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 windmills in Mykonos have become landmarks of the island.
There is no more iconic postcard of Greece than the magnificent windmills from Mykonos. However, windmills are on almost every Cycladic island.
They’re not just tourist landmarks either. Windmills on the island of Mykonos were active and functioning until the early 20th century.
The anatomy of the windmill
Tradition calls for the windmill from the Cycladic islands to be a heavy three-story building, circular in shape and made of stone.
Many of them have very small windows and a pointed roof, often made of wood.
The windmills’ tops are traditionally made of twelve wooden fan blades each with a triangular-shaped wing made from a very strong fabric—usually the same cotton canvas used for sails in boats.
When the wind blows, the windmill carries the movement to a central axis inside the building, forcing the grindstones below into a rotational movement.
In order to take advantage of the force of that movement at its strongest, the grinding mechanism used to be on the top floor while the flour was gathered on the second floor.
The ground floor was used to store raw grain and processed flour.
On the Aegean islands, windmills took advantage of the northern wind, called the Meltemi, to grind barley, wheat, and other locally produced cereals.
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, oftentimes, abroad.
History tells us that there were over 25 windmills on Mykonos; ten of these were part of the complex called Kato Mili, which means the lower mills.
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 upper mills, 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 sixteen old windmills standing on the island, however, most of them renovated and repurposed into stores or even homes.
Some are still visible near the old town, and ones by the sea are 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 of Mykonos
Only two of the standing windmills of Mykonos can currently be visited. 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 most of its original grinding machinery is still intact. The second windmill open to the public is Bonis Mill, and it is part of Mykonos’ Agricultural Museum.
This mill has been restored with great respect shown to its original condition.
Here, it’s possible to access all three levels and learn everything about the whole process of flour making, from grinding the grains to weighing and storing the resulting flour.