Greece’s Last Bellmakers Keep Time-Honoured Trade Alive

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The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
A bell is silhouetted as the sun sets near the town of Sivota, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
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By Karolina Tagaris
PARAMYTHIA, Greece (Reuters)

The silence blanketing the Greek plain is broken by the tinkle of a cowbell and the rumble of a blazing furnace

In one of Greece’s last remaining bell foundries in the small, western town of Paramythia, the Galanopoulos brothers are busy casting church bells heading to Ethiopia and Romania, pouring red-hot molten metal into moulds of varying sizes.

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Bells hang outside the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

Their family-run business has been around for 215 years. These days, exports keep it alive.

“More than half of our production goes abroad,” said Thomas Galanopoulos, 59, the elder of the two, wreathed in smoke rising from melting copper and tin.

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Flame rises from a furnace where metal alloy that will be cast in bell moulds is prepared, at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

At its peak, the foundry was producing 120 tonnes of bells a year for steeples across Greece, he said. Now, it’s down to 50 tonnes and their main customers are churches in the Balkans and Africa, while they also ship to Israel, Lebanon and Australia.

The Greek Orthodox Church permeates daily life in Greece, a country dotted with churches and chapels in even its most remote corners. But when the crisis hit, domestic demand collapsed.

 

 

The Church, not spared by the crisis, cut expenses to meet the rising costs of its soup kitchens and charities for the homeless and unemployed. Building or restoration work on churches often ceased. The faithful cut down on their private donations.

The Galanopoulos’s biggest bell, weighing 3.5 tonnes, hangs from a church in northern Greece. But those days are gone. The volatile commodities market made the bells too costly to produce at times. Six people now work in the foundry, down from nine.

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Christos Galanopoulos, 55, stirs metal alloy that will be cast in bell moulds at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. “There’s a moral satisfaction that comes with doing something your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did, your great, great-grandfather did,” Christos said. “It’s a job that I love and I never plan to abandon it.” REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

Still, the buzz of the foundry rarely stops. The craft, a painstaking process of mostly manual labour, has remained largely unchanged since the 12th century.

Christos Galanopoulos, 55, applies figures and inscriptions by hand, stencilling backwards. When they’re not casting bells, they’re tuning cowbells on a grindstone.

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Melted metal alloy cools down inside bell moulds at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

For the brothers, the foundry is a labour of love.

“You have to be nuts about this job to do it. It’s not for everyone,” said Thomas, who took over aged just 12 when their father suddenly died.

Christos, his shirt drenched with sweat from working over the furnace, smiled: “I spend more time here than at home. Even Sundays.”

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Christos Galanopoulos, 55, casts melted metal in a bell mould at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. “There’s a moral satisfaction that comes with doing something your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did, your great, great-grandfather did,” Christos said. “It’s a job that I love and I never plan to abandon it.” REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

His first bell from 40 years ago hangs in a church in town. Discarded bells engraved with the family name, some dating back to the 19th century, are stacked in the yard.

“There’s a moral satisfaction that comes with doing something your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did, your great, great-grandfather did,” Christos said.

“It’s a job that I love and I never plan to abandon it.”

 

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triantafyllou; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Melted metal alloy that will be cast in bell moulds is seen in a furnace at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Christos Galanopoulos, 55, engraves letters inside a bell mould at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. “There’s a moral satisfaction that comes with doing something your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did, your great, great-grandfather did,” Christos said. “It’s a job that I love and I never plan to abandon it.” REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
An engraving of crucified Jesus Christ is seen inside a bell mould at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Christos Galanopoulos, 55, casts melted metal in a bell mould at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. “There’s a moral satisfaction that comes with doing something your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did, your great, great-grandfather did,” Christos said. “It’s a job that I love and I never plan to abandon it.” REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

The Wider Image: Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honoured trade alive
Tools are spread on a working bench as a goat wearing a bell, made by the Galanopoulos brothers, makes its way outside the family’s bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

 

Keep reading (more images ahead) …

 

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