ATHENS – On a brilliant spring evening in Athens visitors from the United States, local guests, and Greek government officials and joined the leaders, friends and staff of The American School of Classical Studies at Athens to inaugurate new wing of ASCSA’s Gennadius Library, the latest in a long line of that venerable institution’s remarkable contributions to U.S. – Greece cultural relations and to classical, Byzantine, and modern Greek studies.
Apropos of the drama and romance represented by the hero of the Greek War of Independence and champion of constitutional government,Ioannis Makriyannis, for whom the wing is named, the program began with the “Salpinx Fanfare” composed and performed by Nikos Xanthoulis.
The project was funded by European Program NSRF, the Greek Ministry of Development and Competitiveness, the National Endowment Foundation for the Humanities, and the donations of many individuals, with Greek Americans and Philhellenes not least among them.
When Jennifer Neils, ASCSA’s director, welcomed the guests and thanked all who made that great day possible, especially the planning committee, she honored the Philhellenes by pointing to the moving words of the ancient Greek rhetorician Isocrates inscribed on the library’s facade: “Those are called Hellenes who are partakers of our culture(παιδεία).”
Maria Gerogopoulos, Director of the Library, echoed Neils’ thanks and described the Wing’s impact as “transformative” for the Library, whose core is magnificent collection of 70,000 volumes.
Speaking on behalf of his family and the Macricostas Family Foundation, whose gift was of great importance, George Macricostas explained their reverence for the general of 1821 by noting that his paternal grandmother was from Krokilia, near the birthplace of Ioannis Makriyannis in Central Greece.
An industrialist exceling in the Information Technology sector and the recently retired founder of a data management company, Macricostas expressed to The National Herald the happiness of his family – which also has roots in Asia Minor - for the opportunity to honor their hero in this unique way.
ASCSA “is the leading American teaching and research institution in Greece dedicated to the advanced study of all aspects of Greek culture, from antiquity to the present. The School remains, as its founders envisioned, a privately-funded, nonprofit educational and cultural institution,” according to a news release.
The Ioannis Makriyannis Wing includes an art gallery presenting visual exhibitions with free admission as well as open access bookshelves, seminars, and offices. A special exhibition “Ioannis Makriyannis: Vital Expression” is the inaugural exhibition of the new wing.
Geoffrey R. Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, began his greetings by proclaiming Georgopoulos “my favorite librarian” and by congratulating the Gennadius Library family and staff, who he said impressed him from the start with their pride and dedication to ASCSA’s mission.
Earlier Gerogopoulos offered a touching tribute to Overseer Irene Moscahlaidi, who passed away this year before she could experience the great day, but whose name now graces the Wing’s art gallery. She lived in New York and Athens, where she studied and worked as a nurse for the Red Cross. Her son Eric is president of Krinos foods, which was founded by her husband John.
The Ambassador said how “thrilled and happy” he was to be there because “ASCSA is the flagship of the American Educational presence in Greece…From you work in the Athenian Agora” - ASCSA was responsible for the magnificent restoration of the Stoa of Attalos and is currently in the process of a complete excavation of the Stoa Poikile, which lent its name to Stoic philosophy – “to your classrooms, your work constitutes a critical bridge between our two countries…a symbol of the enduring ties between the United States and Greece and of the debt all of us in the West owe the Hellenic World.”
Pyatt acknowledged the large delegation from the United States, led by George Orfanakos, ASCSA Executive Director, and expressed his appreciation for the contribution of the Greek American leadership to the deepening of U.S.- Greece relations.
The group from the U.S. included noted industrialist and financier, John Georges of Greenwich, CT, whose donation is reflected in the new George Family Courtyard. He told TNH he was motivated by the wish to honor his late wife of 62 years Lou (Zephera) Georges in a special way.
Andreas Zombanakis, Chairman of the Overseers of the Library, thanked Pyatt for his “kind and generous words.”
Alex Zagopreos, Chairman of ASCA’s Board, thanked the Macricostas family, Georges, and the Rothschild Foundation for their donations, and he emphasized the roles of the Prefecture of Attika and Greek Ministry of Culture, whose funds he called catalysts for the Wing, which was designed by K. Kyriakides Associates, Architects.
Receptions in the Costen and Leventis gardens preceded and followed the speaking program, but the event’s highlight was a masterful one-man-show by Yannis Simonides, whose wit and passion while reading from the famous Memoirs of Makriyannis brought the Greek hero to life.
The inaugural exhibition at the Wing is dedicated to Makriyannis (1797-1864) and comprises 24 paintings – commissioned by Makriyannis himself from the Spartan artist Panayotis Zographos - that illustrate episodes from the War of Independence of 1821. Included are archival materials related to the life and actions of General Makriyannis, as well as personal items.