In places with few residents, nicknames are extremely common. Patmos’ citizens tenderly call the architect Dafni Becket “Mylomama” (meaning the mother of querns). The reason for this nickname is because this Greek woman, who was a child of diaspora (from a mother who comes from Athens and an American dad, she grew up in Geneva) was the one who coordinated an international team of craftsmen and specialists of various fields, which realized a small achievement: the restoration of three querns in “Iera Moni.” These three querns are located in an eminent position in “Chora” and are historical monuments, as one of them was built in 1588. The design and the execution were done with such care, passion and adequacy, that the project won a prize in 2012 from Europa Nostra, the European Federation of Cultural Associations. This federation is a partner of the Greek Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage, which has fought for over 40 years in favor of the protection of our heritage and our landscape.
Like a Swiss clock
During the first weekend of June, a festival took place on the island in order to honor all who contributed to this achievement, especially Swiss Mr. Sarl Pikte. Mr. Pikte is a keen yachtsman and a member of a philhellene family (Eynards mother was a member of the Pikte family). This man, who works as a banker, used to watch the querns being devastated every time he visited the island. He made the decision to take the lead on their rescue, by mobilizing individuals and public bodies from Greece to assist in the effort. Despite the technical difficulties, everything went right, and today the querns work like Swiss clocks, making the local people proud.
The singularity of this restoration was not only the tight time schedule that was kept, but the fact that the traditional construction methods were combined with the modern technological knowledge in order to construct a new operational mechanism from scratch. Therefore, not only three beautiful architectural shells were restored, but they were also integrated into the service of the community. The first quern regularly produces flour with the traditional process. The second and the third one will produce electricity and water, thanks to some special patents. While on other islands many querns are used as bars or hotels, Patmos is a great example as it shows how a well organized operation may serve as a basis for tourism development. The ultimate purpose was to, once again, initiate wheat production, so that local grains would be ground instead of imported ones.
The most touching parts of the querns’ rebirth were the team spirit and the sense of innovation. The Swiss banker began a struggle, in which everybody participated, his Greek friends, Greek institutions, like the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation,” the Swiss and French architects Michel Rossier and Christian Laskaridis, the local boat-carpenter Giorgos Kamitsi, and the project supervisor Panagiotis Vrotelis. A restoration specialist, Zan Moro, also participated in the project, in addition to a millstone specialist, Nicola Bertou, engineers Panagiotis Plytas and Nikos Kampanis, with local crews coordinated by Ms. Becket. All these people spent numerous hours discovering the secrets of the old craftsmen and modern solutions. During the celebration, a 50 minute film was projected, called “Ta ftera tis Patmou” (meaning Patmos’ Wings), in which the sectional restoration was narrated. This film showed how difficult it was to construct the mechanism like they were in the past, with improvements of the modern technologies. (There was a funny part in the movie, that showed the first time that the querns were put into operation and everybody was applauding, but the team was worried about whether the makeshift brake would work in order to regulate the speed).
On The Way to Tradition
Let’s get back at the beginning of the story. Probably when Sarl Pikte was watching the querns abandoned and wrecked, he didn’t know their importance to the island and the local economy.
The truth is that these querns not only provided flour for the residents of Patmos for more than 400 years, but contributed to the effect of Iera Moni, which had its own ships and connected the island with the surrounding trade centers.
In a way, the monastery’ refulgence is holding until today. The houses in “Chora” (which is the capital on the islands), with the monument on the top are protected by UNESCO. The residents know that the place that they live in is one of unique beauty, and its tourist utilization is in progress, with slow, yet careful steps.
In response to the winning of the Europa Nostra prize, which was represented by the Secretary-General of the organization, Sneska Michailovits and the Federations’ vice-chairman Kosta Kara, the Greek Institution also presented a program regarding the designation of the island’s paths.
The most important part was not only the record and the signalling of the paths, but also their “adoption” by students of the island that have undertaken their care.
Just like the querns case, the paths revive a part of the tradition and at the same time, attract those tourists that love walking tourism.
In parallel, the award ceremony guests had the chance to see the completed restoration of a historical manor of the 19th century, Stavrakas’ House, which is next to the monastery. The initial donor was the A.G. Leventis Foundation.
Are there any similar restoration projects in the city you live?
The original article, published in Greek, can be found here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.