The story of Hellenism in Alexandria goes back more than two millennia and starts by the placement of the foundation stone in 331 BC by Alexander the Great. The presence of the Greek element through time is sometimes leading and sometimes less. In later years it becomes the “Favorite City” of our great poet C.P. Cavafy, the space and the past of Hellenistic time in most of his historical poems. In the neighborhoods of the same state unfolds the plot of the Bat, the third book of the trilogy “Drifting States” of Stratis Tsirkas. “What summed up the word thyself: Alexandria? … Five races, five languages, a dozen religions, five fleets slot the waters…And only the Greek demotic seems to stand out…” writes Lawrence Durrell.
The presence of Greeks in Alexandria, is still evident and characteristic. In the city the eye of the traveler falls into shops with Greek names, in prestigious neoclassical buildings of Greek architects, in street names or even entire neighborhoods. Most of the Europeans and especially the Greeks arrived in Alexandria in the 18th century and intensified in the 19th, during the government of Mohamed Ali, who was a reformer of the country and founder of modern Egypt. It is then, shortly after the Greek revolution, which starts a growing wave of immigration to Alexandria and begins the period of the so-called European and cosmopolitan history of the city. The port, main hub of the country, is one of the greatest and most famous ports in the Mediterranean. The Greeks excelled in countless economic sectors, such as cultivation, the invention of the most important varieties, production, processing and trade of cotton, tobacco and grain, the beverage industry, the financial sector, as well as a multitude of economic and commercial activities. The Community members kept most of the shops, restaurants, theater and cinemas, nightclubs, hotels, greengrocers, grocers, baker, pastry shops, print shops, photo studios, and many workers worked in various projects for the building of the city. In the early twentieth century the number of Greeks in Alexandria exceeded the one hundred and twenty thousand. The Greek community was the largest foreign community in Alexandria at the time. Its members had a large number of clubs, sports clubs, groups of artistic activities, literary publications.
The Greeks distinguished particularly in literature, the visual arts and in many scientific fields (medicine, pharmacology, agronomy, architecture, etc.). As the Community continued to grow, the need to be organized with appropriate institutions arose.
The pioneers and great benefactors of Hellenism of Alexandria, for example the Tositsa family, arrange to build in 1830 the first Greek hospital, called “Hospital of the Greeks”, on private land of M.Tositsa. At about the same time and region it was founded the first Greek Community School. All buildings are located near the monastery of St. Sava.
On April 25, 1843 on the initiative of the first Consul General of Greece Michael Tositsa (Tositza) founded the Greek Community of Alexandria, which was called “The Greek-Egyptian Community of Alexandra”. In 1888 renamed to “Greek Community in Alexandria.” The offices initially were housed in a private property on the street Mosque Attarin.
With donations of M. Tositsa and his brothers, the Community acquires in a short time all institutions, which deemed necessary to serve the needs and the preservation of national and religious morale of its members. As emigration to Alexandria grows one more school founded in 1853.
That school is the “Tositsaia”. The new institution had school for boys and girls and worked for 114 years. Its building today houses the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. In 1847 Tositsas donated the land to built the first Community Church, the “Church of Evangelismos”. The primary concern was to secure an area in Alexandria to build a cemetery.
Muhammad Ali gave to the Orthodox Greeks special plot, which they expanded in 1853 with the purchase of additional land in the area where today is the Greek cemetery. As the finances of the Community grew its various activities and charitable offerings spread out. It became an example for all other Greek communities in Egypt, the Middle East and the whole of Africa. In 1854 the diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey discontinued, due to the Greek attitude to the Russo-Turkish war that had broken out a year ago. Tositsas and with him many Greeks were forced to leave Egypt.
In 1854 the reins of the Greek Community of Alexandria takes Count Stephanos Zizinias. On March 25, 1856 he inaugurated the glorious Community Church Evamgelismos, which is still operating.
The presidents who succeeded him are Dimitris Rizos (1857-1862), Konstantinos Charalambis (1862-1863), Sophocles Konstantinidis (1863-1871) and Theodoros Rallis (1871-1885). All of them took care to maintain the benefaction of the community. One of the great works of the period was the establishment of the new hospital, «St. Sophronius». The hospital was closely connected with the Greeks of Alexandria. In this the German doctor R. Koch, with the help of the Greek physicians Kartoulis and Valasopoulos, discovered the bacterium of cholera during the epidemic that broke out in 1883, a fact that helped in the preparation of vaccine against the disease. In this hospital he was hospitalized and left his last breath Constantine P. Cavafy on the day of his birthday, April 29, 1933.
One of the greater periods of prosperity is that of the presidency of George Averof (1885-1899), who devoted his life to benefaction both to Greece and to the Community of Alexandria. In 1878 he founded the notorious Community High School called “Averofeio High School”, that it still works. Greek children of Alexandria had multiplied considerably, thus the already existing schools were not sufficient. Thus one more school, the prestigious neoclassical “Averofeio School for Girls” builted with money of George Averof. The school operated until 1963, when due to the shrinkage of Hellenism and the lack of students, was given to the Greek state, and today houses the “Greek Chamber of Commerce” and the “Greek Culture Foundation, Annex of Alexandria”. Equally important and memorable is the donations of Averof to Greece. His generosity was immense and he was declared national benefactor. The Technical University, which began with money by the Alexandrians Tositsas and Stournaras, completed by Averof. Averof also funded the establishment of the Military Academy, the children’s prison in Athens and a rural school in Larissa. He donated large sums and plots in Metsovo municipality and sponsored the “Athens Conservatory”. He also offered one million drachmas for the reconstruction of the Panathenaic stadium, where the Olympic Games were revived. With his own donations it was bought the legendary cruiser and flagship of the Greek fleet “Averof”, which was honored with his name and this, in turn, honored him in the history of Greece. The early 20th century found the Greeks of Alexandria to number around 150,000 and the level of economic, social and cultural life was much higher than that prevailing in Greece.
Constantine Salvagos (1900-1901), one of the founders of the National Bank of Egypt, from Chios, succeeded Averof to the presidency of the community. He was a major player in world trade and an important personality in the cosmopolitan society of Alexandria. The presidency of Salvagos was short because he died suddenly in 1901.
Emmanuel Benakis (1901-1911), from Syros, cotton trader and founder of the world famous company “Choremis – Benakis”, succeeded Salvagos to the presidency of the community. During the presidency of Benakis the offices of Community moved into the Greek Quarter at «Chatby». This is now the so-called the “Greek quarter”, where still preserved the offices of the Greek Community. The Salvagos family started building the Greek Quarter at «Chatby» in memory of Constantine Salvagos. In 1906 it was founded the “Salvagos Commercial School”, which was the great vision of Averof. “Salvagos Commercial School” became a commercial college and worked until 1972. In 1907 “Zervoudakeios School” merged with the “Averofeio male-female high school” and the commercial department for girls. Two new schools also established the “Senior Girls School” and the School for dressmakers. In 1908 Benakis founded the “Benaki Community Common Meal” to serve the needs of the community’s needy. In 1909 Emmanuel Benakis and his wife Virginia, founded the “Benaki Orphanage for Girls”, located in the Greek Quarter at «Chatby». The Orphanage was closed in 1970. From 1972 the building houses the Greek Consulate General in Alexandria.
During the Benaki presidency «Tositsaia» school was repaired and the hospital was upgraded to include ophthalmology, pathology, departments of infectious diseases, and first aid and hospital school. Benakis pioneered the strengthening of the Macedonian struggle. King George congratulated and thanked the Greek Community of Alexandria for its contribution and assistance to the Greek nation. The Greeks of Alexandria in many ways expressed their sympathy to national issues and their help to victims of earthquakes and all sorts of disasters.
In 1911 Benakis resigned from the presidency and returned to Greece to devote himself to the service of his country. He served as Minister of Agriculture and Mayor of Athens.
Antonis Benakis, son of Emmanuel, founded the Greek Boy Scouts and the Scouts of Egypt. Later he moved to Athens, where after the death of his father, donated the family villa to the Greek state. That villa now houses the Benaki Museum in Athens. Penelope, daughter of Emmanuel Benakis, married the journalist Stephanos Delta. Penelope Delta is one of the most famous authors of children’s and youth books.
Mikes Synadinos, (1911-1919), from Chios, who was extremely popular in the community, succeeded Benakis as president, who was one of the founders of the Greek Philharmonic Orchestra. He served also as President of the «Mohammed Ali Club», which played an important role in the cosmopolitan Alexandrian society. The Community, under his presidency, sent aid to Greek army, both in the Balkan wars and the First World War. When Synadinos died in 1919, Michael Salvagos, son of Constantine, succeeded him as president. His presidency lasted 29 years, the longest to date. Michael Salvagos remains one of the most important and most creative presidents of the Greek Community of Alexandria. During his presidency the offices of E.K.A were renovated and the “Familiadeios Community School” was built, in order to serve the Greek children of Attarin and the central railway station, the Cairo station as it is called.
In 1925, with a donation from Antonis Antoniadis, was founded the Old People’s House. His father Sir John Antoniadis was the one who donated, in Alexandria City, the family mansion with its renowned gardens for the entertainment of the Alexandrians. The plot currently houses the Zoo and the Botanical Garden. During his presidency, with the assistance and help of the Kotsikas family, was built the multistory, modern and well-equipped hospital. The Community took over the management of the hospital, which was inaugurated in 1938. “Kotsikeio” played an important role during the Second World War when the Greek army and the exiled Greek government fled to Egypt, because of the German occupation of Greece. During the war, the two hundred and fifty (250) bed hospital treated wounded Greeks, Egyptians and allies. The hospital was sold by the Greek government to Egypt at 1964. During Salvagos, the Community had one more great period. After his death the decline began, as the new political and economic conditions prevailing in the country negatively operated with the new labor laws for foreigners, redistribution of arable land and the nationalization of the large private enterprises. The community began to “defoliate”. Most of the Greeks returned to Greece, while the rest took the road of a second migration to other countries (mainly in South Africa and Australia).
After the death of Salvagos, Nikolaos Vatimpelas became temporarily president until Dimitrios Zerbinis (1948-1954), from Lesbos, elected president. At 1949 he founded the “Technical School” which originally functioned as night school and then it converted into a daily. The school served the needs of youth in this postwar and critical period for the Community.
After the departure of Zerbinis in 1954, Anastasios Theodorakis (1954-1973), son of great Alexandrian family, elected president. During his presidency, the Community attempted to preserve and to recover part of the glory of the past.
The time of creation and reconstruction had now passed. The effort was now focused on the reduction of activities and folding. Towards the end of Theodorakis presidency the “Antoniadis Old People’s House” was closed and the inmates were transferred to the building that was once the “Kaniskereio Orphanage”.
What a tragic irony! The building that housed the promising youth of the thriving community, maintained the old age of the community that is constantly declining. In this context also the “Aristofroneios School” closed, which was built in 1895 next to the church of Prophet Elias by the then Greek community of “Ramleh” in the “Giannakles” area.
The successful lawyer Kostas Sandis (1973-1978) followed Theodorakis as President. Striving for tidying up, adjustment and maintenance of Hellenism of Alexandria continues.
In 1978, when Kostas Rappas succeeded Sandis, the Community had shrunk in the Greek portion of «Chatby», where it still works the «Averofeio High School», and where a few years ago had transferred the Greek Consulate General, as well as the Cypriot. The painful countdown has now begun for Hellenism of Alexandria.
Rappas died in Athens in 1983. He was succeeded by the businessman Panagiotis Soulos. During his presidency he was achieved to mitigate the rate of the leakage, but his biggest achievement was the consolidation of the financial empowerment of the organisation, leading once again to become financially independent.
Αnother Alexandrian businessman, Stephanos Tamvakis, who took over the presidency at the age of 37 and he was at this moment the youngest president of the Greek Community of Alexandria, succeeded at 1990 Panagiotis Soulos. He worked closely with the Greek Community of Cairo and the Associations of Greeks from Egypt in Greece aiming at solving common problems. Convinced that the maintenance of Hellenism in Alexandria is directly related to the further development of the «Greek Quarter» in Chatby made numerous efforts and contacts to attract investors and donations from Greece, and proposed the establishment of a School of archaeological and classical studies with the name “Alexander the Great”, thereby reinforcing the continuation of an active Greek presence in Egypt and the cultural exchange between the two countries. Stefanos Tamvakis after his stepping down from the Community as president, he became active in the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE)and went through several positions to eventually occupy the post of the President.
The Alexandrian businessman Charalambos Katsibris succeeded at 2002 Mr. Stefanos Tamvakis. He kept trying to exploit the «Greek Quarter» and the communal property, modernized buildings and services. Promoted collaboration with World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), the General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad (GGAE) and the Greek state in general.
Another Alexandrian successful businessman, Mr. John Siokas, succeeded Mr. Katsibris to the presidency of the Greek Community of Alexandria at 2009. Mr. Siokas managed to upgrade the services provided by the Community for the remaining Greeks but also the profitable management of the Community’s bank accounts and immovable assets. Several of the projects initiated, were completed during his presidency, as: renovation of the orphanage “Manna” and the transfer of the inmates of Kaniskereio Nursing Home, but also the continued existence of appartements for hosting Greek teachers. The renovation of the school buildings and the upgrading of education was for Mr. Siokas, as for his predecessors, the major theme of his policy. Moreover, he continued the efforts of his predecessors for their constructive cooperation with the Greek state, and further strengthen the relations with the Egyptian government with the aim of a better and wider cooperation between the two sides.
In 2015 another successful businessman, Mr. Ioannis Papadopoulos, succeeded Mr. Ioannis Siokas, to the presidency of the Greek Community of Alexandria Mr. Papadopoulos, along with his colleagues in the board, aims to focus on the preservation of the historic buildings of the «Greek Quarter», but also to strengthen the promotion of the Community, through the forms and online means. The aim is also to strengthen the support to the Community members.