NEWS

Long-delayed repairs to church belfry approved

The bell tower of the Russian Church in downtown Athens is almost entirely enveloped in green burlap. Stabilization and restoration work ought to begin soon, since the study received approval at the February 10 meeting of the Central Archaeological Council (KAS). It was about time: The monument is full of cracks, metal pieces inside the walls have rusted, the vibration caused by the bells ringing has resulted in damage, while exhaust fumes and pigeon droppings have stained the exterior. Detached lead roofing tiles and cracks in the wooden stairs were among other problems mentioned by Mania Foundoukou, head of the Restoration Directorate for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments, in her report to the meeting. The church of Sotiros Lykodimos on Filellinon Street, commonly known as the Russian Church, dates to the 11th century. It was a Catholic monastery during the time of Byzantine and Ottoman rule. Some of the buildings collapsed in 1701 in an earthquake. In 1870, the Turkish Governor Haji Ali Hasekis had all the cells demolished and the building material was used in the city walls. The monument suffered extensive damage from shells during the Greek War of Independence, Foundoukou explained, and it remained a ruin until 1847, when it was bought by the Russian government for the use of the Russian community in Athens. Extensive restoration work was carried out, and a Byzantine-style bell tower was built in front of the entrance. At that time, some late Roman remains were found directly beneath the church. The belfry rises to four levels and is covered with a lead-tiled dome topped with a conical metal structure 2 meters high. The bell tower suffered earthquake damage again in 1981 and in 1999, when a marble rosette came loose and fell to the ground. The directorate carried out repairs that entailed installing scaffolding to almost the full height of the tower and encircling the upper part of it with steel at six points. KAS decided that repairs should proceed, but nothing was said about funds. It is to be hoped that restoration work starts promptly and that the unattractive burlap, which seems to have haunted the building for years, is removed.