Father Spyridon Fokianos has a dream — to restore the church of Aghios Constantinos, which occupies the site of the former Venetian kastro overlooking the harbour of Paroikia. The medieval church, one of Paros’ crown jewels, is now closed and its structure is crumbling.
Father Fokianos, known locally as Papa Spyros, presides over services at the Church of the Holy Archangels on the old market street in Paroikia and at Aghios Constantinos on the rare occasions when it’s open for religious services.
The restoration must begin with a scientific study, Papa Spyros said in an interview in February. The study is estimated to cost 25,000 euros, while the full restoration is estimated to cost 300,000 euros.
Instead of waiting for the municipality to commission the study, Papa Spyros has launched his own fundraising campaign. He hopes that private sector participation will help secure the backing of the Paroikia Town Council.
“I would like to send a strong message to everyone: that we are all responsible as citizens, and first of all myself,” Papa Spyros said, speaking through an interpreter. “That’s why I’m taking the lead in this case. We have the obligation to maintain and pass on to our children and the next generations our monuments, our traditions and our culture.”
Among the priests’ designated collection agents are Panayiotis Patelis, owner of the Hotel Dina; Kostas Argouzis, a former mayor of Paros; retired diplomat Theodoros Karavias; Costas Gravaris, who runs a pharmacy in Paroikia; and Ilias Alexopoulos, the general manager of the Piraeus Bank in Paroikia.
Individual donors are given a receipt bearing the stamp of the archbishop of Paronaxia and the stamp of the Church of the Holy Archangels. The agent notes the amount donated on the receipt and states explicitly that the money will be used for the restoration.
At Le Bistrot, a cafe near the Kastro, customers can donate every time they buy a hot beverage. If they ask to make a donation, Le Bistrot owner Menios Apostolidis has pledged to give two-thirds of every three-euro sale to the restoration.
Papa Spyros understands that the entire Kastro area, not just Aghios Constantinos, is an important symbol of the island’s history, Apostolidis said in an interview.
“The area has been neglected by the government, and if we don’t do something, they won’t do something,” Apostolidis said. “This requires an organised movement of the citizens of Paros.”
Aghios Constantinos is currently closed because its fragile structure might collapse on visitors and also due to theft, according to Papa Spyros. Four valuable icons were stolen from the church last summer, according to reports in the Greek press.
The Kastro area retains traces of many overlapping cultures. Just behind Aghios Constantinos are the remnants of the Venetian castle built in 1260. And directly under the church are the ruins of a temple to Athena which was built in 525 B.C.
The massive temple was similar in size to the Portara, the ancient gate that dominates the harbour of Naxos chora, archaeologist Yannos Kourayios said, reached by phone in Athens.
Preservation of the Kastro should be a priority for everyone, because of its superb mix of architecture, from the ancient temples to the neo-classical nineteenth-century houses on the old market street, Kourayios said.
“The problem is, the government doesn’t have the money to do it,” he added.
A group that calls itself the Protectors of the Kastro is also part of the preservation campaign. As reported in the December/January issue of Paros Life, the group detailed its concerns in an open letter to local politicians as well as to Yiannis Rangoussis, the former mayor of Paros who is now minister of the Interior, Decentralisation & Electronic Governance.
The Kastro “protectors,” about 50 residents of the area, seek improved lighting and trash collection as well as zoning laws to preserve the area’s pristine appearance and authenticity. Among them is Dutch artist Wim Drion, who splits his time between Paros and Amsterdam.
“The Kastro area is one of our jewels,” Drion said, reached by phone in Amsterdam. “You can feel the magic. I get tears in my eyes when I see it falling apart.”
Drion wants the government to keep an inventory of archaeological objects that belong to the area and to prevent people from stealing old stones to use as foundations for a fireplace. He also supports the installation of information plaques that would explain the area’s history and the location of the ancient temples.
Other Kastro “protectors” are Ioannis Moschoutis and his wife Emanuela Patrocchi Moschoutis, who own a house steps away from Aghios Constantinos.
“We want the municipality to take more care to preserve the area,” Emanuela, an architect and interior designer, said in an interview in her office. “We have to remember that the tourists come here for the history and the architecture of the Cycladic islands.”
The city can help by giving residents guidelines about which colours and materials to use to preserve the area’s traditional image, according to Emanuela, who wants the municipality to impose stricter zoning laws. Instead of building with marble and slate and whitewashing the walls in the traditional style, some Kastro residents have begun installing aluminum doors and green tile balconies, this reporter noticed on a recent visit.
“If there’s no control of the colours and material used to build houses, the area will suffer aesthetically,” Emanuela said.
About 80 percent of Kastro residents are foreigners — Swiss, Austrians, Germans, Dutch and Americans who buy old houses and restore them, according to Ioannis Moschoutis, a native Parian. Given that foreign residents spend up to 2.5 million euros for their houses and live here up to six months of the year, it makes good business sense for them to get involved in the preservation movement, according to Apostolidis.
“They can either sit back and have an ouzo or they can participate to protect their investment,” said Apostolidis. “What we want is participation. If we don’t stand up for our rights, who will?”
According to a report in Foni tis Parou, the Town Council discussed the matter in November. They resolved to promote the Kastro as the symbol of Paroikia, to look after everyday problems such as lighting and cleanliness and to encourage co-operation between the Archaeological Service and the church.
Representatives of the “protectors” discussed their concerns with Mayor Christos Vlachoyiannis this winter. They hope the campaign will have an impact on the upcoming municipal elections.
“We need thinking people in the municipality who will make preservation a priority,” Emanuela Moschoutis said.
The proposed restoration project is expected to be discussed at the next meeting of the Town Council on 1 March, according to the Town Council’s meeting agenda.
—With translation assistance from Menios Apostolidis and Iris Papathanasiou.