hydra’s historic windmills

The settlement of Hydra is best known for its mansions and amphitheatric layout on the hills surrounding the port. Less well known are the windmills, which dominated the harbor at the end of the 18th century (note 1).

Indeed, windmills or remnants of them are located in scattered locations and throughout the settlement. Specifically, two are located in Kaminia (1-2 windmills), three in Lofos district (3-5), seven on the west side of the harbor (6-12), two on the east side of the harbor (13-14) and finally , two to the south of the settlement and at a distance from it (15-16).


Historical Data

It is claimed that windmills have been operating in the Aegean since the 12th-13th century, and by the 16th century their use had spread (note 2). However, their spread in Greece remains blurred.

a) 15th-early 19th century: The story of the settlement of Hydra began in 1460, when waves of refugees arrived on the island. Such waves continued in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first inhabitants settled in the area of Prophet Elias, south of the settlement and at high altitude. The Kiafa residential core was then formed at a lower altitude.

From the middle of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century, Hydriots engaged in maritime trade, favored by international circumstances. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries Hydra reached its apex. The settlement enjoyed wealth, and in 1778 the [Ottoman] Sultan conferred the privilege of governing it. The class of households formed and financed the reconstruction of mansions. The population was constantly increasing and in 1794 it was more than 11,000, thus expanding the settlement to the port.

Population of Hydra, 1680 to 1886

Within this framework the windmill makes its appearance. Its operation was favored by the north winds that blow with the appropriate wind and frequency, in combination with the island’s aridity, which prevented the operation of watermills.

Numerous windmills appear in the earliest known images of Hydra, by Th. Hope and A.-L. Castellan. These are views of the settlement from the north or the south. One of Hope’s watercolors is dated to about 1795 and a second to the years before 1806. Castellan’s made his engraving on his journey to Constantinople in 1797 and included it in his work, published in 1808 (note 4).


However, although these representations date back to the same period, they differ in the morphology of the Cathedral and its bell tower. Also, while it is believed that Castellan’s engraving depicts the view of the harbor from the position of Kala Pigadia, that is, from the Southeast, the Temple and the bell tower are inverted to the east-west axis.

In [these historic] illustrations, windmills in operation, with domes and impellers, can be distinguished either individually or in complex. …

The operation of windmills in Hydra at the beginning of the 19th century is confirmed by brief references. A note to the millers of Hydra in 1811 mentions 17 names, corresponding to 15 millenarians and 2 owners (note 5). The income statement of the community for the period from 1 March 1814 to 28 February 1815 also indicates revenue from the taxation of bakeries, horses, and windmills (note 6). […]

b) Early 19th-20th Century: In the 19th century, Hydra’s demographics changed. Its economy shrank with the involvement of foreign forces in the maritime trade and with the expense of significant funds to organize the Greek Revolution. The finishing blow came in the mid-19th century with the appearance of the first steamship in Greece. Seafarers who did not adapt to the changes in navigation left the island. Even the economic recovery that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the practice of sponge diving was temporary.

The settlement expanded to the west, while Kiafa was abandoned. In the 1820s, the population was estimated at 27,000-28,000, but has since declined. In 1828 Hydra had 16,500 inhabitants and in 1886 it numbered 7,342 [see above figure] (note 11).

At the same time, in the 1860s steam-driven flour mills began to operate, which was the most important branch of the first industrial development in Greece (note 12). A steam-powered flour mill was operating in Hydra in 1886, without necessarily representing the first appearance of a steam mill on the island. […]

According to illustrations (note 14), in the early 19th century some towers did not have a dome or wing, but they appear to have survived to their full height. Probably the number of windmills in operation had begun to decline. Later, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many windmills would have been abandoned if they were at low altitude and unsuitable for use. Only two windmills remained in operation until the 1950s (note 15).

Thus, at the end of the 18th century windmills were operating in Hydra and at least three millstones had already been formed. It seems that the operation of the windmills is in line with the economic history and the building expansion of the settlement, as well as with the fluctuation of the population. Unfortunately, however, the dating data available is quite late compared to the history of Hydra and the Greek windmill, so that the when windmill use started in Hydra could not be determined.

We can observe that the windmills were operating in parallel with other types of mills, initially, although the windmills had already spread to the settlement, with the horse mills and then with the steam mills.


The windmills of the settlement of Hydra belong to the type of Mediterranean stone cylindrical turret (note 16). Specifically, the windmill 4 is in the form of a frustoconic tower with the outer surface aligned. The settlement also has the type of inverted frustoconical tower mill. This type is considered older, as it appears to have been used when the axle was still positioned horizontally, to increase the distance of the impeller from the tower mill and thus reduce the damage to the sails and also to facilitate circulation around the mill (note 17).


This describes Windmill 16, which is also represented by Hope in one of the earliest depictions of Hydra.


Due to the peculiarity of Hydra, the tower mills are based on rocky terrain, inclined or horizontal. They usually have an outer peripheral shoe, such as a windmill 4. But there are also turrets with an inner toothless shoe, which is not protruding from the diameter of the turret, as in the case of the windmill 11. Usually the shoe is compact, that is, the auxiliary spaces do not grow inside, but are independent. Exceptions are windmills 10 and 15.


Several tower mills have a white outer coating and have a wooden interior. Windmill 4 has a height of about 6.5 m and is two-sided, meaning three levels, the lower, upper and lower loft (note 18). The orientation of the door opening is related to the local currents. It is usually oriented to the south, in the case of windmill 1, but is oriented to the southwest. The door openings are horizontal and sometimes arched.


In windmill 4 two windows open upwards, counter-diametrically and along the axis of the door opening. The south windmill opening 16 is eccentrically positioned, while the windmill 1 has a window opening at the bottom. The remodeled tower mill 7 features arched sliding openings, while the 6 was rebuilt in 1957 without window openings.

The windmill dome 4, 13 and 16 are metal coated planks and fit into the type of quadrangular pyramidal dome. The windmill dome 6 had been rebuilt in 1957 as a curtain, while it was recently rebuilt as a board but conical.

Our information on the impeller is limited. Hope describes feathers with a combination of triangular sails and wooden feathers. At the same time Castellan speaks of six to eight wings (note 19). The white wings are mentioned by J. Emerson, who visited Hydra in 1825 (note 20). By comparison, according to Pouqueville, the Spetses windmills had six wings in the same period (note 21). The following information leads us to the 20th century: according to photographs of the 1930-1950 period, windmills 4 and 16 had antennas with ten wings (note 22).

It was possible to stop the movement of the impeller by fastening the cord either to the outside or inside the tower. In the first case, the mill was pulling the impeller with a rope, which was fastened to beams protruding from the tower, thus mitigating the impeller movement (note 23). Such beams protrude from tower 4, arranged perimeter, in a horizontal row and at a level near its base.

In the second case, the mill passed a rope through vertical longitudinal holes in the masonry, the so-called shockworms, and then attached it to a horizontal groove embedded in the masonry. The shockwaves started from the ground floor and reached the middle of the floor. They were located at tower mills 1 and 6, within which access was possible. They have a rectangular face and a cross section.


Current Situation

Most of the windmills are in poor condition or have been damaged in their original form. Exceptions are 4 and 16. Windmill 6 was damaged during its reconstruction in 1957 in the wake of the film “The Child and the Dolphin”, with its dome re-filled in about 2006. Windmill 7 was rebuilt during 1948-1968.

Few windmills are in use, but they are always foreign to the original, that is, they act as dwellings or auxiliary spaces. The use of windmills, as well as their conservation status, is related to their ownership status. Many belong to the Municipality of Hydra. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism recently approved a three-windmill rehabilitation study, which will be implemented at the expense of the Municipality of Hydra.

The trails, which served the windmills, follow the contours of the outline and are in some cases particularly difficult. They are divided into sections of earth, pavement or paving. Those that serve access to adjacent buildings are kept in good condition as opposed to those that have fallen into disuse.


Institutional Protection Framework

The windmills of the island as buildings dating back to 1830, are protected by archaeological law 3028/2002, without requiring them to be declared. However, in 2006, the 1st Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture issued a Declaration of Characterization of the Windmills of the Settlement of Hydra as Ancient Monuments, in order to certify and notify the status of the ancient to public authorities and citizens and to obtain the necessary information. measures for the protection of mills.


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    9. LIGNOS ANT., History of the island of Hydra, vol. 1, Athens 1946
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  10. 11. MICHAELIDES C., Hydra. A Greek Island Town. Its growth and form, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 1967
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Source: www.archaiologia.gr

Useful elements for the research of the windmills of Hydra are derived from the correlation with the history of the settlement and the Greek windmill, from the pictures and photographs of the settlement, as well as from the observation of the architectural remains. The population fluctuation and the expansion of the settlement also serve as indications. References to the windmills of Hydra are few, brief, and focus on either the architecture of the settlement or the windmills of other areas.