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Why Greek Island Houses Are Blue and White

Blue and White houses on the Greek Island Santorini
The iconic blue and white Greek houses of Santorini. Credit: Greek Reporter

World famous destinations like Mykonos and Santorini are immediately recognizable in photos thanks in part to their distinct architecture. Influencers love taking pictures in front of the islands’ whitewashed homes and blue accents and doors. But why are Greek island houses blue and white?

Many people recognize blue and white as the iconic colors of Greece. They’re the colors of the flag. They are also the colors of the bright sea and sky, synonymous with the beautiful Mediterranean.

However, in the Cycladic islands, the distinctive blue and white coloring of houses is not based on the colors’ symbolism within Greece. In fact, there were several reasons behind this iconic characteristic of Greek island architecture, and most of them were quite practical.

Cooling Down island homes in the summer

Many homes in islands like Mykonos, Paros and Naxos were originally built out of stone. This was a practical decision since there was little wood in the rocky Aegean island landscape.

However, the stones were usually dark in color. This presented a problem during the sunny Greek summers. The sunlight beating down on the homes would be absorbed by the dark stones, making the interior unbearably hot.

So residents started painting the stones white, in an effort to cool down their indoor spaces. The process worked, resulting in cooler, more comfortable island homes.

How Cholera Affected Home Design

Then, in 1938, a national order accelerated the spread of this new design aesthetic.

At the time, Greece was suffering an outbreak of cholera during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. In an effort to curb the disease, he ordered citizens to whitewash their homes.

This might sound strange today, but the whitewash used to paint the houses contained limestone. Limestone is a powerful disinfectant, and not many others were in common use at the time.

Greek citizens thus whitewashed their homes to help sanitize them and reduce the spread of cholera.

What about the blue color of Greek island houses?

Greek islands homes in Amorgos
The Greek island of Amorgos, showing old windmills atop its highest point. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Though blue is the most common accent color for doors and shutters in the Cycladic islands, it’s not the only one. In fact, if you walk around many islands, you will notice accents of red, green, and brown, in addition to blue.

However, the vibrant blue color still dominates the Cycladic landscape. Why is that?

Well, it comes down to cost. Fishermen and other seafaring men painted their windows and shutters with whatever was left over after painting their boat. And because of the elements used to create it, blue was usually the cheapest color of paint.

The blue used in Greek island houses was made from a mixture of limestone and a cleaning product called “loulaki”. Loulaki was a kind of blue talcum powder most islanders had readily available at home. Therefore, blue paint was a very easy color for them to make.

The military dictatorship enforces the color scheme the Greek islands

The pretty colors of Greek island houses became mandatory during the military dictatorship that took over Greece in 1967. The regime believed the colors 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 been relaxed now, the blue and white colors of the Greek islands have become a huge draw for travelers. Therefore, many islanders choose to keep them. In the end, this is both for the practical reasons they started using these colors, and because they are good for tourism.

Wandering around the Cycladic islands today, visitors can easily find houses with original earth-colored stones or slightly different colors. However, blue and white still dominate Greek island design, as well as the image people all around the world have of Greek islands.

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