Following the Water

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, Tony Baragona describes the investigation of the movement of water at Moni Perivolis.

Michael Devonshire, our professor at Columbia University, and I started by drawing the exterior of the church building and its site. Our purpose was to study how water moves around the site and the exterior of the church, since water intrusion is a potential cause of the deterioration of the wall paintings in the interior. With help from the rest of our team, we looked at many potential sources of water intrusion into the building: roof leakage, poor surface drainage of the courtyard, "rising damp" - or groundwater soaking up the walls and into the building - and a terraced area immediately adjacent to the apse, which may act to divert a subterranean creek.

After some investigation we discovered that the roof is of modern construction and is completely water-tight. Surface drainage of the courtyard is accomplished by an ingenious method of aligning tightly placed paving stones into narrow channels. When Vangelis, the caretaker of the monastery, used a hose to water the plants we were able to observe that this traditional system functions perfectly, routing water around the church and into a drainage channel through holes in the walls of the compound. We saw this traditional system in every village that we visited on Lesvos. We became more concerned with the exterior bench that runs along the south, west, and north walls. Damage to the wall paintings on the interior corresponds to the height of this exterior bench, and the team theorized that rising damp is being trapped inside. Also, the raised area to the east of the building was thought to be trapping water against the church, damaging the wall paintings in that area. Our recommendations for future interventions to the church will focus on mitigating these two conditions.

The monastery's location in a deep valley makes "Following the Water" particularly important. Yet, it is a cool and breezy place, with plenty of shade from tall pine, plane, and cypress trees, with a spring and a lazy stream nearby. This makes it an enjoyable spot to work in, and an ideal spot for the self-reflection and study that is a large part of monastic life. Ourselves, we were able to enjoy Greek coffee offered daily by Vangelis in this beautiful courtyard, the best Greek coffee we had during our stay in Greece.