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Old Aegina Villages Houses

A very impressive school project was carried out in the Aegina village of Mesagros in 2010 by the dimotiko (elementary school) teacher, Maria Chaldeou. Maria comes from an old Mesagros family whose name dominates the Mesagros-Vagia area, and which is borne by the neighbourhood in which she lives, close to the school where she teaches. The project reflects her love and respect for the history of her place and the lingering remnants of its past, and also her love for the children whose education is in her hands during their pre-adolescent years. Together, teacher and pupils engaged in an exploration of some of the older village houses of Mesagros and neighbouring Vagia, visiting and exploring several of them, and then writing up accounts of these explorations. The result, together with photographs of the houses visited, is a booklet entitled Αρχοντικά και στο Μεσαγρο (Mansions also in Mesagros). Though the houses included in the book are not exactly what most people think of as ʽmansionsʼ, some of them are quite impressive, and even the simplest are also of interest, as expressions of a way of life more in touch with the essentials.

The introduction of the booklet was written by architectural engineer, Xanthi Skaltsioti. I translate it here as follows:

The Architecture of Aegina
Aegina, as first capital of the new Greek nation, laid the foundation of neoclassical architecture on the island. At first, the neoclassical style was manifested mostly in the islandʼs public buildings, and later spread beyond the main town. From 1829, however, when the Greek capital was transferred to Nafplio, the official architecture of Aegina ended, with the result that, from the early 20th century, the local builders shaped the island architecture, which conforms in style to that of many Aegean islands, with the difference that in Aegina certain urban characteristics were developed.

The Popular Architecture of Aegina
On Aegina there are two basic types of local houses, the single space built on ground level and the two-storey house. The first of these, when built on sloping ground, has a storehouse which is like a semi-basement. Within the houseʼs single main space there is a raised platform or loft made of wood or brick, against the narrow side of the floorplan, and which is used for sleeping. Such houses usually have flat roofs and small openings.

The two-storey houses consist of a ground floor and an upper floor, the two connecting via an outside stone stairway. There are also structures such as ovens, wine-presses, storerooms, stables, wells, etc.
The Aegina house is a long and narrow rectangle, its appearance modified by its cornices, the balcony and the external stone staircase.

A characteristic example of the popular architecture of the island is the Rodakis house in Mesagros, built at the end of the 19th century (around 1880) by its owner, for whom it is named. Its floorplan is of the type including a loft, which is developed in this case on four different levels consistent with the varying levels of the land on which it was built.

Houses Visited by Mariaʼs Class
The two-storey stone house in Mesagros belonging to Alexandra Dinas, 83, was built around 1800, during the years of Ottoman rule in Greece, and has been restored. It has no balcony, due to harsh economic conditions at the time of its construction, but has 13 external stairs leading to the upper floor. It also has a basement. Like most of the older houses in Aegina, some of the windows are taller than they are narrow, the tops of their frames softly curved, and the roofs are sloped and red-tiled.

The house in nearby Vagia visited by Mariaʼs class is the same house described by author Zorz Sarri in her novel Τα Στενά Παπούτια (The Tight Shoes), where Sarris spent some of her summers during the 1930s with the children of yet another local family bearing the surname Chaldeos. This one-storey house has been empty for some time now and is sadly falling into ruin, as are so many older houses in Aegina (including many in Aegina town). The house is L-shaped, with the longer section including two main rooms (with no loft), and the shorter one the kitchen. Across from it are the old well and mulberry tree described in Sarrisʼ book. In Mariaʼs booklet there is a wonderful handwritten account by one of the pupils of the fearful entry of the children into this house which they had heard was haunted, and their subsequent discovery that its only inhabitants were the cats and birds its last elderly resident had been in the habit of feeding.

The Rodakis house
This sadly crumbling creation of a farmer-sculptor about whom all too little seems known, doesnʼt really seem typical of Aegina village houses as stated in the introduction to Mariaʼs book (quoted above). Though its floorplan seems to conform to her description, its many sculpted, embossed or engraved decorative elements mark it as the unique expression of a very poetic soul. (See accompanying article with video).

I would like to mention some other features common to many of the older Aegina houses which I have noticed. There are quite a few built of the lovely, honey-colored, rough cut stone known as πουρί/ pouri (porous) ,which I believe must be sandstone. Some of these houses can be seen just below the church of Agios Krispos in the area known as Agii/ Saints, located between Souvala and Vagia, and there are also many in Aegina town.

The older red-tiled roofs have the following attractive design: the larger sections consisting of trapedoids and the smaller ones triangles. Lastly, the socalled ακροκέραμα (ceramic ornaments on the corners of tiled roofs, or sometimes even in long lines along the edge of the roofs), adorn many houses, adding much to their beauty and suggest an aspect of protection, as some of these depict Apollo. These ceramic ornaments are also seen on roofs in Athens and elsewhere in Greece wherever there is neoclassical architecture.

Lastly, most older village houses in Aegina (as in most of Greece, I think) have a tzaki (stone hearth) for heating, and sometimes smaller ones for cooking. With plentiful firewood from olive trees, no one had to depend on the oil industry to keep warm, and certainly the smaller size of the houses also made people less dependent in this way.

Text by Souzana Raphael

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