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Home / Things to do / Culture and Events / Traditional Folk Architecture
Traditional Folk Architecture

Apart from the impressive labyrinth-style architecture of the Minoans or the refined Venetian style of building, Crete has a very interesting traditional folk architecture, found in villages throughout the island.

A house just big enough for you to fit and space as far as the eye can see (Old Cretan saying)

Until the 1970s Malia was just such a typical village with stone-built houses. As a consequence however of booming tourism, many of these houses were pulled down to be replaced by a more contemporary, urban type of house to meet the needs of modern living. Examples of the folk style architecture can still be seen in Malia, and to a larger extent in Mohos and Krassi. Some of them have been restored beautifully to their original state and have been turned into either taverns or houses, adapted to modern living standards.

Other houses – usually not restored and in a fairly bad condition – have been taken up by the Balkan immigrants who flooded the island in the 1990s; still other houses are in such a bad condition, that they are on the verge of falling apart.

For centuries the morphology of such a typical folk house followed some basic principles that were repeated all over Crete: small stone-built cubes with straight sharp lines and minimal openings provided a very basic building style to cover the functional needs of the people living in them. Building materials were stone, wood and clay, which were barely processed, thus giving the house a plain and disorderly character.

There were roughly 3 types of folk houses, of which the simplest one was the single-room house, the "monóhoro". This was a rectangular, compact flat-roofed house where all household functions were concentrated: a stone-built fireplace on one side and a sort of sleeping loft, with storage space underneath it, on another. There were recesses in the wall that were used as cupboards.

The floor had a base of mud and manure that was covered with a mixture of lime and sand. The stone-built walls were never left bare, but always plastered with a mix of lime and goat hair. Particular attention was paid to the roofing of a house: long wooden beams, covered with boards or small bunches of thyme and clay, moulded in such a way that it had the right degree for the water to drain.

The door and windows were encompassed with a stone-cut frame, the so-called "pelékia". In Malia this pelékia was usually made of sandstone. The lintels were made of wood.

Another, more advanced form of the single-room house was the arched house or "kamaróspito". This was the most developed and popular type of house. The arch (kamára) offered the opportunity for building bigger houses, dividing the house into two areas without loosing the idea of one united space. As the arched house developed, another arch would be added along the length or width of the house, thus creating the double-arched house, the "dikámaro spíti".

A third building type was the two-storey building, the "odás", where a wooden interior staircase would lead to the upper level, which was always smaller than the ground floor. Sometimes, along with the interior staircase, there was also an exterior, stone-built one. This upper level was used for sleeping space. If there was a courtyard, this would have an arched doorway and would be surrounded by high walls. The entrance to the house would always be via the courtyard that had its door on the street side. There would be a stable for livestock – that at the same time functioned as toilet – in one corner and a stone-built oven in another one.

In Malia houses were built contiguously and usually formed one unit or neighbourhood, a "yitoniá" that was taken up by one family and its relatives, the "sói". The oldest core of Malia is situated at the unit near the little church of Άyios Ioánnis, south-east of the church of Άyios Nektários.