Dovecotes are a characteristic feature of the landscape of the Cyclades, an inimitable example of building techniques that combine functional and aesthetic needs. These beautiful structures were erected to raise and shelter doves and pigeons, which were used both for food and as a source of fertiliser. The systematic breeding of these birds was introduced by the Venetians in the 15th century, continuing the privilege of medieval nobles, le droit des Colombiers. When the Venetians left the islands (defeated by the Ottomans), the tradition passed to the peasants, with the result that by the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the number of dovecotes had multiplied. Though they are found on many of the Cyclades, the dovecotes of Tinos are not only the most numerous – more than a thousand – but also the most exquisite.
A typical dovecote measures about 3 metres on each side and 5 metres high and can house a population of 50 couples, which are capable of producing 200 kilos of meat per year as well as 500 kilos of dry droppings, which are considered the finest fertiliser for vegetable gardens.
The upper facades of the dovecotes are full of decorative shapes configured from the local schist rock, which in turn form small external nests, where the birds can rest, protected from the sun, the wind and the rain. Dozens of motifs are employed to create artistic compositions based on the circle which represents the sun and its rays, elongated triangles, large rhomboids and little square boxes in a checkerboard pattern.
Unique structures scattered around the island’s 90 villages (those near the village of Tarabado are the most impressive), not one is identical and each surprises you with its originality, expressiveness and ornamentation. They are always built in open places – in gullies or hillsides – so that the birds will have ‘good flights’.
These captivating buildings, dovecotes are the trademark of Tinos.