A House on Hydra...
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If one were looking at practicalities and facilities on an island then Hydra would probably be ruled out as a sensible place of residence… No motorised vehicles show their headlamps or bumpers here and if you don’t live on the harbour front you will have to negotiate a series of wide, terraced steps on shiny cobbled lanes and alleys or rely on donkeys and mules to carry you and your goods home.
The island has no source of water (it is shipped in by tanker every day), and the houses are not centrally heated.
‘Hydra’ derives from the Ancient Greek word for water, and the island once enjoyed an abundance of springs. Perhaps due to an earthquake at some point in the past, the island now has no source of water. A tanker brings fairly fresh water every day.
The island is rocky but has enough vegetation to make it pleasant, and is by no means barren looking.
Yet despite (or perhaps partly because of?) these idiosyncrasies many people feel drawn to this magical gem of an island in the Saronic Gulf, just a few miles off the Peloponnese coast.
As one approaches the main town and harbour the view, which is immediately attractive, is of the houses and buildings that are improbably set into the amphitheatrical hillside over the harbour. On an atavistic level this kind of settlement is attractive. Hill-side and hill-top settlements have been attracting second-home or ex-pats all over the Mediterranean for a number of years as can be seen in parts of France and Italy.
Hydra though, is not just Mediterranean, or just a typical Greek island. It has a unique quality which is mostly moulded by its human history over a number of seasons and monumental events. It is also a wonderful testament to the common sense of the island’s residents that the whole island hasn’t been vulgarised, paved and package toured!
Hydra played an integral part in the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. There are monuments and the ‘Miaoulia’, an annual festival celebrating a pivotal sea battle with the Turks at the time of the uprising. A key part of the Hydriot sense of identity is tied up with events that began in 1821. This sense of history therefore is part of the essence that makes the island so unique.
The original houses on the island often have surprisingly large gardens or yards, many which offer complete privacy, while others offer stunning views of the sea and harbour or the unique interior which shows the verdant slope of the settlement and the higher reaches of Hydra Town and Kamini as well as a distant monastery and windmill.
Life on the island, especially in the higher reaches goes on much as it has done for hundreds of years and demonstrates how small communities can cooperate and live harmoniously without cinema complexes, hypermarkets and other nightmarish monstrosities that so many people see as progress.
The interiors of the homes on Hydra vary enormously, and are often characterised by an illogical ‘maze – like’ feel.
There are odd nooks and crannies in most of the older houses that have no obvious function, and these add considerably to the charm!
Architects did not design the village houses; rather they were constructed by the local residents in a practical manner on a human scale.
The result is that these houses have an intimate, organic feel, without straight lines and crisp edges, but rather with gentle curves that reflect the natural materials from which they are constructed and the relaxed, matter of fact approach of their builders and owners.
Another factor that induces a sense of security is the rock foundations. Rock is often allowed to become part of the fabric of the home and is left expose to dramatic effect. This close connection with the very fabric of the earth nurtures a feeling of intimacy with the surroundings.
The island has an essence that can only be experienced by visiting it. The delightful homes are a strong part of the pull one feels to this magical place. Beautiful wooden floors, wooden beamed ceilings and original fittings mean that very few additions need be added before you have your own comfortable and intimate nest.
The wide windowsills that are a result of having such thick walls offer a myriad of options for these spaces alone.
These windows are often divided into at least four panes are also provided with shutters, usually internal. It seems that no one house, although perhaps similar on the outside, will resemble its neighbour internally. One may have a stone paved entrance that is partially open to the elements while the other gives onto a steep, dark-wood staircase. You may come across a grand residence with its own gardens and terraces or a charming apartment with a narrow wooden balcony on supports. There is no one-size fits all here!
Hydra, with its inimitable style, artist colony and typical example of traditional Greek life, island of overdeveloped leg-muscles where the only acoustic annoyances may be a donkey’s bray or over enthusiastic cockerel, is a place that cannot be ignored if you want to find the meaning of life.