Issue 02, July 2006
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The Opening of the Evangelismos

The interior of the church of Evangelismos following its restoration
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The interior of the church of Evangelismos following its restoration

With splendour and emotion, but without the two men who inspired the project, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Petros, and the President of the Onassis Foundation, Stelios Papadimitriou, the patriarchal church of Evangelismos in Alexandria, Egypt was opened on 2 April 2006 following a renovation subsidised by the Foundation.

 
 

Along with the thousand or more Alexandrian and Greek guests, the ceremony was attended by the President of the Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias, the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Mahgoub, the President of the Foundation, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, honorary Vice-Presidents, Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis and Mr. Apostolos Zambelas, the secretary, Mr. George Zambelas, members of the Board of Directors, Mr. Stefanos Tampakis and Ms. Marianna Moschou, representatives of Greek communities in Egypt, prominent figures of the Greek political, academic and business worlds, guests of the Foundation, representatives of Egyptian authorities, journalists, and many more.

The Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodoros, presents the Grand Cross to honorary Foundation Vice-Presidents, Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis and Mr. Apostolos Zambelas, as well as to Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou.
The Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodoros, presents the Grand Cross to honorary Foundation Vice-Presidents, Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis and Mr. Apostolos Zambelas, as well as to Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou.

Mass on that Sunday, which was historical for the Greek population of Alexandria, was given jointly by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodoros II, and was broadcasted live on Greek television.
"We consider that to the extent of our abilities, we did only that which was our duty in accordance with the purpose promised to us by the unforgettable Onassis", the President of the Foundation, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, said in his speech.

"Today's congregation in the great city of Alexandria, of pastors of Greek Orthodoxy, leaders of the celebrated Greece, a host of diverse guests, and representatives of the official Egyptian state, demonstrates exactly the reason for which our Foundation decided to undertake the restoration of the resplendent church. The Metropolitan Church of the Palaephatus Patriarch of Alexandria is one of the monuments symbolising the constant presence of Greeks in Egypt. It marks the perpetual activity and blossoming of Hellenism outside the strict geographical confines of Greece. Greeks have existed, exist and will always exist in Greece and abroad, building an idyllic and transcendent Greece. An ideal Greece, I would say. 

The pulpit and characteristic stained glass
The pulpit and characteristic stained glass

"Finally, this church proclaims the transnational, intercultural and universal importance of Hellenism and Orthodoxy. Greeks in Egypt never felt like foreigners. They have intermixed, cohabited and suffered together with their friends, the people of Egypt, dating back to ancient times.

"The Onassis Foundation has decided to concentrate its efforts on fewer, yet important, projects. Everyone owes it to contribute to the extent of their abilities. By the grace of God, perhaps we can do more.
"About five years ago, some people got together who shared a vision. Two of those people are no longer with us. Memories of one and the work of the other bring them here with us again. They meet transcendently in this city.

"We have lost a lot of homeland that has turned to ruins and into memories of people who themselves are starting to fade. Alexandria is alive. We see it and it touches us; not only us Egyptians, but all Greeks. Today's opening and the presence of all of us is proof that the city is still alive", concluded Mr. Papadimitriou.

The ceremony was honoured by the presence of the honorary President of the New Democracy party, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, the Minister of Tourism, Mrs. Fani Palli-Petralia, the Deputy Minister of National Economy and Finance, Mr. Petros Doukas, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Thodoros Kassimis, the Parliamentary Vice-President, Mr. Georgıos Sourlas, and Members of Parliament, Mr. Petros Efthimiou and Anna Diamantopoulou.
The church of Evangelismos was established in November 1847 on land endowed to the Community of Alexandria by Michail Tositsas. Its construction by the architect, Ermetes Pierroti, took nine years and its inauguration took place in a festive manner on the day of the Evangelism in 1856.

The church narthex following its restoration
The church narthex following its restoration

Its initial form was more severe than it is today because the stone steeples were replaced between 1927 and1936 with more impressive cement structures, and various decorative elements were added to the front face. The church underwent maintenance in the 1950s and murals and stained glass were added. It is a triple aisled church with impressively large dimensions, indicative of the blossoming of Hellenism in Alexandria during the period that it was being built. The main church is 48 metres long and 22.7 metres wide. It is its interior, however, that makes an impression with its monumental grandeur and richness of its architectural and decorative elements, which create a stately atmosphere without being vociferous.

The Mediterranean light of Alexandria, which penetrates the large windows, is sweetly tinted by the multicoloured stained glass portraying the Twelve Apostles. Based on Byzantine-style designs by the Alexandrian artist of the Athens School of Fine Arts, Mikis Matsakis, they were created between 1950 and 1953 in Paris by the firm of Jean Gaudin and cost 3,120 Egyptian pounds at the time. Further murals picturing the Evangelism, the Genesis, the Assumption, the Resurrection, and other scenes from the life and passions of Christ were undertaken by the same artist.

The President of the Greek Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias, and the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Maghoub, during the opening ceremony
The President of the Greek Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias, and the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Maghoub, during the opening ceremony

Capturing the eye is the huge, marble temple, which is decorated with five rows of smaller and larger icons, as well as gilt-edged decorative elements, meanderings, ornamental edge tiles, and vine arbours. Golden stars shine against the blue dome, forming the background for a mural of the Almighty.
The now polished pews are named after each owner: Angeliki Natziou, Styliani Viki, Eleni Christodoulou, Eleni Evstratiadi … The number of Greeks in modern Alexandria who continue to face the daily struggle of survival in the now friendly megalopolis of the country of the Nile, is clearly fewer and they have greater faith in the future thanks to projects like the restoration of their cathedral by the Onassis Foundation.

Following the opening of the church of Evangelismos, members of the Board of Directors and the Foundation's guests attended the opening ceremony of the renovated Patriarchal Manor, which is located next to the church. At one time, the elegant, two storey building with its prim garden housed the Tositsaia School, providing a further example of the prosperity of the Greek element in this city in older times. During the renovation, part of Alexandria's ancient water supply reservoir was discovered in the foundations and can now be visited. In a show of gratitude for his fervent support toward the Patriarchal project, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Thodoros, named one of the Manor's rooms after the unforgettable Stelios Papadimitriou.

The Renovation of the Antoniadis Villa
The Onassis Foundation's contribution to the promotion of Greek culture does not stop at the gates of the church of Evangelismos. The next important step was signing a collaboration protocol between the Foundation and the Library of Alexandria on 2 April 2006 related to the renovation of the historical Antoniadis Villa and the creation of a Department for the Research of Hellenic Alexandria within the context of the activities of the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Centre of the Library of Alexandria. The protocol was signed by Onassis Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, and the Director of the Library, Mr. Ismael Serageldin, in a special ceremony attended by the President of the Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias, the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Mahgoub, the presiding board, members of the Foundation's Board of Directors, and its guests. The ceremony was honoured by the presence of the Minister of Tourism, Ms. Fani Palli-Petralia, the Deputy Minister of National Economy and Finance, Mr. Petros Doukas, Members of Parliament, Mr. Petros Efthimiou and Anna Diamantopoulou, and others.

Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, and Director of the Library of Alexandria, Mr. Ismael Serageldin, sign the collaboration protocol related to the Antoniadis Villa. Appearing from the left are Dr. Mohammed Agwad; the President of the Greek Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias; the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Maghoub; Onassis Foundation BOD member and Vice-President of the Greek Egyptians’ Association , Mr. Stefanos Tamvakis; and honorary Onassis Foundation Vice-Presidents, Mr. Apostolos Zambelas and Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis.
Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, and Director of the Library of Alexandria, Mr. Ismael Serageldin, sign the collaboration protocol related to the Antoniadis Villa. Appearing from the left are Dr. Mohammed Agwad; the President of the Greek Democracy, Mr. Carolos Papoulias; the Governor of Alexandria, Mr. Mohammed Maghoub; Onassis Foundation BOD member and Vice-President of the Greek Egyptians’ Association , Mr. Stefanos Tamvakis; and honorary Onassis Foundation Vice-Presidents, Mr. Apostolos Zambelas and Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis.

According to the collaboration protocol, the Onassis Foundation and the Library of Alexandria will spend at least 250,000 US Dollars on the first phase of activities related to renovating the building. The Antoniadis Villa, recognised as one of the city's historical monuments, is situated next to the library in a lush, forty-eight hectare park with botanical gardens, statues, a tropical greenhouse, and ancient remains. Ioannis Antoniadis, who originated from Limnos and serves as a classic example of an Alexandrian cosmopolite, was a benefactor of the Greek community and built the 2,859 sq.m. villa, which became one of Alexandria's landmarks. His descendent, Antonios Antoniadis, donated it to the Municipality of the city, which used it to host state leaders and other important visitors. The building witnessed historical moments like the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1936 and the establishment of the Arab League in 1946. After 1952, it started to go into decline as time and careless repair attempts took their toll on the impressive building. The renovation project is expected to be completed in two years.

The Greek Element in Alexandria
The third stop on the five-day visit to Egypt by Onassis Foundation representatives and guests was the buildings of Alexandria's Greek community. This constituted a moving "pilgrimage" for all those returning to their familiar school classrooms after many years. These impressive buildings cover an area of 300,000 sq.m. and constitute a Greek quarter in the centre of Alexandria, very close to the statue of Alexander the Great mounted on his horse.
Some of the buildings constituting the Greek "Chadbi" quarter are the Averoff Middle School, the old Salvagos Trade School, the Julia Salvagou Theatre, the indoor gym, the Benakeio Girls' Boarding School, the "Manna" Boys' Boarding School, the stadium, which seats ten thousand spectators, and other ancillary buildings. Today, the spacious Averoff offices house the administrative services of the Greek community, breathing a bit of life into a place that was once bustling with it. Nowadays, several tens of students continue to study in the high-ceilinged, bright classrooms.

The Antoniadis Villa and its gardens
The Antoniadis Villa and its gardens

The members of the Board of Directors and guests of the Onassis Foundation also toured the small National Museum of Alexandria, which is more cheerful and charming. It is housed in a beautiful villa in the centre of the city where findings from Egyptian and Greek civilisations coexist. Mummies and statues of Egyptian gods, findings from underwater studies at the Pharos of Alexandria, Greek ceramics and jewellery impressed the visitors.

The last stop on the five-day excursion was Cairo with its cosmopolitan atmosphere and traditional bazaars. The members of the Foundation's Board of Directors were official guests at a large concert organised by the Cairo Greek community at the Atrium of the Pyramids. The mission also visited the Cairo Acropolis, the Citadel, the mosque of Mohammed Ali, the church of Saint George, and the city's famous archaeological museum.

Highest Honours for the Board of Directors
Particularly moving was the moment following the mass at the church of Evangelismos when the Patriarch of Alexandria presented the Grand Cross of Saint Mark to Foundation President, Mr. Antonis Papadimitriou, and honorary Vice-Presidents, Mr. Pavlos Ioannidis and Mr. Apostolos Zambelas. The President of the Foundation was also presented with the Star, the highest honour of the Patriarch of Alexandria, which was intended for his father, Stelios Papadimitriou. A few days later, the Patriarch Thodoros visited the Onassis Foundation's offices in Athens and presented the Grand Cross to Foundation Vice-President, Mr. Yiannis Ioannidis, who was not present at the opening ceremony in Alexandria, and Foundation secretary, Mr. George Zambelas, who was responsible on behalf of the Foundation for the church restoration project.

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Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation | Tel. +30 210 3713000 | Fax. +30 210 3713013 | Email: pubrel@onassis.gr