The Papafeiou orphanage in photographs

THESSALONIKI – The Meliteus Foundation orphanage, set up by philanthropist Ioannis Papafis (1792-1886), is being celebrated in an exhibition of photographs that opened Saturday. The Papafeiou, as the largest orphanage in Greece was known, raised generations of children who hold their annual reunion on Saint John’s day in honor of the founder. The inspiration for the exhibition came from Martha Piniou, heir to the extensive archive of her father Dimitris Piniou, who was director of the institute from 1955 to 1973. The archive includes 1,600 photographs that trace the history of the orphanage from its beginnings in 1903 until the 1970s. «I am organizing the exhibition in memory of my father, but also in honor of the Papafeiou, where I was born and raised. It was my home and whenever I visit it I feel the same emotion as if I am returning to my family home,» she told Kathimerini. Her father, Piniou explained, spent almost his entire life in the Papafeiou. Starting out as a manager in 1931, he eventually succeeded Alexandros Petridis in the post of director, where he continued and expanded the founder’s work and objectives. In addition to offering food and shelter, the institution began providing the orphans with a technical education. The photographs record historical changes at the orphanage from its foundation, including the difficult years of war, occupation and postwar unrest. Among them is a rare shot of the building under construction, taken in December 1902, with the scaffolding up and the architect Xenophon Paionidis posing in front of the grand building that he designed in the shape of an «E,» to symbolize three words that start with «E» in Greek: Greece (Ellas), Freedom (Eleftheria) and Hope (Elpida). Other photographs show the enrollment of pupils and new arrivals in the 1930s. During the busiest phase of its existence, the institution was home to 500 children, while in 1948 it took in 4,650 children who had lost their parents in the civil war. One group of photographs shows the children in the Papafeiou workshops, training to be tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths, mechanics, fitters, woodworkers and electricians. The pictures include one of a woodcarving they made as a wedding present for Princess Sofia. Also on display are snapshots from sporting events, ceremonies and performances by the orphanage’s famous band which provided musicians to orchestras all over Greece. One pupil of the Papafeiou was Panayiotis Sidiropoulos, the present conductor of the Thessaloniki Philharmonic Orchestra, who looks back on his years there with nostalgia. «I am proud to have been a pupil of the Papafeiou,» he told Kathimerini. It provided me with my upbringing, education, discipline, organization and the means to make a living. I shall never forget the tenderness and care. For instance, there was a teacher who kept our evening meal for us, no matter what time we got back from events in town when our band was playing.» The exhibition runs till February 15.

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