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Homage to lighthouses October 25, 2007

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Exhibition in Thessaloniki’s port on aspect of maritime heritage

The Megalo Emvolo lighthouse in Angelohori, Thessaloniki and the Cape Tenaro lighthouse, which sits atop the southernmost cape on mainland Greece, are displayed in pictures. An exhibition in the city’s port shows their history and technology. Very few of the country’s lighthouses are still manned by keepers.

They have always been a part of a maritime nation’s history and architecture, identified with the most inaccessible coastlines and complete isolation, and sometimes viewed with nostalgia and romanticism. Lighthouses are part and parcel of the history of shipping as well as of Greece’s cultural heritage.

A survey by Thessaloniki University’s building materials laboratory has highlighted aspects of that tradition, from the first fires that were lit to show ships the way around the most dangerous capes on historic European sea routes and, later, their transformation into signposts for shipping from the 17th century right up until the establishment of the lighthouse network.

In Greek waters, lighthouses have dotted the Aegean archipelago and Crete since 1650. The first to be built under the modern Greek state was at the entrance to the port of Aegina in 1829, when Ioannis Capodistrias declared Aegina the capital of the Greek state. In 1887, the Lighthouse Service was established.

Today about 1,399 of them are dotted around the country’s 15,000-kilometer coastline. Most of them are now automatically illuminated, but 57 are still monitored by lighthouse keepers. Of the 116 that are stone structures, 25 have been listed by the Culture Ministry.

A European Union program titled “EC Pharos: Holistic Strategy for the Preservation, Restoration and Integration in the Life of Modern Societies of Old European Masonry Lighthouses (2004-2007)” included case studies by four European member states of a lighthouse in each of their countries, the Utsira lighthouse in Norway, Happisburgh in Britain, Cervia and Rimini in Italy and Paphos in Cyprus. Thessaloniki University studied the Megalo Emvolo lighthouse at Angelohori, Thessaloniki.

“This survey produced a wealth of valuable material on the lighthouses, the part they have played in shipping, the problems faced today and the potential for developing them as monuments of cultural heritage within the current environment, without losing sight of their symbolic value,” said Professor Ioanna Papayianni, head of the laboratory and coordinator of the project.

Part of that material is included in an exhibition titled “Masonry Lighthouses: From Yesterday to Today” at Thessaloniki harbor’s Warehouse 3. The exhibition looks at historic lighthouses, their development through history, various types of structures, lighthouse systems, tales told by lighthouse keepers and efforts to preserve these buildings.


Landmarks of New York City October 25, 2007

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Exhibition at the Hellenic American Union highlights the metropolis’s innovative construction history

If buildings reflect a city’s wealth and ambition, New York’s construction record shows solid and grand vision. What defines the city and all that it stands for? The Statue of Liberty was constructed between 1875 and 1886; spanning the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge was erected from 1867 to 1883, and became an ideal setting for Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opened in 1880, has been in constant development ever since; St Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States; New York state’s oldest building is the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, a wooden construction from before 1641.

“Landmarks of New York,” an exhibition currently on display at the Hellenic American Union in Athens, showcases 81 black-and-white photographs of well- and lesser-known buildings, all designated landmarks. Displayed in chronological order, the show demonstrates the sensational city’s development from farming community to high-energy metropolis. Complementing the Athens exhibition is a series of short documentaries from the archives of the Library of Congress and an educational program for children.

“Every building has been constructed for some purpose, to house a business, a product, an idea, express one’s vanity, house one’s family,” said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the curator of the exhibition. “Every building does have a story, commercial or residential.”

Diamonstein-Spielvogel is intrinsically linked to the city’s construction history. The longest-term commissioner to have served on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (from 1972 to 1987), after that (to 1995) she served as chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Foundation. She is also the author of 19 books, as well as a reporter and a producer.

With the New York City Landmark Preservation Law, passed in 1965, as of September 27 of this year New York counts 1,110 individually designated landmarks and 110 designated interior landmarks in the city’s 84 historic districts, figures representing 2 percent of properties in all of the city’s five boroughs.

Strict rules apply to buildings to qualify, to begin with, the construction under question must be at least 30 years old. There are landmark commissioners and, often heated, public hearings. While designated buildings receive no financial support from the state, there are increasing requests for some kind of tax benefits.

At the Hellenic American Union, the photographs highlight architectural silhouettes as well as the whimsical atmosphere of New York and its merry insomnia. There’s life in the city: A building at 151 Avenue B where Charlie Parker took over the ground floor in 1950 for four years; the 19th (formerly the 25th) Precinct Police Station House, standing between Lexington Avenue and Third during 1886-87 and a rare example of the work of architect Nathaniel D. Bush; the elegance in the townhouse belonging to James Hampden and Cornelia Van Rensselaer Robb, designed by Stanford White; the public utility of the Croton Aqueduct, West 119th Street Gatehouse, an example of the first major municipal water system in the country; the legacy of great Americans: Scotland-born Andrew Carnegie, the self-made industrialist and philanthropist whose Carnegie Hall (constructed beginning in 1889) hosts the world’s top musicians, starting with Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, its first official guest in 1891; the luxury and high art of living at the Plaza Hotel, which was inspired by the French Renaissance chateau and erected in 1907.

From the Empire State Building, which defined the city’s new heights as the tallest building in 1931, it was overtaken by the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1970, until 2001, and other jewels such as the art deco Chrysler Building, designed by William Van Alen, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, the only building designed in New York by the celebrated architect in collaboration with Philip Johnson, New York continues its pioneering journey.

“I think it’s the golden age of New York right now. More internationally known architects are building there now than they ever have,” said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Thanks to the prosperity of the last two decades, the dominance of the financial markets and the diversity of the population, New York she said, “is an international university on a daily basis.”

In this vibrating financial and cultural capital, where the tragedy of 9/11 gave new impetus to the idea of community unity, the landmark factor has also played its own role in the transformation of neighborhoods.

“We are each of us only temporary custodians of all we possess,” said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. “We have inherited the past and we hold it in trust for those who will come in the future. It is a public trust that we are honored to protect.”

Hellenic American Union, 22 Massalias Street, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210 3680000. To November 3. Nearest metro station “Panepistimio”.

UEFA Cup group play starts for Greek FC’s October 25, 2007

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Four of five Greek qualifiers commence their campaigns tonight

Coach Jose Peseiro of Panathinaikos told a news conference yesterday that he expected his team to maintain the unbeaten record of Greek clubs at home against Scottish opposition. The Athens club greets Aberdeen tonight in the Scottish club’s 100th UEFA Cup game.

Four of Greece’s five qualifiers for UEFA Cup group competition begin their quests tonight. AEK, the Greek Super League’s front-runner with five wins from as many games, is hosted by Swedish club Elfsborg in Group C. The Athens club will be without Rivaldo and Akis Zikos, both recovering from slight injuries.

With one round remaining in the Swedish league, Elfsborg lies fifth, nine points behind co-leaders Gothenburg and Djurgarden. On its previous visit to Sweden, back in the 1999-2000 season, AEK was deprived of a Champions League group place by AIK Solna, a 1-0 winner at home following a scoreless draw in Athens.

Encouraged by a 2-0 win at Veria last weekend for a rise to third place in the Super League, five points behind leader AEK, Panathinaikos hosts Scottish club Aberdeen early tonight. The Group B game will be the first encounter between the two sides in European competition.

No Scottish club has won a game in Greece in seven previous encounters between sides from the two countries, but Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Papadopoulos appeared to disregard this past record in his pre-match comments.

“All sides are tough, especially Scottish and English clubs, because they play with speed and power. The Scottish national team is doing very well. This will be a difficult match for us,” Papadopoulos said about Aberdeen, playing its 100th game in UEFA Cup competition tonight.

Larissa is hosted by Everton in a Group A fixture and Panionios is greeted by Sweden’s Helsingborg in Group H. Drawn in Group F, Greece’s other UEFA Cup contestant Aris has a bye.

Wins for both PAO and Aris October 25, 2007

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European Champions Panathinaikos began the new Euroleague season with a close 86-83 win over visiting Lottomatica Roma in a Group C game after overcoming a subdued start and surviving a tight finale.

At home, Thessaloniki team Aris defeated Spain’s Unicaja 87-83.

Olympiakos, Greece’s other Euroleague contestant, begins its quest tonight at home against Tau Ceramica. The pair met in the quarterfinal playoffs last season with Tau beating Olympiakos 2-1 to advance to the Final Four.

The Piraeus team’s squad, featuring 11 new faces, is still working to find its rhythm, said coach Pini Gershon, who will be without Panos Vassilopoulos, injured, and the overweight Sofoklis Schortsianitis, still battling to shed kilos.

Cyprus biofuel hiccup October 25, 2007

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Cyprus’ haste to adopt European Union tax regulations could see the island’s only biofuel producer relocate to Greece because of a legislative muddle on whether the commodity should be taxed.

Cyprus is already lagging behind its EU peers in consumption of biodiesel. Europe-wide, the consumption target was 2 percent in 2005, and is to rise to 5.75 percent in 2010. In Cyprus’s case, there is a national consumption target of 1 percent.

The island’s only licensed biofuel producer is now in court because lawmakers failed to exempt the commodity from excise tax in a broad-based review of pricing structures on diesel prior to Cyprus joining the European Union in 2004.

“After EU accession in 2004, the authorities raided my production premises, demanding a certain amount for unpaid excise taxes, VAT on the unpaid excise taxes and a fine, plus interest,” said Demetris Lordos, director of Environmental Energy Ltd, a production plant based in the southern town of Limassol. Production from the facility, which recycles cooking oil collected from hotels and restaurants, amounts to 300 tons of biodiesel a year.

Officials acknowledge that the company fell foul of the haste to change subsidy laws. For decades, diesel was subsidized at the expense of petrol and largely spared taxation as part of the island’s agricultural policy.

However, when lawmakers were introducing EU-harmonized excise taxes on fuel, they failed to exclude biofuels, in contradiction to stated policy, resulting in the product getting the same tax treatment as mineral diesel. The discrepancy is about to be phased out but will only apply to an exemption of tax on transport diesel. Inferior-grade heating diesel produced at Lordos’s facility will continue to be taxed, but at a lower coefficient, officials said.

“We saw that the law had flaws and we decided to correct it,” a customs official said, referring to the legislation, which is about to come into force. “But when customs finds out that taxes were not paid, it has to treat the case as an offense… We have no right to refrain from seeking payment of these taxes,” the official said.

Lordos has appealed his fine at the island’s supreme court and the case is pending. He says authorities’ conditions for the production of biofuel is making the business unviable and is considering his relocation to Greece.

“The law prescribes that biofuel has to be produced in a strict bonded regime. But this also involves an extra daily cost of 200 Cyprus pounds (US$488) for the producer… For a small producer with a daily output of 2,000 liters of biodiesel, this translate into a cost of 10 cents per liter. So, if the state is intending to support production, why is it then imposing such requirements that make production unviable?” he said.

Petrol sold lags in quality and quantity October 25, 2007

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Eight out of 10 gas station owners have been found to be tampering with petrol pumps.

The quality of fuel in Greece remains dubious, a new survey by the Fuel and Lubricants Technology Laboratory of the National Technical University of Athens shows.

Titled “Quality of Fuel in Greece – Current Situation and Development through Time” the survey tested 599 samples from 16 companies and 402 gas stations in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Iraklion.

The instances of “problematic diesel samples” were seven times more than last year (10.3 percent in 2007 against 1.5 percent in 2006). Extreme samples including more sulfur than allowed occurred in 4.7 percent of samples, against none last year.

“This year we have collected the worst diesel samples, which included sulfur at 70 times above standards; it was actually from one of the major companies, too,” said Professor Stamos Stournas, the head of the laboratory, who presented the survey yesterday.

Researchers also found that the adulteration of unleaded and super-unleaded gasoline has grown considerably from last year: Adulterated samples of unleaded gasoline increased from 1.1 percent to 8.3 percent and those of super-unleaded from 2.8 percent to 4.6 percent.

The survey was also commissioned by the Association of Oil Trading Companies in Greece (SEEPE), which objected to the findings showing that eight out of 10 gas stations rob consumers at filling points. The laboratory used a new method to make the calculation of fuel sold, based on mass and not volume because “mass is 1,000 times more precise,” according to Stournas.

“Conservative estimates show that Greek consumers pay for 50 million liters of gasoline that they never get, with about 30 million of them evaporating,” added Stournas. SEPEE General Director Andreas Petrianidis called for more checks at gas stations.

Greeks enjoy cheapest European power bills October 25, 2007

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Energy market competition does not necessarily lead to low prices for consumers, partly because a lot of the costs of lighting their homes or fueling their cars is due to tax.

Greek householders enjoy the cheapest power in Europe, although there is one big supplier, while Danish consumers pay the most for their electricity despite being able to choose from a number of companies, according to European Union data.

Consumers in the United Kingdom, one of the most liberalized markets in Europe, enjoy the second-cheapest electricity after Greece and the cheapest power in Western Europe, when prices are adjusted to account for purchasing power. In terms of purchasing power parity, a typical residential consumer of 100 kWh pays 8.01 euros in Greece, 9.05 euros in the UK and 24.48 euros in Slovakia, the most expensive EU country for electricity consumers.