30 Traditional Homes Around The World You Need To See
21. OIA, SANTORINI ISLAND, GREECE
Oia is a clifftop village and popular tourist destination on the Greek island of Santorini. Its iconic whitewashed houses ring the deep blue waters of a sunken volcanic crater.
This home belongs to Oia resident, Voula Didoni, an architect who specialized in Santorini’s architecture. As a university student in 1967, she bought an old bakery that had been demolished in an earthquake. Back then, the island had no electricity, and rainwater was collected in underground cisterns.
Donkeys brought up building materials from the port. Gradually, Didoni renovated her house in the traditional Cycladic style. Inside, there are volcanic rock walls. Outside, a terrace has panoramic sea views.
Cycladic houses take their name from the Cyclades, a group of islands in Greece’s Aegean Sea. The pure white exterior — traditionally achieved with a lime whitewash — creates the distinctive look and helps reflect the hot summer sun. Plus, the lime acts as a natural disinfectant.
In contrast, doors and windows are usually painted blue, green or red. To save space for the vineyards on the island and for protection, the homes are traditionally built clustered on the clifftops. The fact that they are partially dug into the rock face makes Oia’s excavated homes naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The homes in Oia have been classified as traditional settlements and thus are protected by special laws.
In renovating her house, Didoni maintained many of the original features of the former bakery. A room-sized bread oven with a domed ceiling made of volcanic rocks became the dining area. A secondary oven was transformed into the children’s bedroom. As the house was dug further into the cliff, red and black lava rocks were kept to build walls and floors. Volcanic ash (pozzolana) mixed with asbestos was used to create a very strong yet flexible natural cement to hold everything together. The house is simply decorated with traditional wooden furnishings. Following the classic style, seating areas were built into the structure of the house.
22. WADI RUM, JORDAN
Nicknamed the Valley of the Moon for its otherworldly appeal, Wadi Rum’s sandstone and granite rock valleys have long been used as a backdrop for science fiction films set on Mars. But back on earth, this area is known for making history as one of the first protected regions in Jordan to allow its original inhabitants to remain on their lands.
From her conversations with the elders of Wadi Rum, Dr. Laura M. Strachan a socio-cultural anthropologist from Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia, has learned of the drought that has left the area with four natural springs where there used to be more than 40. This has led to a steep decline of traditional farming and herding lifestyles in the semi-arid desert. It’s the combined weight of these inconvenient truths which have forced this area to embrace a new reality.
This style of home is becoming increasingly more rare, as younger generations flock to more modern homes near water wells that were built to address the voids left by the changing environment.
The Bedouin people call it a “beit al-shar,” which literally means “house of hair.” The local wisdom finds that the animals native to this land are the best technology for withstanding these temperatures. The tents are usually stitched together with hair from camels, sheep and goats, as their properties are especially adaptable to the extreme conditions of the seasons.
When the hair gets wet in the winter, it shrinks and tightens the closely woven fabric to keep the moisture from entering the interiors. When the hair dries in the summer, the fabric sags, leaving small holes for cool breeze to whisk through. Sheer homegrown ingenuity and a harmony between home and animal is sown into the fabric of everyday life for the Bedouin people.
Kick your shoes off and step inside. There’s a house rule that you cannot bring the outdoors in on your heels.
The layout and size of these tents depends on the financial status and size of the family. In many (like this one) there are two sections: the male area on the left where guests are received and the female area on the right where children sleep and the housewares are kept. A divider separates the two, and the bathroom is right outside.
This home packs a lot into a small space, as it also doubles as a place of worship: “We identify as Muslims and thus we pray together five times a day, either in the tent or wherever it is that we are.” Nasser Awwad starts his day with a morning prayer (fajr), has breakfast with his family, then tends to the sheep, feeding and walking them all around Wadi Rum. The Bedouin people might be nomadic, but that doesn’t matter because for Nasser Awwad, “…home is where my family is.”
23. MANUTUKE, NEW ZEALAND
A Māori communal home called a marae is not a residence, but a sacred place that preserves and celebrates the history and rich culture of the Māori people. Local tribes use their marae for weddings, reunions, visitor welcoming ceremonies and elaborate three-day funeral rites called tangihanga.
There are also educational and language immersion programs (wananga) aimed at the younger generations. Here in the village of Manutuke, the century-old Pahou Marae means “the beginning and the end” to Albert Stewart of the Ngati Maru subtribe. “We are born there through our ancestry and we return there when we die.”
Pahou Marae consists of a fenced-in clearing anchored by a carved entry (waharoa), a large meeting house (wharenui) with a dining hall (wharekai) and a front patio (paepae). Adorning the roofline and gate are intricate carvings honoring a tribal ancestor, a quick-witted chief named Taharakau. Roofing and outer walls made of local timber and corrugated iron keep out the elements, but offer no insulation; it’s cold in winter, but remains cool in summer. This marae originally stood on a nearby block, but now occupies an area near the drained lagoon called Poukokonga, which was once the tribe’s main food source.
The interior of the meeting house also functions as group sleeping quarters. It’s decorated with tukutuku (patterned panels made of woven flax fibers) and photographs tracing the tribe’s genealogy. Modern equipment has largely replaced traditional food storage and cooking, although a pit oven called a hangi is still used.
Even as expenses rise and fewer tribal members are drawn to its communal home, Albert Stewart still cherishes the optimism of his marae’s proverb:
A multitude of stars in the sky, as are Ngati Maru below.
A multitude of trout in the ocean, as are Ngati Maru ashore.