The term, Mediterranean architecture, is often used to describe various architectural styles from the Mediterranean region. In some cases, it also refers to the Mediterranean Renaissance style.
The Mediterranean region, also known as the Mediterranean basin, consists of various lands that are located along the Mediterranean coast. The region is vast, stretching across three continents-Europe, Asia, and Africa. The coastal areas are made up of 25 different countries and territories, and it is quite obvious that the history and culture of these regions have greatly influenced the architecture of the Mediterranean. When we talk about Mediterranean architecture, it should be noted that the term encompasses an architectural style from all the counties and areas that are cut off from each other. Consequently, it should be noted that there can be striking differences between the architectural styles of two, albeit neighboring, areas.
Mediterranean basin, as an area inhabited by people, has a long history. Some of the world’s most important and powerful civilizations have risen and flourished in this region. These include the Minoan, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations, among others. Various architectural styles flourished in this region that influenced architecture around the world. Despite this rich structural heritage, however, the Mediterranean region continues to be an understudied area, in terms of regional architecture and its evolution.
There is absolutely no doubt that the architecture of the Mediterranean coast has always had a number of local and regional influences, thanks to which the architectural style of one region differs from another. But, at the same time, it is also true that there are certain characteristics that are common among the structures and buildings throughout the region, perhaps due to the geographical location of the region, and/or climatic conditions. In other words, the structure of the location along the Mediterranean coast may require certain architectural elements to be present. These elements then become distinctive features of the style.
It is important to note that Mediterranean architecture as we know it today may in fact refer to Mediterranean Renaissance architecture, a style that primarily witnessed some of the most grandiose structures, along with some other European countries. These structures are essentially combined with a regional style, some of the most recognizable elements found in buildings along the Mediterranean coast. Because these elements are often huge and convex, they also have the most imposing appearance, so much so that the Mediterranean becomes a brand rather than a style of architecture.
As mentioned earlier, the Mediterranean region is a unique and special entity. Since antiquity, the sea coast, has always been vulnerable to external influences, through maritime trade, migration, and so on. All these factors, combined with regional styles, the natural environment, and a very peculiar outlook on life, have led to the formation of an architectural style whose elements are very closely related to nature. Structures that combine functionality, and aesthetics. The following are some of the characteristics of Mediterranean coastal architecture:
The architecture of the Mediterranean coast is characterized by the use of local building materials. If we look at some of the early designs from this region, we realize that building materials are available in the vicinity, and that there is absolutely no sign of importing raw materials from other regions, despite the fact that the region flourished with the constant development of sea trade.
The protective spirit of place, is seen as an integral aspect of every architectural work. The inhabitants of the Mediterranean region, especially the Greeks and Romans, believed that every place carried a corresponding spirit that protected them from trouble and danger. Thus, if a structure is built on a site, this spirit becomes an inseparable part of it. In a more realistic setting, the spirit refers to the natural place on which the structure stands. If these natural surroundings are not exploited properly, the whole harmony of the place is disturbed, and this can pose a danger to the structure in the future. Thus, Mediterranean architecture thrives on the fact that there must be a balance and unity between natural and man-made elements.
The typical Mediterranean structure, as a whole, represents the unity of life. It is characterized by a complete unification of interior and exterior spaces; one reveals the other, and/or surrounds it. This means that, just as in architectural forms, human life is also an amalgamation of the interior and the surface. In a nutshell, Mediterranean structures tell a story about the worldview of the people living in the region.
The structures of the Mediterranean region are simple and unobtrusive in dimensions, perhaps in keeping with the scale of the landscape and the sea. In other words, we see that a delicate balance was often maintained between the structure, and the entire landscape that surrounds it, for example, a building by its integral part resembles its surroundings, not something that was built later. In order to maintain this harmony, factors such as the size and general atmosphere of the landscape, shapes, light, colors, etc., are taken into account.
The presence of external influences can be seen mainly in Greek and Roman structures, as well as in a few scattered examples from Spain. This harmonious combination of Eastern and Western architectural elements makes Mediterranean architecture the most distinguished in the world.
Elements of traditional Mediterranean architecture
Despite the huge number of differences between the structures found along the Mediterranean coast, there are still certain architectural elements that are common to them all. The style that has become known in the West since the 1920s as the Mediterranean Renaissance actually borrowed a great deal from these elements. All of these elements can be seen as defining features of Mediterranean coastal structures. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Mediterranean structures usually have gently sloping roofs built of tiles, usually in shades of red. Although there are some earlier examples of roofs with one or two slopes, this element seems to have evolved and poured out in the form of a barrel.
These structures often had large spaces that entertained a subtle play of light, shade, scent, and air. Because of this, they carried high ceilings, perhaps as much as 6 to 8 meters high. This view leads to more vertical space on the walls of this structure, thus allowing for more windows.
Open floor plan
Traditional Mediterranean architecture rejects the idea of enclosed and confined spaces, and gives way to a more open floor plan, where there are not many defining bifurcations or boundaries. In this way, the entire structure becomes one whole in which there are minimal physical barriers. These kinds of formations also allow for a very soothing play of light and shadow, along with proper ventilation.
Plastered building facades
Plaster is a material that is applied to walls (and ceilings) that cures as a very thick, hard layer. In addition to durability, it is also a form of decorative coating. Plaster is applied to the exterior walls of Mediterranean structures, usually in pastel colors.
Although arches are not part of every Mediterranean structure, they are by far the most prominent Mediterranean elements in the West. Not only do arches add to the aesthetic sense of a structure, but their use on lower levels also helps to reinforce the upper levels. Arches are often found with beautifully decorated keystones (wedge-shaped stones placed on top of the arch) that help hold the vaults in position.
A patio or courtyard is a space that is adjacent to the main structure. Usually used for recreational or breakfast activities, this area is usually paved and can be roofed. It is usually located between the structure, and the garden.
Yards exist everywhere in the Mediterranean, and in all possible forms and variations. They are usually enclosed areas within a structure but have no roofs. Structures often open up into a courtyard from their interior. Since ancient times, courtyards have served multiple purposes, such as cooking, sleeping, or even as a place to keep animals.
A garden located directly in front of the main facade, Mediterranean gardens present large spaces that, while adding to the aesthetics of the structure, can also stand independently of it. Mediterranean gardens have a huge variety of fruits and flowers that grow in all seasons. Plus, they also serve as private areas for relaxation and enjoyment.
In the Mediterranean region, water is seen as a source of life. With the fountain as a constant source of flowing water, this form is an integral part of Mediterranean structures. Fountains were made of cast stone, with one, two or three tiers, and a round basin on top. It could be placed in a courtyard, patio or garden, depending on personal preference.
Mediterranean Renaissance architecture
- In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a new architectural style was introduced, in the Mediterranean Renaissance style, inspired by several styles originally belonging to the Mediterranean area.
- This new “architectural movement” gained great momentum in the 1920s and 1930s, when enormous and imposing mansions were built.
- These palatial structures were based on the Seaside Mediterranean Villas, which carried the typical elements mentioned above.
- The types of structures that mostly fell under the influence of this newly introduced style were hotels, residential and commercial buildings.