Ana Sayfa


"Forms and Patterns of Urban Development in the Aegean Islands"




"Ege Adalarında Geleneksel Mimari ve Yeni Kentsel Gelişmeler, 1850-1920"

Tarih: 24 Mart 2005

Saat: 14.30

Yer: Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi, Fındıklı, İstanbul.


Yunus Aran Birlikteliği ve Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi Mimarlık Fakültesi Mimarlık Bölümü tarafından Mimar Yunus Aran'ın anısına düzenlenen Konferanslar dizisinin 21. konuşmacısı, ‘Ege Adalarında Geleneksel Mimari ve Yeni Kentsel Gelişmeler, 1850-1920’ başlıklı konuşması ile Prof. Dr. Alexandra Yerolympos olmuştur.

Konuşma 24 Mart 2005 günü Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi Oditoryum'unda gerçekleşmiştir.

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“Forms and Patterns of Urban Development in the Aegean Islands”

 Alexandra Yerolympos

The paper is divided in two parts. The first will examine briefly the overall conditions that shaped up the form and structure of traditional settlements, from the medieval times until the 19th century. The second part will focus on cities emerging in the modern times and their evolution until world war II. 

The Aegean sea, which forms a part of the Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey, with Crete as its southern boundary, is long of almost 640 klm and wide of 360, and covers a surface of approx. 240.000 sq. klm. Without a center of its own, it has forged multiple links between the lands to its East and West. It has been a focal point for the reception and transmission of cultures, throughout prehistory and recorded history, and it has experienced conditions of isolation as well as of constant connections, years of peace and times of terrible conflicts and wars.

In the Aegean sea as in the Mediterranean (and I am quoting F. Braudel): “to live is to exchange, men, ideas, beliefs, ways of life… an exchange that took place among the 3 great civilizations of the Mediterranean: The Greek, the Latin and the Islamic….”

Ιts function as an internal (inner) sea -within the Mare Nostrum of the Romans- went on during the early Byzantine period, and stopped after the 7th c., when the Arab fleets interrupted (disrupted) the unquestioned rule of Byzantium in the Mediterranean. The Byzantines reconquered Crete from the Arabs in the 10th century and regained command of the seas [961 AD) but this was an intermission in the inevitable process of withdrawal of the Byzantine power in the area.

In the following centuries the Byzantine Empire finds itself cut off from the West as well as from the East. The rising new kingdoms of the Turks begin to pressure at the East in the 11th century (1071), while at the same time (1096) the Western powers start pressuring from the West. The Aegean sea is in the middle of a long-lasting conflict which will continue for centuries. The Byzantine settlements, mainly castles and small townships in the mountains in the interior and few coastal cities dating from the Antiquity, decline and shrink. Indeed during the medieval times a network of cities with long history and powerful ties to the sea withdraws in the back stage and slowly fades away.

The Crusaders bring seamen and traders from the West and establish them by the sea in strategic points of the main navigation routes. Already in the beginning of the 13th century the Venetians in the Duchy of Cyclades, the Knights of the Temple of St John in Rhodes, the Genovese in Khios, control the Aegean. They start building cities, fortresses and harbours, in order to survive, to maintain their power in a sea of war and to extend their rule, constantly fighting among them and against the Ottomans. The rise of this new network of coastal cities in the Aegean dates from the 14th and the 15th century, 2 centuries that completely changed the political geography of the then known world. This is also the time when the first navigation maps come to life (Ill. 2 maps by PIRI REIS)

Allow me to remind briefly

Since the Antiquity and up to the 16th century communication was ensured by rowboats.  In the 15th century the sailboats step in and they will completely prevail by the 17th. Still the moving speed will roughly remain the same, a maximum 6-8 miles per hour. A trip from Venice to Alexandria would last about 25 days, and the return trip from Alexandria to Venice would take 50 days in average. Another example: From Khios (Sakiz?) to Galata -Constantinople the travel lasted 20 days, when only 3 days were needed for the opposite (currents and favorable winds). This state of affairs will only change in the 19th century, when steamships will take over, and then everything will be regulated and scheduled. (speed of steamships :10-20). 

Until the 16th century, when the Ottoman Empire starts chasing out the Westerners, (Genovese, and Knights of the Temple of St John, and later in the 17th the Venitians from Crete), the islands’ development takes place in war conditions. Because of the intensity of these wars, the coastal cities suffer. In many islands people abandon the coast and seek shelter in the interior. Some islands are even completely abandoned by their population…. But this is temporary. By 1669 Ottoman domination was complete and determined the shaping of the economic, social and political conditions of the islands. Islands abandoned by their population were repopulated and pretty soon modest shipping and commercial activity began to develop. A decisive factor in the development were the special privileges granted by the Sultan. Thus disorder and chaotic situations gradually gave place to autonomous forms of life, economy and types of self-government. Autonomy of each island will also shape the major characteristic of urban development until the 18th century (Belavilas 1997).

The Sublime Porte encouraged policies of resettlement in a parallel effort to fight piracy. Centuries of piracy in the Aegean fabricated  strong traditions, ways of life and built shelters of an enormous variety. The roles between hunters and hunted are complex. Barbarossa in the 16th century, a pirate for the Latin, is the leader of the winning Ottoman Armada (Fleet). The opposite stands for Andrea Doria or Morosini, the great Venetian military leaders.  And then there is piracy by the isolated sailboats of the natives who go out to loot, for the sake of their local lords, monasteries or communities, or for themselves…. It lasts until the 18th century, and it affects the form of the settlements (Belavilas 1997).

Cities and villages as they were in the 18th century, have survived until today, and they offer a pretty accurate image of their complex history:

We can roughly distinguish 4 types of settlements (Asdrahas 1985):

1.Castle complexes in the hinterland –groups of houses forming defensive nuclei (SSSS Kimolos, Mastichocoria, Elympos/Karpathos, Myconos)

2. Settlements not far from the coast, built on the top of cliffs inaccessible from the sea, with which they communicate through other, more distant, anchorages. (SSSS Khores: Astypalea, Patmos, Kythira).

3.Settlements on heights crowning accessible inlets or bays (SSSS   Symi, Kastelorizo, Syra, Naxos)

4. Settlements on outcrops of ground in gulfs, or inlets or along the shores of straights (SSSSS  Rethymno, Herakleio, Khania, Khios).

Thus, there are all kinds of possible relation to the sea.

A word for the architecture:   (S  houses in Symi) What we perceive today as wonderful harmonious compositions all over the Aegean (but also in all Mediterranean regions), believing at the same time that they are products/fruit of time and hazard, were rather an outcome of a coherent set of rules and relations between built and non-built space (Dimitropoulos 2001).

The building regulations that have been discovered in manuscripts etc (the oldest Byzantine dates back to the 6th c, and we know that they were used in the islands until the 19th century) did not establish a pre-determined pattern to be followed. They conditioned the making of private and communal space, by fixing the relationship of one building to the other, and allowing the city to take form within time.

Perhaps we can better follow this long evolution with the help of a spectacular example, offered by Rhodes): A huge city by the sea in the Antiquity, it was designed in the 5th century b.C. according to the principles set by the first city designer and astronomer, Hippodamus. It was taken by the Romans in the 1st century b.C.. and remained under Byzantine rule until the 11th.  It was besieged by Venetians, Arabs, French and even English (Normans with Richard the Lionhearted), finally in the beginning of the 14th c. the Knights of the Temple of St John made it one of the most beautiful and well defended cities in the Mediterranean. They reinforced and extended the Byzantine fortifications, built a citadel, palaces, churches etc. When the Ottomans took it in 1523 (200 years later), they left also their own marks in the urban landscape (mosques, baths, etc), but they more or less respected its medieval architecture.

This ancient but very lively world will undergo important changes in the 19th c. (because of international and local developments). The outburst of the Greek War for independence in the 1820s affected this maritime world. In 1830 the Aegean Sea was divided between the modern state of Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

Modernizing efforts in both countries had important consequences for the architecture and urban settlements on the islands. We should remember that similar changes took place in almost all the coastal cities of the eastern Mediterranean.

In the Aegean, we will try to follow the transformation from older forms to new patterns of the urban setting. Diversity in the urban patterns can be explained by the islands’ historical and geographical disparities. They are also due to the fact that during this period the islands evolved under two rules: Greece, that got the small islands of Cyclades, and the Empire that kept the large islands of the Eastern Aegean  (Khios, Lesbos], Crete, and the Dodecanese.

The island of Samos at this time was governed as a principality of the Porte, and followed a course of its own while being influenced from both sides of the Aegean. (actually 3 sovereignties).

In any case circulation of ideas and models was maintained in the islander complex of the Aegean that continued to display economic cohesion and many channels of communication until the inter-war years in the 20th century. 


The Rise of the Coastal Cities

Research has shown that population increase and re-orientation of local economy to international markets initiated the area’s economic take off in the second half of nineteenth century. Imports of advanced technology and the expansion of industry, the extension of market economy and the growth of urban populations were intimately connected phenomena, in Greece as well as in the Ottoman Empire.

Whether in Greece, the Ottoman Empire, or in Samos between the two, development of cities by the sea was due to the significance of sea routes of communication for the growth of the market economy, especially when land communications (e.g. road and railway system), are not yet [before 1869] developed....  Although ‘the gap/ dichotomy between coastal and inland cities was very old’ , in the nineteenth century it was accelerated by modern production and trading conditions.  It was the harbour-cities that were best able to receive the industrial phenomenon (Agriantoni 1986).

The rise of urban groups who adopt new ways of living and new architectural forms and typologies is another important factor for urban change. By the end of the nineteenth century a leading ELITE had been constituted. Tradesmen, industrialists, bankers, etc. traveling all the time to central and west-Europe to do business, acquire new manners and habits, and adopt new attitudes to matters relating to private and public space in the cities: new forms of residence, social life, political activity, education, entertainment. The diffusion of these new models was supported by the daily and periodical press that developed during this period.  Newspapers and magazines played an important role in advocating open and public exchange of ideas, and in campaigning for an arena where citizens formulate their views freely and rationally and where public opinion is shaped.  This public sphere began to acquire also physical form as an important element in the organization of urban space. Buildings and open spaces for political gatherings and discourse, and the functions of self-government soon appeared in the cities (town halls and civic squares, clubhouses and lecture halls, seats of professional associations, etc). Using examples from three island cities of the Aegean, we shall try to show the stages through which evolving social and economic processes acquire territorial and material substance and create the bourgeois city we intend to sketch.

We should remember that these are no more cities of warlords, pirates, christian communities, or sailors and peasants. These are cities of the ascending bourgeoisie 

The first is the highly emblematic case of Hermoupolis on Syros; Samos is unique and  quite peculiar case, while I selected Mytilene on Lesbos because it shows a variety of initiatives that illustrate well the range and spirit of the Ottoman reforms. Mytilene was also the capital of the Vilayet of the Islands in 1867 and in 1911, after the loss of Rhodes to Italians.

The rise and fall of these cities is quite dramatic, with episodes of great achievements and expectations, great illusions and inevitable disappointments.

We can distinguish four different periods in the process of urban transformation, related to historical developments.

1.         From 1820 to 1840, the general conditions emerge that will eventually allow important cities to come into existence:

·        Peace is established,

·        The Greek State is organized

·        The future of Samos, is decided at an international conference by the Great Powers  in 1832.

·        In 1839, the Tanzimat reforms are announced officially in the Ottoman Empire.

In other words, territorial sovereignties and the hinterland of cities are temporarily stabilized.

2. The next 40 years, from 1840 to 1880, represent the truly formative period of the bourgeois city. By 1860 Hermoupolis is already the most important port-city of Greece. The other two cities will follow in few years, especially in the 1870s.

3. From 1880 until the Balkan Wars and the Greek-Turkish war (1912-1922), there is general prosperity and the coastal cities achieve their full development. In the second decade of the twentieth century, important events (Balkan Wars) create a new political setting for the islands under single Greek sovereignty. War and the well-known population exchange between Greece and Turkey disrupt partly but not fully the old channels of communication and economic activity in the Aegean Sea.

4. From 1922 to 1940 and World War II, the cities keep up their economic potential, despite the new demarcation of borders and the economic crisis of the 1930s. Thanks to technological and commercial know-how and experience and their relative flexibility in production, thanks also to the extraordinary dynamism of the new refugee populations, the cities are not only able to maintain an acceptable economic status, but even to develop.

After the war, in the 1950s and 60s, demographic and economic progress ends and the island cities follow the same course as the Greek mainland. In the first post-war decades the sea routes are less and less used, ship yards, soap and olive-oil manufactures close down one by one. The islands are progressively isolated and unable to develop. This is the time of the great exodus of Greeks to Athens and to the main industrial countries of Western Europe, and islanders are among the first to migrate.  It is only in the 1980s when Greece has become a full member of the European Community that new prospects of development will appear. It is worth noting that although the Aegean islands have attracted the main flow of tourism to Greece, the three cities here studied are among the few that do not regard tourism as their main economic activity; they have preserved their character as urban centers as it was formed in the period under discussion.


The new city of Hermoupolis on Syros

Syros is the smallest, only one-twentieth the size of Lesbos and one-sixth of Samos. On its 81 km2 of rocky and arid soil stood only one settlement prior to 1820 - Syra, (with  4,000 inhabitants, catholics under the protection of the Pope.

The creation of Hermoupolis on the island of Syros forms an epic chapter in the history of modern Greek town-making. Native inhabitants of Syros were neutral during the War of Greek liberation against the Ottomans, the island was peaceful and it attracted fugitives from many revolted regions. Refugees from Khios, who fled their homeland after its devastation by the Ottoman fleet in 1822, were the most populous group. They brought with them their keen knowledge of banking practices, their commercial know-how, and their intricate family and exchange networks that eventually raised Hermoupolis to the major commercial and shipping center in Greece until the 1860s.

The first settlers encountered the hostility of the native population. They established themselves on the shore, on a stretch of swamp they quickly filled in. By 1828 the population had reached 13,800. The small town consisted of houses and shops built in a precarious manner, ‘creations of necessity and strict economy’, densely and informally grouped by the port among tanneries, shipyards, foundries, mills, furnaces and also cemeteries. In 1824 the inhabitants built themselves a church. In the absence of a public hall, the merchants gathered in this church in 1826 to decide what their city should be called. The name of Hermes, ancient god of commerce was proposed and unanimously accepted –Hermoupolis, the city of Hermes.  The effort to occupy and reshape the urban space motivated collective initiatives and introduced forms of local government. The first public building to be put up was a hospital, built by the merchants in 1826.

By 1835 the growth of the city required more adequate measures of planning and control. A municipality was set up, and the Bavarian engineer Wilhelm von Weiler was commissioned to prepare a city plan. His proposals were approved in 1837. The Weiler plan for Hermoupolis endowed the city with wide quays, an impressive civic square, and a well-designed main artery linking the town hall and the civic square with the port, (an area covering 20 hectares);   it was reviewed twenty years later (in the 1860s) to deal with new expansion and the relocation of disturbing or polluting activities. In fact tanneries, textile and other factories, warehouses, foundries and shipyards were developing massively in the southern districts along the sea front.

The local elite went further in its effort to embellish the city. A committee of Hermoupolis merchants was formed in the early 1840s to supervise the application of the plan and express views about the location of specific activities and prospects for the future expansion of the shipyards etc. In the next decade, the same people with the active support of the municipality formed a co-operative and built three commercial premises. A few years later, another co-operative was set up (using British experience with municipal works which was known to the islanders), in order to finance the construction of a café. Then, in 1862, the merchants invited the Italian architect J.P. Sampo to design a theatre and a club house for Hermoupolis. This was one of the first theaters to be built in the new Greek State.

 This original mode of financing amenities for the community through a co-operative was widely discussed in the other islands. There are letters in the municipal archives of Khios that were sent to Syros by interested citizens who wanted to learn more about the Hermoupolis committee in order to imitate its practice.

The most distinguished building in the new city was the town hall, an impressive three-story building measuring 40 by 70 meters, designed in 1876 by the German architect Ernst Ziller. A good many other buildings -such as churches, schools, hospitals and imposing residences were designed by well-known Greek architects, and created an almost theatrical urban setting.

In 1860 Hermoupolis had 20 to 25,000 inhabitants and was second in size among Greek cities only to Athens. Two-thirds of Greek import trade passed through its port. When steam navigation reshaped trade routes and bypassed Hermoupolis, the economy of the city received a severe blow. To survive, the local economy shifted successfully to industrial ventures (flour and pastas, spinning and textile factories) and shipyards. Investments in the textile industry allowed the local economy to survive and kept the labour force in place until the 1920s. In 1928 the city had 21,156 inhabitants.

A brief comment on the visual appearance of the city, and particularly the civic square: In the bourgeois Hermoupolis, the axial access from the port with shops and galleries, the monumental volume of the town hall, the elegance of the open space and the elaborate architectural details of the public and private buildings surrounding it, make this a unique complex which displays the aesthetic values and the CIVIC PRIDE of the society that produced it.

(Agriantoni and Fenerli 1999, Fenerli 2000, Loukos 1997, Travlos and Kokkou 1980)



Mytilene on Lesbos

Lesbos (1698 km2) is one of the larger, more fertile and richer islands in the Aegean. Wheat, grapes, salt, resin, timber and stock-breeding were among its main products, together with the prime source of wealth in the island: its famous olive oil. In the nineteenth century there were around 100 villages and towns on Lesbos, and its population grew from 72,000 in 1840 to 120,000 in 1874, when the island economy really took off.  In the same period the proportion of Muslims dropped from 22.6% to 15%.

During the Ottoman period (1462-1912), the capital of Lesbos developed on the same site that it had occupied since Hellenistic times. As early as the fifteenth century, it was described as ‘a well populated city: the houses crown the hill top of a peninsula that juts into the sea, on either side of which is a harbour. A strong wall with many towers surrounds the town: and behind it lies an extensive suburb’

In 1840, the city was still known as Kastro, the Castle. The Muslim quarters were located around the North port, at the foot of the hill where the castle stood. The Christian population lived near the South port. The market had been developed on the site of the ancient channel between the two ports. Dark, narrow and irregular streets, wooden houses and miserable shops, six mosques, six orthodox churches and one catholic, a medresse, an imaret and a Greek high school, were the only buildings except houses. In the South port a small industrial concentration of soap-makers and olive-oil producers was developing, while the tanneries were located in the North port

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Mytilene underwent important changes. In 1837 the monopoly in oil trade held by a local Turk bey was abolished; 40 years later (1880) the introduction of steam in the production of oil gave great impetus to the local economy based on the production and treatment of olives and oil. Its busy commercial port became a transit centre for imported products to be shipped to the Asia Minor coast.

The remaking and expansion of the city started after 1850. Implementation of planning and building regulations of the Tanzimat era were first implemented in Mytilene after fires and earthquakes, provided for the redesign of streets and blocks in new geometrical lay-outs and for the replotting of private lands. The market was rearranged and a considerable number of public and private buildings were constructed with non-flammable materials. ( 180 mansions / residences were built in newly formed suburbs. Those years can be described as a period of transition from ‘a city of five churches to a city of two harbours’. At the same time the urban population grew from 10,000 inhabitants in 1854, to 15,000 in 1885.

A few years later the operational centre of trade was transferred from the North to the South port. The northern harbour now served fishing boats and the old tanneries etc, whereas the southern one was arranged for modern industrial activity and steamships.

The industrial development in the following years directed the expansion of the city to the south. The commercial developments were also impressive. As the Almanach of the Vilayet 1301 (Salname) noted, Mytilene was one of the most important harbours in the Ottoman Empire in 1880.

The municipality was founded in the 1870s, yet its contribution to the making of the city seems rather less in the first years, if compared to the activity of the Christian community’s Council of the Elders.

The latter was busy with building schools, shelters for the old, churches, orphanages etc. It is worth noting that the Christian-Orthodox community played the main part in the remaking of urban space, and often succeeded in taking over from the municipal authority and putting forward projects for infrastructures, city services and embellishments. The restrained role of the municipality may be one of the reasons that we know (so far) nothing of a general plan for the city. By contrast, in the nearby island of Khios, the municipality ordered a plan for the city to be drawn up by engineers as early as 1878 (Monioudi 1996).

Things changed probably around the turn of the century. The Ottoman authorities (Vilayet) build a Konak, an Idadié school for civil servants, and a high-school. Premises for the Imperial Ottoman Bank, the customs’ house, a modern hotel, and a theatre were erected, next to new schools and churches for the Greek-Orthodox community.

In 1905 the city had 17,000 inhabitants. By  1912 there were among other businesses, more than 110 oil manufactures, 42 soap factories, and 25 tanneries, all functioning on steam [23]. At the same time the local businessmen extended their interests to farming, manufacture, shipping and passengers’ transport, banking, and the press. On the waterfront banks, hotels, a theatre, shipping and insurance company-offices, and behind them a new Orthodox church with a gigantic dome, completed an impressive façade. At the two extremes of the south port, elegant suburbs with private residences presented a great variety of architectural styles. During his visit, the Prussian writer and journalist Paul Lindau described Mytilene as ‘the Neapolis of the Aegean’ .

As reflected in the physical aspect of the city, the economic dynamism of Mytilene overrides processes of civic awareness. The area around the Konak and the market remained the main social centre, the town hall standing aside, alone in its garden.

(Enepekidis 1988, Karydis and Kiel 2000, Siphnaiou 1996, Yerolympos 1992). 


The New Capital of Samos

In contrast to the quick actions of the first inhabitants of Hermoupolis to organize and name their new city, Samos encountered considerable difficulties in formulating its image and identity.

After its repopulation by Kapudan pasha in the 16th c., Samos had 16 settlements, none of them on the coast. The old capital of the island, Megali Hora, was two miles away  from the coast .

The new capital-to-be began its existence as a small hamlet by the sea, a mere fishermen’s anchorage not far from the old village of Vathy on the hills. In 1828 the first Governor of Greece, appointed the shabby little township of 1,261 inhabitants as the seat of the Special Administration for the island. The customs officials, sanitation authority etc. had to be housed in poorly appointed private buildings, while political gatherings took place in churches. The provisional administration of the island tried to transform the fishing hamlet into a small city. They proposed to demolish the private wooden moles, to create a rudimentary quay, to introduce some type of sanitation control, public lighting etc. 

When the Great Powers denied the island’s union to Greece and imposed the regime of principality under the Sultan in 1834, this new  town  was again designated as capital. The main reason was that its natural harbour was the best in the island. The consular agencies of England, France, and Russia were already established there. According to the Organic Statutes of the Principality, Samos was governed by the Prince, a parliament (a body of councilors to the Prince), and the municipalities.

The small city was named Stephanoupolis in honor of the first prince, Stephanos Vogoridis. When Vogoridis left office, the name was changed to Neapolis by the General Assembly of the Citizens in 1852. More names for the city (Pythagoreia, Anthemis, Lefkothea etc.) were proposed between then and 1879, but none was adopted. Informally the city was called Limin Vatheos (Port of Vathy), or Kato Vathy (Lower Vathy), or Yalos etc, until in 1950 it finally and officially became Samos.

No planning initiatives were recorded until  1850. Meanwhile a municipality was established in the port of Vathy (1851), and in the 1860s the first public square was created according to plans prepared by French architecte Bouchet . It was a commercial square open to the sea, surrounded with galleries with shops and a café, a church, a fountain and a garden, that would become the centre of the city.  Markets were traditionally considered to be the actual centres of old cities, so one could say that this design reproduced older urban patterns. It was only in the 1870s that new forms of urban space were introduced in the city. Two fires facilitated new streets to be cut and for new building rules to be drawn up and implemented. Samos actually had recourse to Ottoman precedents to improve conditions in the residential quarters and its main model was Smyrna (Izmir).

Some years later various planning acts were ratified.  Expropriation for public general interest was authorized, and public facilities were established in 1879; building regulations were introduced in 1882. More acts provided for the laying out of three squares (1884), for control of land uses (1886-1889), and for the erection of public buildings (1890)

In 1875 the Dussaud Company, already involved in the construction of the quay and port of Smyrna, was commissioned to improve and extend the harbour of Samos.

Unlike Mytilene, which did not have a public square, and in a different way from Hermoupolis’ civic center, a civic axis was created in the capital of Samos in the years that followed.

This consisted of a sequence of open spaces, and extended for 200 meters at right angles to the quay. At one end of the axis, on the waterfront, stood the princely residence. Next came the Garden of the Prince, the Parliament (1892…), the Museum, and the new cathedral (1909-1910). In the immediate vicinity stood the imposing Pythagoreion gymnasium (1882), and behind the government buildings, the principality’s publishing house and a large school-building that was regularly used as theatre, a hospital, and the prison. We do not know if it was conscious design that concentrated all civic and political functions in the same place, as was definitely the case in Hermoupolis, or the fortunate presence of vacant land. Whatever the answer, the result is an interesting and characteristic expression of how the Samians conceived of the political centre of their city. It should also be noted that the civic axis is quite apart from the commercial quarter, illustrating in a way a separation between political power and the city’s economic life.

An overall plan for the capital of Samos island was finally prepared at the end of the nineteenth century. Until then, demographic growth had been insignificant, with the urban population rising from 1,883 inhabitants in 1864 (according to the first official census in the principality) to 2,929 in 1890 and then sharply to 4,156 in 1898. The pace further accelerated in the years thereafter and demanded a plan for the location of new dwellings as well as for more amenities for both private citizens and businessmen. In 1904 the city’s population was 5,411, reached 6,627 in 1913, and went up to 8,636 with the arrival of refugees (1923-1928).

Urban growth was of course directly related to economic development. The island’s economy was based on traditional products such as wine, tobacco, and timber. Commercial exchanges with the Turkish coast and Izmir was intense. By 1900, 15,000 Samians were living across the straits and engaged in trading between the island and the mainland. They had to return to Samos under the 1922 population exchange at the end of the Greek-Turkish War, but they managed to find employment in the island.

Samos wine, known in European markets since the eighteenth century, had acquired international recognition in the end of the nineteenth. The island also had tanneries and shipyards where small boats were built.  When wine production declined in the 1890s due to an insect pest wiping out the plants, the economy shifted to tobacco. Tobacco and cigarettes were exported to Egypt, Eastern Europe, and even to China. After the Greek-Turkish war in 1922, American tobacco companies moved from Izmir to Samos, and large tobacco warehouses were built in the city between then and 1934.  After the tobacco crisis in 1932, the Samians went back to the production of wine. The outbreak of World War II marked the end of a ‘golden half-century’.

The prosperous economic development of the island is reflected in the fine residences built by its businessmen, in the buildings donated by rich merchants to the municipality, and in investments in the summer resort of Malagari, the ‘Riviera’ of Samos. When the Prussian writer Paul Lindau arrived in Samos (1890), he declared himself astonished by its environment so full of optimism, such as one finds only in American cities. He went on to note:  ‘In spite of its small size and the lack of importance of its prince, the city has the quality of a capital. It is very different, for instance, from Smyrna.  One feels here the air of the small princely court...’.

(Belavilas 1998, Landros 1998, Landros 2001, Vourliotis 1998).


Concluding Remarks

Compared to the traditional settlements in the Aegean islands, the new urban patterns conformed to a different set of priorities.

1. A significant change concerned the geographical location: new development moved decidedly from inland mountains and heights to the coasts, to naturally protected bays that encouraged port activities. Further expansion of the cities took advantage of all possible stretches of waterfront and embraced the sea.

2.  The new urban layout was different from traditional patterns.  All introverted secluded forms, old fortifications and defensive structures, were abandoned.  The cities were open, able to expand, and they were easily linked with the surrounding region.

3.  The new urban setting now presented a variety of specialized buildings and city-quarters in the place of traditional settlements with modest houses and workshops, warehouses, and religious edifices where every form of social life took place.

There is now a great variety of building types: industrial and commercial premises, civic squares, open spaces for prestige and leisure, schools, theatres and hotels, city residences, and especially Public buildings (a princely mansion in Samos, a monumental town hall in Hermoupolis, an elegant prefecture in Mytilini). When impressive religious buildings were also put up, they served only religious functions. Urban space had definitely been secularized.

4. New technology was imported and widely used in private and civic buildings, public works, and infrastructure. The shift to new materials and techniques was accelerated as a result of calamities such as earthquakes or fires.

5. At the same time buildings and the use of urban land became subject to precise rules, technical and social. Land registers and cadastral plans are drawn, infrastructures were established. Private plots acquired regular Expropriation for reasons of public utility was enacted, the public space was maintained by special services.

6.  Alert awareness of the local societies was a key factor of change - citizens formulating demands, supporting decisions and often going so far as to themselves finance the construction of buildings and open spaces beneficial to the public. Local bodies of government control the overall urban growth and embellishment of the city. All these mechanisms of decision-making (local self-government, co-operatives, communal groups and institutions) became weaker in the post-war years and were replaced by highly centralized structures, which were generally speaking far less effective and sometimes negative to local development.

7. A common parameter in all three cases was that spatial change was not dictated by central government. Transformations originated in local initiative and they were financed by local resources. Hermoupolis, for instance, was built without any assistance from the Greek State. Samos, as expected, could count only on its own resources.  Mytilene followed the Ottoman model that encouraged spatial reform as long as it mobilized local funding; guidelines from the Porte were quite clear on this, as studies for other Ottoman cities have shown.

I suppose you will agree with me that despite different sovereignties and despite geographical restraints, the economic and social context prevailed and the three cities acquired a rather similar persona that went beyond - transcended the existing differences in architectural style: the elaborate classicism of Hermoupolis, the distinct eclecticism of Mytilene, the sober neo-classicism of Samos. Yet the urban patterns and building types of the bourgeois city are present in all three, and allowed the activities of people, business, production and culture to flow freely.

In the 21st century planes, flying dolphins (hydrofoils) and catamarans go much faster than rowboats or steamships; technology connects people more easily than ever. As economic life becomes more and more complex and interrelated, while international politics for peace and war acquire a global dimension, the Aegean islands that have survived through terrible conflicts and have constantly received and transmitted different cultures can also transmit a message: Their astonishing historic course and their precious architectural heritage can act as powerful reminders to us all. Human needs are universal; creativity and ingenuity can be unifying and beneficial to all, if allowed to flourish in an environment of understanding and peace.



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Photographic Credits

Greek Traditional Architecture, vol. 1 and 2, edit. Melissa, Athens 1988 and 1989.

Balkan Traditional Architecture, edit. Melissa, Athens 1993.

D. Monioudi-Gavala, The City of Chios. Chios 1996.

V. Sphyroeras, A. Avramea and S. Asdrahas, Maps and mapmakers of the Aegean. Athens, Olkos 1985.

Photos by Yiorgis Yerolymbos and by the author.