The houses

Agios Ioannis had no real center or village square, but was a belt of one- and two-story houses with a few inhabited houses scattered around inside the village walls. A number of the houses were of the ordinary Sfakian style with arches inside or outside. The ceilings were high with exposed wooden beams, and some houses had a rised platform in one end of the room.

There used to be a cluster of houses with several kafenions, but during the late 70’s large sections of these were in ruins. All the inhabited houses had concrete roofs and a combination of concrete and dirt floors. The walls were about 2/3 of a meter thick, made of stone and dirt and covered with whitewash both inside and out.

In the early fifties Xan Fielding wrote that: “..The most attractive quality about Agios Ioannis was a negative one: the complete absence of decay. There is not a ruin in sight.” In strong contrast to then, many of the houses had been abandoned in the 60’s and 70’s. The concrete roofs, a recent innovation, helped to preserve them, but without new whitewash and heating during the winter the walls would soon crumble.

Most houses had a courtyard with an oven for baking bread and plenty of room for activities. In the warm season this was where people gathered. Roofs, grapevines or trees provided shade. Most work (for example cooking and repairs) was done here.

The houses usually had two rooms and a kitchen, but sometimes one room was only a wooden platform – a mezzanine – separated by a low wall and used as a sleeping area. The kitchen might also be separated from the main room only by a low wooden wall, or it might be in a side building with its own entrance.

Most houses had external privies, discretely located in some inconspicuous corner, or in back of the houses, out of view from prying eyes. We ourselves made do with an outdoors slit trench, sheltered by the overhanging branches of an almond tree, later supplemented by an overhead sheet of plastic.

The furniture in the houses mainly consisted of beds, a long, wooden bench (polithrone), a table and some chairs. The walls were often covered with family photos. During the winter a wood stove was set up in the main room, and in the evening and during cold days, people gathered around it. For light we used kerosene lamps that reminded me of visits to mountain huts during my childhood.

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