photo of santorini greek blue and white buildings

The myth of traditional Greek blue and white buildings, revealed

There is no Greek-er picture than one with white-washed houses, preferably with a blue roof. The traditional Greek island architecture is what makes Greece famous, but how orthodox is this building style for Greece? Here is the myth of traditional Greek blue and white buildings, revealed.

The story we want to believe

There is a popular legend in Greek folklore, explaining the origin of the Greek white-washed houses with blue roofs. The story goes that when the Greek gods lived on earth, they became envious of the beauty of the Aegean Sea and wanted to bring it closer to them. To achieve this, they painted their homes with a blue hue, imitating the color of the sea. Besides, they coated the walls white to reflect the sun’s bright light. This tradition has since been passed down from generation to generation and continues to be a defining feature of Greek architecture.

Unfortunately, this story is no more than a myth. The truth is far less romantic.

The white was to prevent Cholera

The tradition of painting Greek houses white is associated with the prevention of the spread of cholera in the 19th century. Cholera is a waterborne disease that can spread rapidly in densely populated areas. In early 19th century Greece, this disease was a major health concern. 

To reduce the risk of infection the government encouraged people to paint their homes white. Light color would reflect the sun’s rays better and keep the interior cooler. Cooler temperatures were, at that time, believed to reduce the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. Besides, the limestone used to make the buildings white was a disinfectant and the smoothness of the walls made them easier to clean. Improving urban hygiene in general.

santorini greece

And the blue?

Before the 1970s, the Greeks were allowed to paint their shutters, window frames, and doors in whatever color they choose. However, this was Greece before the country became the famous tourist destination it is today. The people who lived on the islands were fishermen and their families, and they did not have much money to spare. Blue was and still is today, the cheapest paint color. You could basically recognize the rich island inhabitants by red or green accents.

However, then came a military dictatorship in 1967. During the Greek Junta, strict controls were established on the life of the Greeks. One of these controls (which actually became a law) was the island architecture. All houses had to be white-washed, as well as painted blue.

After the dictatorship was over, it turned out tourists loved it. And blue was there to stay. Maybe because it resembles the Greek flag?

photo of santorini greece

Traditional architecture in Greece

These white-washed houses with blue roofs eventually became a widespread tradition in Greek buildings and are still a common feature of the country’s island architecture. However, it is a tradition that started in the 1970s and not with the Greek gods. Neither is the reason behind the tradition what you would expect.

Wanted: Your opinion on traditions!

What is your opinion on this tradition? How "old" does a country's feature need to be before it becomes traditional? And does the reason behind the Greek blue and white architecture change how you think about this tradition? Let us know in the comments below!

Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!

Building amongst archeological sites

Around 50 years ago, Thessaloniki decided to do something about the endless traffic jams in the city. The idea was a metro, connecting the rectangular-shaped city center underground. Today, however,…

The eco-friendly guide to Greece

Greece is known for its natural beauty and ancient history. However, Greece is below the average of the European Union regarding sustainability. This has to do with the crisis that…

Thank you for visiting this website! Do you want to support my content as well as my journey? Buy me a coffee!

Girl traveling in Greece on small boat over blue water

Leave a Reply or Question!

%d bloggers like this: