The famous stone built mandras of Lemnos are the most characteristic feature of the rural landscape of the island. These are traditional farms that were built to house and serve the needs of the Lemnian “kehaghiades” (stockbreeders / farmers). The dense presence of mandras in Lemnos (almost 2000 can be found today, many of them abandoned but some are still in use) has created a continuous system, allowing humans to establish their presence in the fields and pastures across the whole island.
The mandras of Lemnos are built out of local materials such as stone, clay, reeds and seaweed, while wood was transported from neighboring islands, Thrace and Mt Athos. Their construction technique remains unchanged over the centuries. Their layout and organization are directly linked to the purposes they served, including storage rooms, animal sheds but also a special space for lodging or permanent residence.
The mandras served as wider multi-functional areas, fenced with a dry-stone wall, inside which lie the main buildings and traditionally the threshing floor, a built oven and a small vegetable garden. On the periphery of the mandra extend the pastures and/or arable land with cereals and legumes to produce food for human consumption and fodder for the animals.
Featuring a rare aesthetic, fully in tune with the natural landscape, this unknown – and often overlooked – architectural element encompasses in its entirety the traces of an ancient folk culture that has been living and developing continuously and seamlessly on the island for centuries.
The gradual abandonment of the majority of mandras since the 1960s and the concentration of livestock in fewer hands in recent decades have interrupted the traditional balanced relationship between the natural environment and man, leading to intensification of agricultural practices in some parts of the island, in parallel with neglect or even abandonment in others – both, with negative environmental impacts.
Today, these remnants, which testify to centuries of self-sufficiency, can regain their priceless value for the environment, the history of the place and society itself, contributing to a better understanding of the traditional rural economy, the use of space and the way of life of the inhabitants of this Aegean island, whose development has been based on them, since ancient times.
The Terra Lemnia project includes multifaceted activities to promote the traditional mandras of Lemnos, as part of the living tradition of the island. The team is currently working to inscribe traditional mandras in the national inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, after successful submission of the first phase application, in a process largely based on community recordings. The creation of an interactive web platform is also planned, to present the findings of field recordings of traditional mandras in four areas of Lemnos. In parallel, the team is collaborating with a local farmer to develop a model, traditional-styled, animal shed using ecological materials, next to an existing mandra to be used as supporting facility. The construction of the animal shed will be based on the model study of Anemoessa entitled “Lemnos: Modern sheep farms and traditional mandras. A proposal for integrated development of standard livestock facilities in a landscape of special cultural value” (available here, in Greek)