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Cave Houses Guide

Santorini, Grecia


Santorini might be famous for its white, blue domed houses, but the potential and the peculiarities of the landscape have played an important role in its architectural style and formed its particular characteristics. The cave houses - called "Yposkafa" in Greek - can be found in many of the traditional settlements of Santorini. They are actual, pretty functional for the time, houses which were built inside caves and are of great historical interest as it is a "living" proof of the earlier years local customs. The cave houses of Santorini's old settlements have been preserved and restored by the Greek National Tourism Organization, and many of those which are built inside the Caldera were turned into guest houses or restaurants.

A Gift of the Volcano

Santorini is defined by the simplicity and adaptability of its buildings. The primary building materials are, of course, volcanic which are abundant thanks to the well-known volcano; volcanic dust, black igneous rock, red rock and pumice stone. Two basic architectural characteristics of the island are the domes and the cave houses, whose construction is easy and inexpensive. They were used as residences by poorer inhabitants due to their low cost, as they made use of what nature provided. Some settlements of Santorini are built on the edge of the caldera cliff, others extend outside the fortified castle-towns, known as kastelia, to various directions and the rest of them are nestled in the rocks.

The houses of Santorini are categorized by their structure and style. According to their structure there are different types; the common cave houses, called yposkafa, which are dug entirely into the volcanic rock, houses partially dug into the rock with exterior additions and regular residences constructed on the ground. Typically, they are long and deep with narrow facades, windows and they are usually covered by domes in all sizes and shapes. The living room is at the front where there is more natural light and the bedrooms are in the back; in between lies the traditional kitchen usually accompanied by a fireplace and the bathroom is situated outside the house. In the lovely whitewashed yard there is a water tank that gathers the rainwater which is essential since Santorini is arid. Another categorization classifies them in farmers’ homes, urban family homes and stately homes or captains’ homes. The farmers’ homes are common on the fringes of a settlement or in the fields. They possess a large courtyard, a water tank, many storage spaces, a barn for the animals and a stone oven. Their main trait is the canava, a winery with impressively arched doorways, which is built underground.