This article was originally written by Gabi Ancarola.
It has also been published by Greek Reporter in January 2018
The wind blows all around the year on the Greek island of Mykonos. For this reason, the island has more bushes than trees. In Mykonos, high walls normally surround every yard and patio. And – of course – the island boasts one of the most famous landmarks of Greece… So, if you are wondering about what to visit in Mykonos the Windmills are the most logical answer.
What more iconic postcard from Greece than the magnificent Mykonos’ windmills? However, and first of all, there are traditional windmills on several Greek islands. Many of them were still active and functioning until the early 20th century.
The Anatomy of the Windmill
According to the tradition, windmills on the Greek islands are normally solid buildings, with three floors, shaped in a cylindrical way and made of stone. Some of them also include small windows and a traditional pointed roof, normally made of wood.
Other than that, about twelve wooden fan blades, stand on top of the structure and each of them has a triangular wing of a very sturdy kind of fabric (probably the same cotton used for sails in boats). Following the logic of physics, whenever the wind blows (and the Aegean sees some strong gusts), the windmill will carry the movement to a central axis inside the building itself. This will force the grind stones into a rotational movement.
First of all, the top floor contained the grinding mechanism so as to make the most of the force that the mentioned movement would imply. In contrast, the second floor was the place to store the flour the windmill would produce. Finally, on the ground floor, locals would store raw grain as well as the resulting processed flour.
It was no cheap affair to build a windmill. Builders had to choose the construction site with extreme care. It was important to check factors such as exposure to northern winds and easy of access for peasants, workers, and donkeys. The need for strong winds was a key factor, for that reason windmills are often on hillsides or on the edge of capes, but still always close to the main villages.
The northern wind of the Aegean, also known as Meltemi, would help windmills in the process of grinding wheat, barley, and any other cereal that the islands produce. Particularly in Mykonos, the resulting flour was either given back to the farmers for them to bake their bread. But also local bakers used to buy that flour for their own business. Much of that flour, however, was often sold and shipped to other areas of Greece and to other Mediterranean countries as well.
There used to be more than twenty-five windmills on Mykonos, once upon a time. Ten of them were part of Kato Mili, a complex of mills gathering every windmill in the lower area of the island. These mills were located across from the harbor of Alefkandra. A position so strategic that was key to the economy, growth and striving character of the island.
Once upon a Time
Almost every ship sailing around the Cycladic island would make a stop in this harbor, therefore, the flour resulting from those windmills was the main ingredient to bake the famous Greek rusk, paximadia. Paximadi is a type of bread, that due to its double baking process, results in a very dry consistency rusk which locals preserve for months. An ideal source of carbohydrates for sailors who would not reach mainland for months, and sometimes years. In the heights of the island, it was possible to see the windmills known as Pano Mili or windmills from above. Due to its location, their production was mostly for local consumption.
Electricity brought new advances to several islands, therefore this traditional method to produce flour, gradually came to an end. Nevertheless, the windmills stand as a memory of the agricultural past of Mykonos. There are still sixteen old windmills sanding proud on Mykonos’ landscape, some of them, however, have become exclusive lodges and residences.
The most famous windmills are visible near the old town. Every year, thousands of tourists visit them at the sunset hour. Sunsets are the best moment to shoot one of the many iconic Greek images to take back home.
What to do in Mykonos: Visit the Windmills
Unfortunately, travelers can only visit two of the still standing windmills of Mykonos. The first of them is Geronimo’s Mill. This structure was built back in 1700 and represents the most ancient mill on the island. Active until 1960, there have been recent rennovations on the structure while maintaining most of the original machinery for grinding.
Also open to the public Bonis Mill, a windmill that is an integral part of the Agricultural Museum of Mykonos. This mill has been restored in full respect of its original features. Visitors that choose to visit this structure can access every one of the floors. They can also learn about the process of flour making, from grinding the grains to weighing and storing the flour.
Bonis Mill is open daily to the public during summer afternoons (from July until September), from 16:00 to 20:00. To contact the structure dial +30 22890 26246.