What are some of the first things that come to your mind when thinking of Greece? We bet those signature whitewashed homes with blue accents must be high up on the list. But have you ever wondered why blue and white colors dominate Greek island design? Many believe the two colors are borrowed from the Greek national flag or perhaps the matiasma, the evil eye symbol but that is not true. The real reason is rather simple and practical. Read on to discover the story behind this distinctive style!
The mystery of the white color
Back in the days, and to date, most Greek islands suffered from wood scarcity. The rocky landscapes of the Cycladic islands, including Santorini, do not favor the growth of dense vegetation. Most houses were built out of stone, mud, and volcanic cement which had a darker color in general. However, the dark colors absorbed the sunlight, thus making Greek homes unbearably hot and stuffy during the summer season. Anyone who has visited Greece in the middle of August knows that the heat is relentless as the temperature can climb up to 45°C/113°F, especially in places with little or no shadow. Therefore, locals had to find a way to ward themselves from the extreme weather conditions. The solution was to paint their houses light-colored by using whitewash which they made by mixing lime, water, and sea salt. As white color is a reflector of heat it worked perfectly to preserve the freshness and coolness of Greek homes.
Another factor that reinforced the distinctive style was the 1938 cholera outbreak during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas who passed a law ordering residents to paint every building on the islands with limestone whitewash to stop the spread of the pandemic. Limestone was considered a powerful antibacterial and disinfectant material at that time.
Unveiling the secret of the blue color
Even though you occasionally see other colors as well such as red, green, or pink, the vibrant blue color still dominates the doors, shutters, and domes of the Cycladic houses and chapels. The reason behind this color choice has to do with practicality. In the old times, Greek housewives would use a cleaning agent called loulaki (blue powder in English) which came in the form of talcum powder. It was widely and cheaply available across Greece. Fishermen painted their windows and shutters with whatever was left over after painting their boat, and due to the wide availability of this cleansing agent blue was the cheapest color. When mixing it with limestone plaster, islanders achieved all kinds of lovely shades that complimented the white walls.
It was not until 1967, that these two colors became a mandatory choice when the Junta, a right-wing military dictatorship mandated that all buildings must be painted or repainted to white and blue. The regime believed that this measure would inspire patriotism and reflect nationalism. It served both their political agenda and the country’s tourism industry as the color combo became the trademark of the Greek islands by the late ‘60s.
So these are the reasons why Greek houses, especially in the Cyclades, are marked with these two enchanting shades which lure millions of tourists every year to Greece to enjoy up close the breathtaking scenery.