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Hydra - Architecture and history of the town

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
Architecture and history of the town.


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access

Hydra Island, the Argosaronic.

On the Makrónisos internment camp, see Yannis Hamilakis, The Nation and its Ruins, Oxford, OUP 2008, or (same author) The Other ‘Parthenon’: Antiquity and National Memory at Makrónisos, Journal of Modern Greek Studies—Vol. 20, No. 2, Oct. 2002, pp. 307–338.

Hydra Travel Guide

eating

Hydra Island, the Argosaronic.

Eating can be surprisingly unimaginative on Hydra by comparison with the high quality of the island"s hotels; there seems little ambition to do more than the regular fare. One of the nicest and most welcoming places, offering fresh and varying proposals in Greek cuisine every day, is Kristina"s (properly "Chrysina"s") "Gitoniko", in the alleyway close by, and to the right of, Stavros Douskos"s long-standing and famous taverna, Xeri Eliá. The latter also has reliable food served on tables beneath the trees in the square; but it is a more commercial operation. To Steki, near Votsi Square, has straightforward fare, and an attractively "un-reconstructed" interior with folk-murals of ships and boats on the walls. At Kamini (15 minutes" walk from the main harbour) Kontylenia"s taverna, has pleasing views and some imaginative dishes.

Hydra Travel Guide

lodging

Hydra Island, the Argosaronic.

Small and characterful, the most pleasant hotel on Folégrandros is the -Kastro Hotel in the heart of the old Kastro, with raftered rooms, traditional furniture and beautiful views (open Apr–Oct, T./fax. 22860 41230, www.hotel castro.com). Anemomilos Studios (T. 22860 41309) and Artemis Rooms (T. 22860 41313), both at the beginning of the road up to the church of the Panaghia, are simpler, but pleasant and panoramic.Small and characterful, the most pleasant hotel on Folégrandros is the -Kastro Hotel in the heart of the old Kastro, with raftered rooms, traditional furniture and beautiful views (open Apr–Oct, T./fax. 22860 41230, www.hotel castro.com). Anemomilos Studios (T. 22860 41309) and Artemis Rooms (T. 22860 41313), both at the beginning of the road up to the church of the Panaghia, are simpler, but pleasant and panoramic.

Hydra Travel Guide

practical info

Hydra Island, the Argosaronic.

180 40
Ýdra or Hýdra:
area 49sq.km
perimeter 64km
resident population 2,629
max. altitude 588m.
Port Authority: 22980 52279.
Travel and information: Ydraïoníki Travel, T. 22980 54007, www. hydra.gr

Hydra Travel Guide

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