Issue 02, July 2006
homepage > Interview with George Zambelas

George
Zambelas

INTERVIEW
with Leda Bouzali

The Restoration of the Church of Evangelismos
A Breath of Confidence for Alexandria's Greek Population

 
George Zambelas
 

It took two years to complete maintenance and restoration works on the Orthodox Church of Evangelismos in Alexandria, Egypt. The building was originally constructed using stonework during the period 1847-1856 and is impressive in size, covering a ground surface of about 1,000 sq.m. and standing at a height of approximately 20 m. The initiative for the project, which is of extreme importance for the Greek population of Alexandria, is attributable to three inspired and insightful men: Petros, the Patriarch of Alexandria & All Africa, Stelios Papadimitriou, the President of the Onassis Foundation, and Stefanos Tamvakis, Vice-President of the Emigrant Hellenic Council and Honorary President of the Hellenic Community of Alexandria. The first two have passed away. Before passing, however, they were able to see the historical building recapture its initial glory.
Responsibility for the project of maintaining and restoring the church was undertaken by the secretary of the Board of Directors of the Onassis Foundation and architect, George Zambelas, who coordinated the technical team: architectural engineer, George Tsoutsouras, civil engineer, Panagiotis Panagiotopoulous, lighting specialist, Kimonas Hoursoglou and, in the final phase, horology specialist, Theodoros Kotsakis. 
During the exemplary maintenance and restoration project, Mr. George Zambelas spoke with "ΑΩ”.

 
 
ΑΩ: What was the most difficult part of the undertaking?
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G.Z.: The most difficult part was the maintenance and restoration of the facing because those kinds of tiny constructions, frames, decorative elements, decorative slabs, with cracks, decay and detachments was not work that Egyptian contractors were familiar with. So, we needed to sensitise the contractor and teach him to work qualitatively. Here, congratulations are in order for the architect, George Tsoutsouras, who inspired the contractor to try to do something special. This was a definite success and so was the fact that we were able to implement the project in-line with our original budget.
ΑΩ: How much did the project cost?
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G.Z.: It cost around 600,000 Euro. Of course, daily wages are much lower in Egypt. If the same project was being implemented in Athens, it would cost three times more and reach 1.5 - 1.8 million Euro. In a building project, the most difficult thing is to establish a balance, the "golden divide", between quality and budget. The cost estimate cannot be limitless; nor can you cut corners because it will have repercussions on the quality of the project. You can understand, however, that if we spend excessive amounts on one project, we will deprive resources from another of the Foundation's public benefit projects.
 
Repair of the upper zone of the steeple tympana
Repair of the upper zone of the steeple tympana
Α.Ω.: What peculiarities did this project have? Was it similar to the restoration of the building in Nafplio that housed a branch of the National Gallery?
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G.Z.: This was a completely different project. In Alexandria, more careful maintenance and restoration were carried out, as would befit a building of monumental character. In Nafplio, the intervention was fundamental. The building was a landmark and in very bad condition and our basic obligation was to restore the outer facing to its original form. The entire interior was renovated and its use altered
Α.Ω.: How serious were the structural problems?
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G.Z.: The largest problem was the structural support of the two steeples. Because they were added afterwards, they had been built with bearing structure from reinforced concrete and were erected on top of the stonework. This kind of incompatibility usually creates problems. The static carrier in the area of the steeples was stabilised; cracks were repaired; the oxidised reinforced steel bars were repaired; metallic constructions (sheets and beams) were added; pre-stressed forceps (namely, iron rails that tauten to make the structure more durable) were put in place to better secure the existing structure; concrete was used on the stonework to fill in holes and cracks; and reinforced veneers were also constructed (namely, plaster reinforced with more cement and a coating of Nevrometal and other materials).
ΑΩ: Was special care given to the hagiographies?
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G.Z.: The hagiographies had not been destroyed. They were cleaned by specialised maintainers. From the beginning, the artistic décor in the church, as well as the special techniques and the imitation marble, were implemented following thorough testing regarding their compatibility and verity with the colours and patterns of the originals. In the temple, worn-out parts were replaced, new gold plating was done, and maintenance was carried out on the icons.
ΑΩ: What other work was carried out in the church?
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G.Z.: Another large part of the work was the replacement and waterproofing of the roof covering. This was very important because rainwater was getting in and destroying the church's ceiling. A new covering was built using metallic sheets, which were sealed underneath with tar membrane.
Further, particular importance was given to the church's lighting. The chandeliers were enhanced and, based on a lighting study, Kimonas Hoursoglou designed new lighting fixtures in order to accentuate the interior décor and provide ample light throughout the church. The entire wiring network had to be changed and a fire detection system was put in place. This was also carried out on the exterior of the church and courtyard in order to highlight the aesthetics of the building.
Repair work was also carried out on the clock, which was a miracle of technique in its time and built by the famous firm that constructed Westminster's clock in London, the well-known Big Ben. It is an enormous apparatus, almost two metres in size, which works with makeweights. Its repair was supervised by the horologer, Theodoros Kotsakis. From bad interventions and oversights in the past, pieces were missing, which he requested from the manufacturer in England. He went to a museum in Greenwich where he found designs of the parts that were missing and he built them and put them in place. That's the true meaning of "restoration". We could have put a new electronic mechanism in its place.
Finally, the surrounding area was reconstructed. New cement tiles were put down in the courtyard and not only that, but the neighbouring buildings, which belong to the Community of Alexandria, were maintained and painted.
Α.Ω.: Which part of the church do you like best?
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G.Z.: The interior of the church, the astounding décor, the feeling it expires. The hagiographies, the amazing stained glass - which we didn't touch; we simply replaced some pieces that were broken. The size of the church is also impressive; it overlooks the city of Alexandria like the Pharos of Orthodoxy.
 
Design of the front of the church according to the 1927 renovation proposal
Design of the front of the church according to the 1927 renovation proposal
Α.Ω.: Did you find the image of modern Alexandria disappointing?
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G.Z.: That city has room for development. In what concerns the past, the church, as well as the Hellenic cemetery with its amazing sculptures and the buildings of the Hellenic Community, demonstrate the potency and cultural level of the Greeks who lived there in the past. Those people returned to Greece and contributed to the development of our country. The development of the city is now up to the Egyptians.
Α.Ω.: How do you see the future of Alexandria in terms of the future of the Greek element there?
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G.Z.: I think that projects like the restoration of the Church of Evangelismos give a breath of confidence and courage to Greeks who are active in the area to continue with greater enthusiasm. Therefore, I consider initiatives like that of the Foundation to be particularly important. The Governor of Alexandria, Mohammed Mahgoub, was very positive toward the project of restoring the Church of Evangelismos and he helped us overcome bureaucratic procedures that could have put the brakes on the project. This is an example of how things move ahead when processes are simplified and there is a spirit of friendship and vision. The Egyptians want the Greeks and that is evident from their help in relation to the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
In Egypt, there is room for development and a favourable climate for Greek businesspeople. We will have to face Egypt with the same logic as we are investing in the Balkans and let's not forget that Greece is closer to Egypt than any other European country.There are also the historical ties. I think that the preconditions are positive for perhaps a revival of the Greek element in Alexandria and Egypt, in general
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