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Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-08-04

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From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Swiss seafarer's vision breathes life into Patmos windmills

  • [01] Swiss seafarer's vision breathes life into Patmos windmills

    ANA-MPA/It was a Saturday night, on July 10, on the island of Patmos when the meltemi (etesian) winds blew through the small country churches, up from the port of Skala to the hill of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian where, after 50 years of stillness, it breathed life again to the cloth-covered 'sails' (vanes) of Chora's three windmills. The windmills, after having served the island's community for nearly 400 years, were stilled in the late 1950s and gradually fell to ruin, like most of the windmills on the islands in the Aegean.ANA-MPA

    The windmills were repaired, and started operating again, thanks to the efforts of Swiss banker Charles Pictet who, while sailing the Aegean for years, was inspired and pledged to salvage the tradition of the windmills, a symbol of the Greek islands.

    Pictet, a banker and seafarer and a managing partner of the private Swiss bank Pictet et Cie, who for four decades has been devotedly visiting Greece, true to his family's philhellene spirit, gave life to the restoration of the windmills, which belong to the Monastery. With the blessings of the monastery's abbot and Patriarchal exarch Antipas and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the assistance of Greek donors and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the permit was finally issued by the urban planning services in November 2009.

    Charles Pictet himself wrote in October 2008, in the text of the agreement for the restoration of the three windmills: "For a family of seafarers, Greece is a paradise: the sea that surrounds it, its meltemi, its islands, its history and its culture, identify with total harmony. We had the luck and the privilege to discover it as a family, but also with friends, many years ago. In a show of tribute and with a sense of recognition, we pledged to provide whatever necessary to safeguard one of the very many symbols of Greece, the windmills."

    It was this harmony and morphological frugality of the Aegean landscape that was aspired to by the group of Swiss and Greek architects and engineers that undertook the project of the windmills' functional restoration.

    Coordinated by architect Daphne Becket, who was christened on Patmos and also desired the restoration of the windmills, a French millstone craftsman, Greek and Swiss millers, aerodynamics engineers from the University of Geneva, a Swiss sail manufacturer and many others worked together to repair the windmills' mechanisms. With them, local woodworker Giorgos Kamitsis undertook the most important part of the project, the construction of the wooden mechanical parts of the windmills' mechanisms.ANA-MPA

    The group studied the spirit and art of the old builders (economy of means, harmony in solutions), their techniques and operational wisdom, and sought modern-day means for the restoration of the windmills so that they would be true not only in form but also in spirit to the ancient windmills.

    The first of the three windmills, fitted with French millstones, once again grinds wheat into flour, operating in the summer as a living museum of traditional farming activities. The other two, similar to the first in appearance, have not been fitted with grinding mechanisms but with an electric system that regulates the speed of the sails.

    The inauguration of the renewed operation of the windmills was celebrated on July 10, at the grammar school in Chora, by a plethora of Greeks and Swiss, among them eminent businessmen and personalities, including Swiss Ambassador to Greece Paul Koller-Hauser, Greek deputy culture and tourism minister George Nikitiadis, transport, infrastructure and networks deputy minister Nikos Sifounakis, and noted travel writer and ruling PASOK MP Maya Tsokli.

    The monastery's abbot Antipas, officiating at the blessing during the inauguration, honored the Pictets with the Gold Cross of the monastery and a replica of the windmill, which contained home-made bread baked at the monastery. "I wanted to thank Greece for the 35 years of sailing bliss it has given me," said Pictet, who was declared an honorary resident of Patmos, as he turned over to the abbot the key to the windmills together with a sack of wheat from Switzerland for the first bread to be made from flour ground at the mill.

    Nikitiadis in turn conveyed the appreciation of prime minister George Papandreou to all the Greek and Swiss donors who assumed the cost of the renovation of the traditional windmills, stating: "The symbolism of the reoperation of the four mills is boundless for the Greek people. From wheat, we made flour with the mills which in turn gave us bread to eat in the hard years for your country."

    "After six years of study and hard work by foreign experts and local carpenters, with George Kamitsis and his team, we wanted to give a message and introduce the concept of a different kind of development," local municipal councilor Eleonora Schirlager told ANA-MPA, adding: "The reoperation of the mills is not only for ornamental purposes. Our aim is for the mills to function again, and for one of them to serve as a living museum with the production of products by the local women's cooperative on Patmos and with a 'small, symbolic' production of electricity by the other two windmills."

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