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Exploring the Churches of Lesvos

This summer, three students in Historic Preservation from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation are conducting a conservation study for Moni Perivolis, a historic convent on the island of Lesvos, Greece, and 11 other churches on the same island that were included in the World Monuments Watch in 2008 and 2010. Below, Alison LaFever describes the field examination of the condition of these other monuments:

In addition to Moni Perivolis, we visited and examined 11 other churches to help prioritize conservation needs. These monuments included village churches, monastery churches, and excavated Early Christian sites. The structures dated from the 5th to the 19th centuries. They were located across Lesvos, and our site visits provided us with a great opportunity to explore the island.

Even though each site we visited was unique, we found that several churches, despite differences in age and style, had similar conditions, and were often suffering from the effects of aging and failing earlier alterations or repairs, completed using materials incompatible with the original construction. Many of the most damaging of these interventions have taken place recently, when hard cement mortar was used to repoint the stone masonry, instead of the traditional lime mortar with brick dust that was commonly used on the island. This modern material is problematic, because it is very hard and prevents moisture from evaporating from the thick masonry walls. Damp interiors were also common, as was wood deterioration from the action of insects. At some churches such as the Graveyard Church of Moni Ypsilou, the Metamorphosi Soteros Church in Papiana, and the Agios Georgios Church in Anemotia, gauze has been added to keep the surviving 16th and 17th-century paintings intact, as persistent damp conditions in the walls have caused the erosion of the painted surfaces.

The last site we visited, the Katholikon of Moni Taxiarchon near Kato Tritos, stood out as one of the most picturesque of all the churches and sites we saw. It is located at the top of a hill outside the small village of Kato Tritos, and it is reached by a steep dirt road that winds through an enchanting terraced olive grove. From this site there is a gorgeous view of the island's hills rolling toward the water, a stunning backdrop for the small, 16th century stone church. The beauty of this church's setting paired with its cultural and historic significance embodies the richness of the architectural treasures of Lesvos that we as students were honored to experience.