A form of a traditional house that we find in Santorini is the cave, which is dug into the rock. The caves of Santorini are the most characteristic houses in Santorini and the entire Aegean sea.  In essence, these traditional buildings of Santorini are the oldest and simplest form of house. The cave is a narrow space carved into the rock, with a vaulted roof and a narrow facade.    If one element characterizes Santorini, apart from its popular and well-traveled sunset and its characteristic and imposing caldera, this is none other than its particularly cave buildings, which are not found anywhere else in Greece. Santorini’s architectural landscape is unique.  Cave buildings, such as houses, churches, canopies, warehouses, etc., are the most characteristic of its traditional buildings.  They are the ones that give it a unique beauty despite their anarchic architecture.

The poor’s houses, today’s attraction

Although today most of them create the feeling of unbridled luxury and opulence, as there are many five-star hotels on the island hosted in them or deliberately follow this architecture, it is impressive that the caves of Santorini were considered small and poor houses.   The caves were the small and poor houses of Santorini, where the crews of the ships and the poorest families lived, in contrast to the built captain’s houses. The reason these houses were built, was the practical reason of accommodating the ship’s crew. According to tradition, was the stubbornness to survive against the slope of the rock!   Today for the beautiful and well-photographed island of the Cyclades, the caves are not only a point of reference, but one could say one of its most special attractions. The peculiarity of the volcanic soil of Santorini allowed the inhabitants to carve most of a building or even the whole earth. The cave buildings seem to be built on the edge of the caldera cliff. Sometimes the proximity of cave houses is so close that their volumes penetrate each other. In this way, their unique “knitting” is achieved, and in combination with the morphological peculiarities of the island, they give us an amazing landscape. The most characteristic, traditional buildings of the island -today they are found in various forms, houses, churches, warehouses, canopies, hotels, etc.-, despite their anarchic architecture add a unique beauty to the famous Cycladic island, making it unique in the world.

 What were the first cave buildings of Santorini?

These houses were inhabited in the old days by the crews who worked on the ships. The cave house is a narrow space with a vaulted roof illuminated and ventilated only from the front. There is a small door on the front, placed in the center, to the right and left of which there is a window, and above the door the skylight.   Inside the house, there are two spaces—the hall in front,  and a small room at the back of the house, the arch.   A wall separates the two spaces, together with the windows and the front door, repeated in it for ventilation and lighting of the arch. In essence, this is the oldest and simplest form of the house, as they were cave dwellings without any foundations. The reason for their creation?  According to tradition, it is none other than the stubbornness for survival against the slope of the rock.  Their shape was narrow and long, while they were carved in the Thera land and were characterized by their vaulted ceilings and narrow facade.   Some of them were carved entirely in the ground, while others had additional built parts. Looking like they are hanging on the edge of the caldera cliff, it is not uncommon for their neighborhood to be so close together, with the volumes penetrating each other, with public and private spaces sometimes connected or even identical, creating an unprecedented “knitting. Considering the morphological peculiarities of the island, the landscape you can see is truly amazing.   In defiance of the downhill rock where they are dug, the caves try to fit everything!  

Construction Elements of Santorini Cave Houses

They were cave dwellings, long and narrow, carved in the Thera land, without foundations, with a vaulted roof and a narrow facade. Sometimes they were carved entirely into the ground. Other times they had additional built parts. The cave buildings of Santorini are carved on the vertical front of the “white” layer. They are vaulted, dug into the rock without foundations, with a narrow façade and great depth. The housing of their built parts is done with domes or cruciforms with a kind of cast mold. Their materials are stone (red or black) and the Thera earth. These, together with the lime, create a solid mortar.  One type of technique that is still used today in building houses in Santorini is pressed, pressed cement in white or red color, laid in a way on the floors and wall surfaces, interior & exterior. Thoracic earth has insulating properties, so the caves are kept cool in summer and warm in winter. Also, this way of construction allows the creation of a variety of shapes with great plasticity. In the settlements of the Caldera, the public and the private space are connected or even identified. Theraic earth has insulating properties, so the Santorini cave houses are kept warm in winter and cool in summer. They are also very resistant to earthquakes. One of their most important advantages – which characterizes them to this day – is that during the winter, they are kept warm and during the summer cool due to the insulating properties of the Thera land.

The standard layout of Santorini Cave Houses

The cave houses were usually formed into two rooms. The front room included the kitchen and the living room, and the back included the bedroom with a built-in wall separating it from the rest of the house. They were illuminated and ventilated by the door and the two windows on either side of it, as well as by the skylight just above it.    The kitchen is a small and low corner, which communicates with the hall. The other elements of the construction are exciting – such as the stairs and the chimneys.  The houses are illuminated and ventilated exclusively from the facade, with the main entrance door of the house in the center and right and left windows and an iron skylight above them. The other construction elements are also interesting, such as the carved recesses, the built-in furniture, the stairs, the ovens, the chimneys, and the flower beds in the courtyards.  

The Cave’s Living Room

The front space is divided into the living room and the kitchen, with a built-in wall in the middle, for separating the room from the bedroom.

 The Cave’s Bedroom

The back area was the bedroom, on the arch, which was separated from the rest of the house by a built wall. The inner wall that separated the house into its two spaces had the same openings for the arch to be lit and ventilated. The bedroom was illuminated and ventilated only through the hall.

 The Cave’s Kitchen

The kitchen was sometimes internal and sometimes external. The place where they cooked was called “pyrostia.” They consisted of two stones, and between them, they put wood, lit a fire, and placed the cauldron they were cooking on top.  The kitchen was sometimes located inside and sometimes outside the cave, while the place where they cooked was called a firebox. In essence, these were two large stones between which they placed wood, lit a fire, and placed the cauldron on top. For the most part, the toilet or rehearsal was located in a different room outside and was usually elevated.

 The Cave’s Toilet

The toilet was usually located in a separate room outside the house and was elevated. In the space created from below, the sewage fell, which they transported to the fields using them as fertilizer. 

 The Cave’s Cistern

The only source of water was the “cistern.” The cistern collected the rainwater that fell into the yard or on the terrace and passed into the gutters and from there to the cistern. For filtering, they used small sticks tied in a bunch which they placed in the gutters.  To collect the water, they used the cistern, which collected the rainwater that fell on the roof or in the yard of the house, and through the gutters was led to the cistern. A bunch of small tied sticks was used as a filter, which they placed in the gutters.

 The Cave’s Garden

When the rock allowed it, in the courtyards of the caves, there was a small flowerbed, the alitana, where the inhabitants planted various herbs, herbs, and flowers. Among the most interesting points of the caves are the built-in furniture, the carved recesses, the stairs, the ovens, the chimneys, and the flower beds in the courtyards. If the rock allowed, there was usually a small flowerbed in the courtyards of the caves, the Alita, where – even today – various herbs, herbs, and flowers are planted, adding a fragrant tone to the palette of the already colorful landscape.    

Where can one see caves in Santorini today?

Caves do not exist only in Oia but also in Finikia, Vothonas, Karterados, Pyrgos. Most of the buildings along the Caldera of Fira and Oia are caves. In Vothonas, Finikia, and Karterados, urban development follows the torrent beds where houses have been dug on their walls. Thanks to their view, the areas that have the greatest value today, the poorest sections of the population, used to live. The lords and captains did not dig their houses on the cliff but built them on the upper part of Oia or northern Fira. Apart from the cave settlements in Fira and Oia, we also find dug cave houses in Pyrgos, Emporio, and Akrotiri’s medieval settlements. Most of the buildings along the Caldera of Fira and Oia are caves. In Vothonas, Finikia, and Karterados, urban development follows the torrent beds where houses have been dug on their walls. Thanks to their view, the areas that have the greatest value today, the poorest sections of the population, used to live. The lords and captains did not dig their houses on the cliff but built them on the upper part of Oia or northern Fira. Apart from the cave settlements in Fira and Oia, we also find dug cave houses in Pyrgos, Emporio, and Akrotiri’s medieval settlements. Apart from the much-photographed and busy Oia and Fira, with the caves along the caldera, the image of which travels every year to the ends of the world, caves can be found in other parts the island. Vothonas and Karterados in the interior of the island and Finikia in its northern part are three of these points. Urban development follows the streams of the torrents, on the walls of which the houses have been dug. Also, carved cave houses can be found in the medieval settlements of Pyrgos and Emporio in Santorini’s interior and Akrotiri on its south side. However, what is worth noting about the caves is that the areas that today, because of their view and location, are just right. However, what is worth noting about the caves is that the areas that today, due to their view and their location right on the cliff, are of greater value, used to be more popular options for the poorer social classes of the island. With lords and captains preferring to build, rather than caves, houses both at the top of Oia and in northern Fira. ——————————————- Vothonas: The village of Santorini with the cave houses Every point of Santorini is unique, and every corner of it is worth discovering. Each village has its own character, and the image of the island is constantly changing.   According to the latest census, the village of Vothonas is located about 3.5 km away from Fira and has 605 inhabitants.  It is considered unique in its construction, as it is built on both sides of a large ravine. As you can see in the photos, the houses are caves. There are records of settlements from 1801. Access to the village by vehicles is easy, and every visitor is impressed by the unique architecture. Another feature of the village is the many small churches. Interesting: Outside the village is Panagia Trypa or otherwise Panagia Sergena, built on a volcanic rock. The cave Museum of Wine is like a labyrinth, and there you will learn everything you do not know about the winemakers of the island.