By Sandra McHugh
I have lucked out. My husband comes from the island of Tinos, Greece and we go there every year. I am always struck with the breathtaking beauty of the island. Some villages nestle in the valleys and others perch on the hillsides. The hills are terraced with stone walls and sheep, goats, and cows graze in the fields. Tinos may resemble other islands in the Cyclades, but what is unique to Tinos is the number of dovecotes scattered across the landscape. If you were to visit Tinos, you would be astonished at how many of them there are. While the exact number of them is not known, it is believed that there are over 1,000. This is quite impressive for an island that is 195 square kilometers. 1
They are truly beautiful as you can see in these photographs below. This dovecote used to belong to my husband’s grandfather.
Dovecotes are not just decoration. During the 1900s, dovecotes significantly contributed to the family finances. They were kept in the family and passed on from generation to generation. My husband inherited a dovecote from his father, who had inherited it from his uncle. While very few people eat dove today, my husband remembers his grandmother serving dove, more specifically in soups made with the meat and carcass of the doves. Most importantly, the family also used the dove droppings as manure. The droppings were well known as high quality fertilizer.
Here Is a picture of my husband’s dovecote, nestled in the valley.
It was the Venetians who originally introduced breeding of doves to the island of Tinos when they conquered the island in 1204. They ruled the island for five centuries until 1715. During Venetian rule, dove breeding was only practised by the noble, or ruling classes. The noble families had ‘le droit des colombiers’ or the right to possess doves. These were concessions bestowed by the Doge of Venice. In 1715, the Turks ruled the island, but did not inhabit it. The island was returned to Greece in 1821. 2
Most of the dovecotes were built during the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time, dove meat was not limited to local consumption. It was considered a delicacy and exported as far as Smyrna and Constantinople. 3
When the Venetians ceased to rule Tinos, concessions to practice dove breeding were no longer necessary. The inhabitants started to build their own dovecotes. They were built in areas conducive to breeding, such as rural areas near cultivated fields and where a water supply was available. 4 They were built on slopes that took into consideration the wind and would allow the doves to fly easily in and out of the dovecotes. The doves nest in the square holes built in a single or double row. Small stone slabs that protrude provide perches for the doves. 5
Here is a picture of some doves nesting and some eggs.
Dovecotes are made out of slate clay and are whitewashed. They are two stories high. The doves live on the second floor and the first floor is used for storing tools and agricultural equipment. They are elaborately decorated with geometric patterns and non-geometric patterns such as cypress trees. It is believed that these patterns attract the doves. 6
Here is a close up picture of my husband’s dovecote. These doves are fed and their only predators are snakes. There are about 30 doves living in this dovecote at any one time. We know approximately how many doves are living here by counting them in a picture. There is great pleasure in continuing to breed doves, a practice that has lasted centuries.
2 Author not identified, PDF document entitled Dovecotes of Tinos in Archnet.org