Greece's last bellmakers keep time-honored trade alive

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Greece's last bell maker
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Greece's last bell maker
Copper cables are seen before being melted in a cauldron at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Father Theodoros Zois, who bought six bells from the Galanopoulos brothers, prays inside his church in Igoumenitsa, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
The portrait of Fotis Galanopoulos, the late father of the Galanopoulos brothers, hangs on a wall in an office at the family's bell foundry, in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. Fotis Galanopoulos died in a car accident in 1974 and Thomas, the elder brother took over business at the age of 12. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Fotis Galanopoulos, 21, works on a small bell for animals at his family's bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Fotis Galanopoulos, 21, works on a small bell for animals at his family's bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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 
Thomas (L), 59, and Christos Galanopoulos, 55, prepare to clean a bell covered with sand at their bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. "More than half of our production goes abroad," said Thomas. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Almir Melishte, 46, wipes sweat off his face as he stands next to a blazing furnace at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Almir Melishte, 46, works on a bell clapper at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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 
Thomas Galanopoulos, 59, holds a cleaned bell at his family's bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 10, 2018. "You have to be nuts about this job to do it. It's not for everyone," Thomas said. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Thomas (R), 59, Christos Galanopoulos (back R), 55, and Fizmani Flakim, 49, cast melted metal in a bell mould at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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
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 
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 
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 
Melted metal alloy cools down inside bell moulds at the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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 
Sweat and sand are seen on Christos Galanopoulos' shirt as he 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 
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 
Bells hang outside the Galanopoulos bell foundry in Paramythia, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Bells made by the Galanopoulos family hang at the bell tower of a 14th century byzantine church in Paramythia, Greece, July 8, 2018. The top bell was cast by the Galanopoulos brothers and the bottom bell by their grandfather. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A bell is silhouetted as the sun sets near the town of Sivota, Greece, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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PARAMYTHIA, Greece, July 18 (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 molds of varying sizes.

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.

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.

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

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

For the brothers, the foundry is a labor 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."

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."

 

For a photo essay, click on: https://reut.rs/2NpHWfT

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

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