weighing and storing the resulting flour.