Town Planning and Communal Space
The community of Agiasos has been designated as a protected heritage site as per the 19.10/13-11-1978 Presidential Decree. It has been structured around a central axis, and has a distinctly urban character, as few if any of the homes have yards. The community has developed around the church of the Virgin Mary in a conical configuration. All roads lead towards the church in a vertical direction versus the altitudinal inclines. Since all the roads from the periphery of the cone lead towards the center in tight corners that are characteristic of Agiasos’ street plan.
The steep inclines of Agiasos’s streets are conducive towards the construction of homes with narrow facades, which enhances their static qualities as the homes side walls support each other. As it was difficult to create yards under these circumstances, there is abundant greenery on the homes’ balconies that creates a verdant bridge over the streets of the community, that serve as the backdrop of the residents’ of Agiasos daily activities. We also see that the main square’s coffee shops all have large glass façades that bring their interior spaces in touch with the outdoors.
Today, Karia and Stavri have the greatest concentrations of historically significant old townhouses.
Construction Methods and Architectural Styles
The similarities with the nearby coast of Asia Minor are more than evident when one considers the construction materials used, and the methods employed by local builders. The most prevalent traditional materials are stone and wood, which have either come from the island or Asia Minor. From the stone that is available on Lesvos, the volcanic rock that comes from the island’s northern side are the best for construction purposes, as their shape and composition makes them easy to work with, especially when intricate designs are required. The wood comes from the island’s densely forested areas, where one can find pine, chestnut, poplar and cypress trees can be found. All the horizontal surfaces on finds in local buildings, such as floors and roofs, thin dividing walls, staircases, railing and cabinetry, as well as window and door frames are all made of wood.
Masonry is used for the foundations and structural walls of the buildings. The external walls are all made of stone, and it is common to see interjected layers of brick in their construction, as per the Byzantine tradition. When one looks at unpainted wall surfaces, all the artistry of the local stonemasons becomes evident (especially in the construction of corners and the tight fit of the stonework).
The stonemasons typically used asbestos (end of the 19th century), sand and clay as mortar, while for the more elaborate structures they used “kurasani”, a mixture of tile shards, water and egg whites. On the top floor of these structures we oftentimes encounter thin walls made of “bagdati”, which have a wooden frame with an interjected series of smaller wood planks that are horizontally stacked and nailed on the frame for additional rigidity. A thick coating of plaster (that includes wheat bark, hay and goat hair) is then placed on both sides of the wall, until the surface becomes smooth. The reason behind this building method being widely used in the top floor’s construction is due to the fact that it allows for the inclusion of numerous windows and skylights, as well as a significant expansion of the available floor space via the creation of extended window boxes called “sahnisinia”. The abundance of wood on the island is the primary reason why domed roofs are nearly non-existent in Agiasos.
The redistribution of lands created small, oddly shaped building lots. The homes that were built there were constructed in such a way so as to take advantage of every last inch of land available.
Aside from the buildings’ walls, the “pelekani” (stonemasons) would also construct retaining walls all along the steep slopes, which would stop the soil’s erosion and allow for the planting of trees almost as far the surrounding mountains’ peaks. Aside from stone and wood building materials, we also encounter the limited use of metal structures, typically on skylights, drains and balcony railings. As far as outdoor horizontal surfaces are concerned, these are usually covered with large slabs of stone. The street surfaces are covered by white rock cobblestones, employing a technique known as “dusemes”. In order to allow for easy street cleaning, a drain would be built down the middle, which was called “langadur”.
Every few feet, one notices the “kiglitsia” cutting across the streets, which are basically wide steps that allow pedestrians and animals to achieve a better footing on the steep inclines. This construction method also manages to reduce the speed of rainwater that comes rushing down the central drain, reducing the possibility of flood damage. In recent decades, the use of cubic rocks known as “pavedes” has been used in local street construction, and the methods employed by local builders are quite similar to those encountered in Macedonia, Thrace and Asia Minor.
The Traditional Home
The traditional home is typically a two storey structure that’s surrounded by auxiliary buildings, creating an enclosed courtyard. These units are usually built in close proximity to one another, either sharing a side wall or divided by a narrow strip of land primarily used for drainage purposes. The main living quarters are usually limited to the first floor of the home, which is accessed via a wooden interior staircase. The ground floor is known as the “katogi”, where oil, foodstuffs, and other supplies are stored. The rest of the auxiliary spaces, which include the “damia” where the household animals are kept, the stove, the laundry room and the outhouse are typically located in the courtyard, while they also may be found in the katogi. On the far side of the courtyard there is usually a wooden structure known as a “soufas”, which is used to increase the amount of space available for the families needs. The two main rooms on the first floor are the “ountas” and the kitchen, which are connected to the “axato” via the staircase. In the lower part of the home’s interior there is a fireplace, and its surrounding corners and mantle are usually decorated in the traditional fashion. Two opposing couches cover the entire length of the room on either side of the fireplace, while the “soufras” is the family’s dining area.
The homes’ furniture primarily consists of built-in wooden units, which tie in nicely with the structural wooden accents such as the floors and ornate doors. The most important movable piece of furniture is a large intricately carved chest, the “sintuts”. Aside from its stated use as a storage area, it also served as an indicator of the family’s wealth and social standing. It’s interesting to observe the intelligent space saving solutions employed by the local builders, where windows served as washboards, washboards served as dish racks or cupboards, etc. The public fountains which are typically encountered at crossroads, squares or in churchyards, are also noteworthy due to their fine construction and elegant designs. Several are surrounded by stone arches, and are decorated with geometric designs such as rhombi or spirals.
Municipal Unit of Agiasos