Stoneworkmen - Builders of terraces (setia)


Stone workmen undertook the stone processing and construction (building) of houses, cobbled roads, dry stone walls, etc. Often, the term “stone workmen” also used to define those who worked in the extraction at the local quarries, but usually this particular job was undertaken by other specialised craftsmen, called “quarrymen”. A great number of stone craftsmen participated in the whole range of activities related to stone: in the extraction, the hewing (often undertaken by other special craftsmen, the stonecutters or hewers), as well as in the construction of stone buildings. So, in general the name “stone workmen” is attributed to various specialities.

Stone processing (dressing or hewing) was completed at the extraction sites before delivered for building. Then, the pack animal drivers carried the stones to the construction site. Craft masters were distinguished in two categories: masons and stone fitters. Masons worked in pairs at the skeleton building. The one who worked at the building’s exterior used “well-made” stones, while the other one who worked at its interior, used roughly cut stones. The second category of craftsmen, stone fitters, had practical knowledge of engineering and geometry, as well as artistic feeling and great experience.

The stone workman’s tools were the mallet, the sledgehammer, the chisels, the needles, the wedges, the jumper bar, the crowbar, etc.

This craft flourished in the last decades of 19th century, in the villages of Lesvos and the broader region of Ionian and Aeolian coast of Asia Minor, due to the favourable economical, social and technical conditions (trade and manufacture development, savings, new needs) that led to the broad use of stone as a fundamental construction material for houses, churches, schools, mosques, industrial buildings, even dry stone constructions. Apparently, the use of stone in the construction of roads, wells, threshing floors, watermills, terraces (setia), drinking fountains and other rural and public utility constructions had been known from the past.

Moreover, some of the villages became popular for their exceptional stone craftsmen. Skalohori of Lesvos was one of these. The quarries of Skalohori were located at Taxiarhis of the plain (at a village road and the neighbouring private fields) and at the region of Fleva (at private fields). Famous craftsmen from Skalohori were Stratis Karekos (church builder of the 19th century who participated in the construction of the magnificent church of Agios Therapon in Mytilene) and his family, Ignatios Kamperos and his family, the Karagiannis and the Karagiorgis families, while Giorgis Giantzikis (barba Hatzis) was a famous and exceptional stone fitter. From the late 19th century to the ‘60s in Skalohori, the Voudoukis and the Kyrikis families were well-known craftsmen (stonecutters, hewers and masons).


Builders of terraces (setia)


A distinct category of “stone workmen” was that of specialised craftsmen of terraces or setia. Setia were large dry stone terraces, which served mainly to prevent the erosion of the ground, as well as to support it around the olive trees at the steep slopes. Their construction required special techniques, which were usually passed on within family tradition. More particularly, there were two kinds of setia, depending on their construction technique: the older version consists of (mainly) flat stones arranged horizontally to the ground in successive layers, while the more recent one that was (possibly) introduced by “Arvanite” craftsmen who arrived in Lesvos after the destructive earthquake of 1867, consisted of a first layer of flat stones parallel to the ground, on which upright stones were arranged, vertically to the ground and slightly sideways, the one next to the other in a structure which reminded fishbone. The last layer was also made of stones with horizontal arrangement to the ground. For stabilising the seti they placed small stones into the hollow parts of the dry stone wall, by hitting them hard in order to be wedged firmly. This procedure was called “wedging” (tsitoma) and was the last phase of the construction.

Usually, craftsmen of this type of terraces did not undertake the construction of edifices or large buildings (such as churches) that required different techniques. They were specialised in dry stone constructions which also involved crude constructions in the fields (called damia) to shelter animals, animal food, tools, or even their owners (mainly in summer), fountains, fences, as well as stone objects of everyday use such as mortars, pestles etc.

Today, there aren’t many craftsmen making setia, since it is a time-consuming construction, which needs artistry, and costs much. This is why most of the people who want to make a dry stone construction prefer something less elaborate and less expensive.

Sources used

  • Unpublished research information offered by Christos Hatzilias, doctorand of the Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the University of the Aegean
  • Ioanna Ioannidou, Harikleia Markoulaki, Disappearing crafts: stone builders (of setia) – project within the context of the course “Qualitative Research Methods” of the Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the University of the Aegean, Mytilene, 02/12/2003
  • Dimitris Papageorgiou, “Solon Lekkas, the meraklis* and singer from Lesvos: aspects and approaches of the “East”, in the music of Lesvos”, paper presented during the 5th INTERNATIONAL HISTORY CONFERENCE “MYTILENE AND AIVALI (KYDONIES), A RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP IN NORTH-EASTERN AEGEAN”, organised by the INSTITUTE FOR NEOHELLENIC RESEARCH/NRF, with the SOCIETY FOR LESVOS STUDIES and the CENTRE FOR ASIA MINOR STUDIES (6-9/10/2003) as co-organisers.
  • Interviews with Solon Lekkas [seti – terrace stone workman] from 1997 to 2005