The original sense of habitation IKARIA

The “Theoktista” houses . The original sense of habitation

S. Chtouris, summer 2008. IKARIA

Ikaria’s Theoktista (built by God) houses are arguably the most impressive, not so much in terms of building technique, but as for their harmonious blending with the landscape and natural features. Built below huge rocks, and often carved out of the rock itself, the houses demonstrate the economy of strength and resources the residents were forced to practice. It is possible that it was goatherds, seeking shelter for their animals that first conceived of these natural, God-sent structures as potential homes. Another explanation is that Ikaria’s defence/protection, throughout its history, was based on camouflage and concealment (rather than gathering together. Which is why Ikaria’s settlements were scattered and sparsely populated), while the houses themselves (“spitokathismata” – house seats) were within each household’s cultivated land. The raw materials used by the locals to build their homes and other buildings were slate and granite, which are abundant on the island. Nowadays, farmers use those spots to house their animals. Striking forms, rising up on the side of the road, like signs that could just as well be part of the landscape as of the settlement. An in-between, fluid condition that makes you think, almost spontaneously, of the visual violence modern residences inflict upon the landscape, standing out, as they do, multi-storey blocks in white and other bright colours. This is the engineer demonstrating the arbitrary triumph of their construction on the top of the hill. This visual violence becomes more pronounced in Ikaria, as all kinds of constructions succeed one another in the landscape, and your impressions may shift from one condition to the other in the course of a single journey. The theoktista houses are perhaps closer than any other house to the original sense of habitation, to the creation of a natural hearth for your physical protection and the gathering of the people you want close. A space ready-made by nature, to which you add a few materials, or even carve out of the rock, aided by your tools.
The little construction work that goes into these structures is further limited by the margins imposed by the God-sent rock and the terrain relief ; it is within those margins that the occupants attempts to fit and accommodate their needs, without exceeding the site’s natural capacity. Just by entering the hollow created by the rock in Theoktista houses, grips you with feelings of euphoria and awe, both at the same time. It’s hard to tell whether it is awe caused by the structure’s name, Theoktista, or it is a sense of intimacy and proximity to the rock material. The ground, as well as the stone’s weight you feel crushing on you from above, invites you to an inner silence: there is nothing to say, and nothing you expect to hear. Even the animals inside the structures often fall silent. As they look at you, you cannot tell who the natural owner of the place is, or even if such a home ought to have an owner at all. So, since the Theoktista appeared as a natural extension of the landscape, you never feel like a stranger or an intruder while you’re there. Home ownership, a “sacred” concept in Modern Greece, comes under question for a moment. The theoktisto hearth somehow places the construction and ownership of a house outside the bounds of legality, and poses certain important questions regarding their impact on the environment and the original sense and experience of habitation. Far from being synonymous to one another, construction and habitation appear, in this case, as opposite and contradictory conditions, especially when construction goes beyond the concepts of human care.

dicterisch wohnet der Mencsh. (Hoelderlin) – (Martin Heidegger)


~ by chtouris on December 7, 2009.

2 Responses to “The original sense of habitation IKARIA”

  1. I found this excellent piece of writing through the WP tag surfer. I live in Ikaria and I am restoring an old house trying to be as respectful of the concepts that you have so well explained. This house was built in 1830 on a site of an old “theoktisto” cavern house.

    To see more about traditional Ikarian architecture:

    Angelos K.

  2. Hello Mr Touris! I found this through friends’. I have linked to it as “addtional reading” under my photos of Theoktista. Thank you. Great analysis. I wish people learned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: