Boulouki at the Bridge – a review

By October 7, 2018Uncategorized
“But even if stones are movable, relationships established between stones and men are not so easily altered. . (…) Now suppose these houses and streets are demolished or their appearance and layout are altered. The stones and other materials will not object, but the groups will. This resistance, if not in the stones themselves, at least arises out of their long-standing relationships with these groups.”
Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory

The twelve-day Stone Masonry Workshop “Boulouki at the Bridge” was held at the village of Plaka in Tzoumerka, between the 20th and 31st of August 2018. “Boulouki” team, in collaboration with the Metsovion Interdisciplinary Research Center (M.I.R.C.) and the Municipality of North Tzoumerka, under the aegis of the Region of Epirus, organised this workshop, whose scope was to bring together young professionals from fields related to the built environment (craftsmen, engineers, artists) in a systematic approach of the traditional knowledge concerning stone. At the same time, in more general terms, the intention of the workshop is to contribute to the study of the traditional building techniques as a current gnostic field, orientated -apart from the conservation and documentation- towards their integration into  the contemporary practices.

Prompted by the historic Plaka Bridge, whose presence is a characteristic attribute of the area, the workshop focused on the three basic structural parts of a stone bridge: the arch, the wall and the cobbled walking path, which respond to three different building techniques, that are, also, to be found in more vernacular structures and building types, other than bridges.

Experienced and acknowledged masons from the area of Tzoumerka were the leaders of the practical training. Christos Tsekas from Raftanaioi, Pavlos Vichas from Ktistades, Kostas Pliakopanos from Monolithi, Charis Mpoumpougiannis from Michalitsi, Giorgos Triantafyllos from Graikiko, Dimitris and Kostas Photis from Koukoulia, Nikos Manthos from Platanousa and Dimitris Georgoulis from Chouliarades, as well as Kostas Tarnanas, who came from Pentalofo of Kozani, were our collaborators. While, Kostas Stavroulas from Pramanta, Charilaos Koniaris from Michalitsi, Giorgos Merantzas from Tsopela, Christos Mpriasoulis from Ktistades and more, demonstrated their art, being some of the most experienced older local masons to be alive today.

The teaching of and practice on these three techniques was the main focus of the workshop. The works took place along the old pathway which leads to the historic bridge. Our goal concerning the practical training was to restore the pathway according to the original structure, which was to be found at only some parts. From another point of view, having chosen the pathway as the backbone of the workshop, we attempted to engage with the “structure of the place”; through which and “on which” we decided to create a project, whose requirements would set the pace of our work, a project according to which we would judge the results of our efforts and which we would finally hand in to the place and its people.

In this direction, the preparation and the cleaning up of part of the pathway, was attempted to happen in the form of a mintati, meaning with the participation of the local community. Mintati is a word -between others in Epirus and the rest of Greece-, which referes to the practices of mutual support through which the local communities used to respond collectively to the individual needs of their members. After the work area was cleaned and prepared, it was divided into three parts, each one of which was dedicated to one of the three different techniques. In this manner, and while the participants were working under the instructions of the masons for two days on each one, some destroyed parts of the existing walls were restored, as well as part of the traditional cobbled pathway, while a newer temporary structure, which allowed the water flow towards the fields, was replaced with a small arched bridge.

Futhermore, the workshop’s program was supported by a series of lectures of theoretical and technical content, given by acclaimed scholars and professionals from the fields of restoration and cultural management. The lectures were scheduled to take place on the first and last days of the workshop and were held at the cultural space of the Mouhousti Monastery.

The talks, which are presented here in short, are just an indication of the variety of issues that were discussed and of the diverse backgrounds of our collaborators.

D. Kaliampakos, professor at the Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering of NTUA and Director of M.I.R.C., gave a talk on the research concerning the development of mountain regions, which is, also, the objective of the relevant master’s program of the NTUA, and about the critical decisions that had to be made for the restoration of the Plaka Bridge by the team of scientists in charge. S.Mamaloukos, associate professor of Architectural History at the University of Patras, made an in depth presentation of the role of stonework in vernacular architecture, using examples from all over Greece. He was, also, our main guide during the trip we did on the same day to places of cultural and architectonic interest, like the Politsa bridge and the settlements of Pramanta, Melisourgoi and Fortosi. G.Smyris, assistant professor of Architectural History at the University of Ioannina, dedicated one of his talks in the importance of knowing a place and its local materials, as a means to avoid the pathogenies that characterise the greek built environment today. In the other, he presented the first phase of the construction process of the new foundations of the Plaka Bridge, from a constructional and organisational standpoint, since he was the head engineer of the works. D.Baxter, European Projects Director of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), talked about the mechanics of arched structures and described the ongoing initiative to restore the Bánffy Castle in Romania, while training students and local craftsmen. On the next day, he gave two talks about the properties of lime and lime mortars and coordinated a demonstration of the hydration process of lime and the preparation of various mortars. Representatives of the Eco-museum Zagori presented their work, and more specifically referred to the acknowledgement of dry stone landscapes as cultural landscapes and their promotion as cultural routes. Lastly, the first series of lectures ended with a talk by Th.Papagiannis, a sculptor and emeritus professor of sculpture at the ASFA, with regard to the role that his experience of working with stone masons played in his work, and focused on the masons’ world in general, as a universe of qualities that constitute a source of inspiration and direction for the contemporary practice. He also, welcomed and gave a tour to the participants who visited the Museum of Contemporary Art that is named after him, in Elliniko village. On the same day we visited the Monastery of Tsouka, one of the most important monasteries of Epirus that was built in 1190 A.D.

On Friday the 31st of August, and after wrapping up the works on site the day before, the workshop returned to the Mouhousti Monastery. E.Mamani, an architect and vice director of the Albanian department of the international organisation Cultural Heritage without Borders, presented the organisation’s activities of the last couple of decades around the Balkan area and explained the ways through which cultural heritage can become a platform of sustainable development for the local communities. V.Gkaniatsas, professor of Architectural design and History & Theory of Architecture in NTUA, gave a talk on craftsmanship as a distinctive kind of knowledge, while thoroughly developing the philosophic-epistemic approaches that support this concept. V.Nitsiakos, professor of Folklore studies at the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Ioannina, analysed the historical appearance of masons from Epirus, as a result of the transformation of the local economy from farming self-sufficiency to technical expertise. In the end, M.Korres, emeritus professor of History of Architecture in NTUA, referred to the contribution of NTUA in the study of the restoration of the Plaka Bridge and presented a systematic review of bridges and   bridge building from the ancient times until the Renaissance. He concluded by narrating a story accompanied by original drawings and thoughts on matters of memory and place.

From our side, as a Travelling Workshop for the Traditional Building Techniques, we could say, that the reference point for this effort has been the common belief, that the traditional techniques have an important role to play in the interpretation and the dealing with the manifold crisis which characterises the greek built environment for many decades already. Although probably unnecessary, it is worth mentioning, that the focus around traditional techniques does not mean the adoption of a pictorial approach of tradition, which is in a way the other face of the abandonment of traditional settlements. Very briefly, the focus on the techniques, means an attempt to find an alternative way of thinking, a different stance against the “how”, but also the “why” of the production of space. In short, the revaluation of the knowledge of the craftsman and the investigation of the present state of being of the manual practices, automatically means the questioning of the current grid of ideas and ideals, through which our cities are built, and, which, also, support its reproduction.

While the Stone Masonry Workshop has come to an end and we, organisers and collaborators, speakers and participants, have returned home, which for most of us is an urban center, what we are confident to say is that the days by the Bridge have filled us with optimism. Since we were assured that there is actually a respectable number of people with similar ideas and expectations. From this point of view, the boulouki that was formed for those twelve days at the old pathway is a proof that there is actually an authentic, contemporary and progressive interest for the places, the local traditions and the traditional knowledge. With the people that we got to know in August and with others that we anticipate to meet in the future, we will meet again, around thοse who carry the knowledge, meaning the masons and their work.


Boulouki Team, September 2018