Architecture and history of the town
The *town and harbour of Hydra only come into view at the last moment, hidden in a deep breach in the wall of limestone slopes which constitute the north coast of the island. The harbour is a tight semicircle of deep water, able to accommodate boats of considerable draught: protective spurs of rock rise steeply to both sides of its entrance. The town is slotted into the small bowl behind the harbour and up the lower slopes of the mountain which rises steadily behind to its summit of 588m: it is only saved from the summer heat, which this configuration would intensify, by its north-facing aspect.
Hydra is the most complete architectural unity in the Aegean, comparable only with the port of Symi for homogeneity and dramatic setting. Almost the entire sweep of the main town can be taken in from the point of dis embarkation. Its unique and distinctive architecture is a mixture of austerity and clean elegance. Façades are not articulated, and are generally flat and rigorously symmetrical. Relieving arches are occasionally picked out over windows but there is otherwise no decoration. Preference is given to un-rendered walls of the local grey limestone. The eaves are de-emphasised and scarcely project over the façade: the pitch of the roof is consonantly low. The effect of all this is quite distinctive: one of solidity, gravity and seriousness, which the brilliant light of the Aegean alone succeeds in relieving. This is ‘mountain-architecture’ more than what we understand as ‘island-architecture’. Its origins lie in the rugged mountains of northwestern Greece—the area from which a majority of the settlers on Hydra in the18th century originated.
This beautiful and undisturbed ensemble of buildings, has been admirably conserved by the municipal authorities. The lack of traffic and its accompanying noise is a palpable release; but attention has also been paid to the elimination of visible concrete, of jarring signs, and of half-built structures which have tended to become the norm elsewhere. There are clean contrasts and a welcome clarity in what the eye beholds. A pleasant balance of vegetation and colour offsets the austere stone. The town and its setting are a humane space, a perfect solution to island living.
The development of the town of Hydra dates from the settlement of the narrow plateau, directly to the south of the port, which was referred to simply as Kiafa, or ‘hill’, in the language of the first Albanian stock-breeders and farmers who settled there in the late 17th century. As the economy increasingly came to depend on boats and trade over the next century, the building nucleus spread down the slopes towards the harbour and, with a rapidly increasing population, filled the area in between. An itinerary is proposed below which begins at the harbour, climbs up by the Koundouriotis House to the area of Kiafa, and returns by way of the wells at Kala Pigadia.
Hydra Island is part of the Argosaronic Island group