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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 such as Mykonos and Santorini are easy to identify 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, on the Cycladic islands, the distinctive blue and white colors of homes are not based on the colors’ symbolism within Greece. In fact, there were several reasons behind this iconic characteristic of Greek island architecture. These were mostly practical reasons.

Cooling down island homes in the summer

Many homes on islands like Mykonos, Paros, and Naxos were originally built out of stone. This was a practical decision since wood was not easily found on rocky Aegean islands.

However, the rocky terrain is of a darker 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.

Hence, residents began 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

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 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. Because of its components, blue was usually the cheapest paint color 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 readily available at home. Therefore, blue paint was a very easy color for them to make.

Military dictatorship enforces color scheme on Greek islands

The pretty colors of Greek island homes 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 now been relaxed, the blue and white colors of the Greek islands have become a huge draw for travelers. Therefore, many islanders continue painting their homes in these colors. Essentially, 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 homes with original earth-colored stones or slightly different colors. However, blue and white still dominate Greek island design, and island homes are known for this popular color scheme worldwide.

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