Haris Kalligas, Director of the Gennadius Library from 1995 to 2004, died on September 24, 2023 at the age of 82. Her nine years as Director of the Library not only saw the renovation of the Gennadius and its surroundings, but also went far to shape the Library’s leading role in the intellectual and cultural life of Athens today.
Haris was born in Cairo but traced her family roots to Symi; she moved to Athens in 1954. She studied architecture at the National Technical University in Athens from 1959 through 1965 and the following year began a lifelong partnership with Alexander Kalligas as they began work restoring the houses of the fortified medieval city of Monemvasia. Their tireless efforts have resulted in the restoration of ninety buildings and the documentation of another seventy. Their work in architectural conservation and restoration earned them not only high praise from their scholarly colleagues but also a Europa Nostra medal for architectural restoration (in 1981), the first Greeks to win this award. Hardly limiting her interests to the bricks and mortar, Haris also engaged deeply with the archival and historical records of the city resulting in numerous books and articles; this work earned her a Ph.D. in Byzantine History from the University of London 1987. She and Alexander collaborated on numerous projects of architectural restoration not only at Monemvasia, their home, but also in Nauplion, Argos, Corfu, Venice and elsewhere. From 1998 through 2009 she organized annual conferences bringing scholars to Monemvasia. Her publications include the recent Monemvasia: A Byzantine City State (2010), an exceptionally accessible overview of the city’s history and architectural remains.
In 1995, the American School had recently received a matching grant from the Mellon Foundation for the position of Director of the Gennadius Library. Previous Directors had only served three-year terms, and while some, especially the late Beata Panagopoulou, had dramatically increased the visibility of the Library on the global stage, it seemed that a new approach was needed. And the building itself, its core dating back to 1926, needed repair and modernization. Haris was by then a highly respected scholar of Byzantine architecture and history and had vast experience fixing up old buildings. She also knew the Gennadius Library well, having joined the Philoi of the Gennadius Library and served as secretary (1982-1983). Little wonder then that her appointment was heralded with great optimism in the School’s newsletter of Fall 1995, “…the School has taken a major step in its goal of transforming the Library into an international study and research center for students and scholars of post-antique Hellenic civilization.”
Her impact on public outreach and programming was immediate. Clean Monday celebrations drew hundreds of visitors to the Gennadius gardens each year. Exhibitions included the Library’s Makriyannis paintings, the Lear watercolors, an exhibition honoring George Seferis, and, in 2001, an exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of the Gennadius Library itself. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dimitri Mitropoulos, the Gennadius began an annual tradition of presenting a Gennadius Library Bronze Medal for the Dimitri Mitropoulos International Competition in conducting. The many distinguished guests Haris welcomed to the Gennadius included then-Prince of Wales, now King Charles III.
On the academic front, her term as Director saw the resurrection of The Griffon as a periodical of the Gennadius library. Acquisitions included (among countless others) a 1481 edition of the Sermones of Saint Ephrem Syrus donated by Lloyd Cotsen; 16th century Greek school texts bound in France; and the Fasciculus Temporum (1480), a chronicle of world history finishing with the Turkish defeat at Rhodes in 1480. Under Haris’s guidance, the Library hosted conferences on, among other topics, Art and Technology in Latin Greece, Rich and Poor in the Latin East, and Byzantine Icons: Art, Technique and Technology.
Such accomplishments in leading the academic and outreach efforts of the Library, impressive as they were, pale in comparison to Haris’s accomplishments in fulfilling the mandate to “transform the Library” in a very concrete sense. Already in 1992, the School had begun planning a major renovation and modernization of the Gennadius and surrounding area. The Board of the Gennadius Library was created in 1995 to spearhead the fundraising for this project, and they were very successful. They were able to match a major grant from the NEH by 1997 such that Haris could begin the project, reviewing earlier plans and lining up an architectural firm. The Library closed February 5, 1999. A new sub-basement was dug below (within!) the Main Reading Room to house compact shelving for 60,000 books; the building was entirely re-wired, outfitted with new climate control and new insulation. The Library reopened on November 15, a mere nine-months later. From there, work shifted to the east and uphill where work began on Cotsen Hall. Plans were finalized in 2001, and shovels hit the ground February 9, 2002. By the time Haris finished her term as Director of the Library, June 30, 2004, Lloyd Cotsen could already walk through the nearly finished auditorium that would bear his name.
After this sojourn in Athens, Haris and Alexander returned full time to their work at Monemvasia. It was not all work, of course. Haris’s paintings have been shown in four exhibitions; her poetry fills two published volumes; and the octopuses of the waters near Monemvasia inspired a cookbook coauthored with Alexander.
Through her lifetime spent studying, restoring and caring for the architecture and history of Monemvasia and many other sites of Medieval Greece, and her exceptional nine years transforming the Gennadius Library, Haris Kalligas made an immense and lasting contribution to the preservation and understanding of Greece’s cultural heritage. To her husband, Alexander, son, George, and the entire family; to the countless friends and colleagues whom she welcomed to conferences at Monemvasia; and to the many colleagues on Souidias street who worked alongside Haris to transform the Gennadius Library, we offer deepest condolences.