Hydra is a long, thin island south of the Saronic Gulf and characterised by its rocky interior which is virtually uninhabited. Many beautiful 18th century mansion houses are found in and around the main port, a legacy of Hydra's great wealth when it was the home of wealthy merchants and shipbuilders. During the 18th and 19th century the island of Hydra boasted a huge commercial fleet.
The bright colours of painted doorways and window add bold highlights to the mansion houses of Hydra. Hydra is only a tiny island in the Saronic Gulf but it's architecture boasts a wealth of history that belies such an diminutive place. Of particular interest to the Hydra holiday visitor will be the splendid mansion houses that are found on the island, many still in private hands and not open to the public, although some of best are still open to visitors. The island of Hydra has now been granted status as a national historic landmark and this helps to protects its beautiful island architecture. Any new buildings erected on Hydra must be in keeping with the island's historic architectural style and help maintain Hydra's traditional character. It has led to a ban on high raise hotels or on any modern developments that could spoil the island's heritage which owes so much to the history of Hydra island, Many of the mansion houses (or archontika in Greek) were built by wealthy island shipbuilders and shipping magnates of the 18th century, a period of great prosperity for Hydra. Built of grey stone ferried from the neighbouring islet of Dokos, the houses were three or four stories high with spacious, high ceilinged rooms. The facades were plain and simple with limestone cornices and often painted in pastel colours with windows outlined in whitewash. Many were designed by Italian architects and the interiors were adorned with carved wooden ceilings while floors of marble were created with intricate geometric patterns. The hillside mansions usually have beautiful and generous walled courtyards with spectacular views of the Saronic sea, often from large terraces. One of the most notable characteristic of Hydra's architecture is the bright colours on the painted shutters, doorways and windows. The rocky soils and the lack of water in the summer meant many mansions had no garden so the owners were generous with paints when adding colour to break the monotony of the grey stonework. Among the more interesting mansions are the house of Tsamados, which greet visitors arriving by hydrofoil on the east side of Hydra's port built around 1800 by Admiral Anastasios Tsamados, a hero of the Greek War of Independence, and now a naval academy. Older still is the Gorogiannis mansion house which dates from 1780 which is unfortunately not open to the public. The Giorgios and Pavlos Kountouriotis manor complex is now home to the Museum of Modern History of Hydra and consists of three buildings and a garden. The Lazaros Koundouriotis mansion, located near the port, is now the island's National Historical Museum and the opulent interior has hand-painted ceiling borders, fine gilt moldings, some exquisite marquetry, and black and white marble tile floors.