Travelling to my birthplace, I have seen Cyprus from a different perspective looking at places I have been too before, with fresh eyes. I have seen slightly out of the way areas, cultural skills, well seen places and areas with added enthusiasm.
This structured educational course funded by Erasmus+ programme and delivered by Archnetwork is looking at best practices in sustainable rural development and interpreting natural and cultural heritage in partnership with Kato Drys community.
From what we have seen Kato Drys and Lefkara communities are trying to maintain their rich cultural practices that make up the fabric of their community, through continuing crafts and maintaining agricultural practices.
Meeting just women as our hosts I am sure held no real significance, apart for me seeing Cypriot women so empowered, dynamic, enthusiastic and vocal in what they were presenting was a breath of fresh air.
Cypriots were all very friendly and welcoming, we quickly realised that coffee and food is an important part of family life and is part of the culture here. Wherever we sat for food we were made to feel very welcome and it felt a bit like joining the family.
Monday 14th September
A long day but finally on the flight to Cyprus. Met Catriona, Jackie, Joan and Rosemarie at Glasgow airport, all the travelling ran smoothly.
Our first look was just outside our lodgings, carob and almond trees.
We learned that the carob widely grown in Cyprus, the fruit is the carob bean, its seed was used as a standard unit of measurement, all seeds are nearly identical in size and were used in the Mediterranean as a unit of measurement for gemstones. A gemstone that balanced out evenly against 5 seeds was said to weigh 5 carats, eventually this was standardised after many comparisons in the late 19th century of seed weights, to 0.197 grams
Carob is also ground to a powder and used to make carob chocolate, also made is carob syrup and pastellaki. Carob syrup is black in colour, spread on toast, lovely, and pastellaki is a bar made of carob syrup with flour to thicken it, is a delicious sweet that is tapped and broken and enjoyed like toffee, both, I have only seen in Cyprus.
My maternal grandfather had carob trees on the plateau above Germasogeia near Lemesos. All the trees have now gone. Unfortunately there is a decline of small scale local growing. A direct comparison is with the Scottish croft which has become increasingly difficult to make a living out of. People choosing to steer away from what their parents and grandparent did, choosing more westernised paths in commerce, medicine and financial institutions.
These small growers were and are very important, maintaining the cultural and historical landscapes.
Almond, lemons, limes, oranges, pomegranates, oranges, figs, olives, mandarin tangerines, prickly pears, apples and walnuts, are all still grown by local families for their own use. This type of growing is becoming a pastime that with perseverance may grow to produce many small scale growers.
Commercial fruit growing oranges, lemons and grapes were evident in the landscape we also saw smaller scale farming dotted throughout the areas that we passed.
We walked through Lefkara village and visited one of many shops full of traditional lace and silver, the two crafts that have put Lefkara on the map. The time consuming lace is made by mainly women usually sitting outside working in the shade. The linen used to make the lace, is traditionally Irish linen, harder to come by these days.
After lunch we made our way to Martins house where we got there in time to watch and help Adriana preparing tomatoes for ketchup and sauce.
The Cypriot oven is built by finding the center of where you want your oven to go, marked by a nail with a length of string attached to it and fire bricks are built to the extent of your string in all directions, round and up.
After lighting the fire Martin left it to heat for three hours, a wonderful meal of Tava a rice dish, meat and potatoes Cypriot style was waiting for us later on in the evening. These ovens were and are still used in many village houses throughout Cyprus.
As we traveled to the Mosaic Collective in Lemesos Martin had a wealth of information for us which he enthusiastically talked about.
Fire is a big problem in Cyprus. Villages have an action plan in case of fire, new forests naturally grow in previously burned areas and large strips of land are cleared as fire breaks, some follow forestry tracks, these appear like white bare scars on the landscape.
Litter and illegal fly tipping appeared to be much less in evidence as it was quite a problem only a couple of years previously. This has been tackled with fines and publicity, it is evident that it is working, such a bonus for the country.
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The Mosaic Collective Photo a feast to the eye and touch, an age old craft that is been successfully used in a modern context. SoulaChristou our host full of life, colour and enthusiasm talked us through her art, taking inspiration from life and the ancient mosaics of Cyprus, the nearest being Kourion. Soula takes her art to the public via the shop front, shows, workshops and schools. Examples of mosaics as framed pictures, used on the walls, floors in everyday environments, telling stories making patterns, much the same way as would have been in use in ancient times.
We drove past the salt lakes and Ladies mile beach to visit the Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats, but unfortunately we found the condition of the cats at the monastery too upsetting and made the decision to move on.
The site is well presented and maintained with beautiful covers over some of the most important remains especially the mosaics. These covers looking like large ships with sails, they fit sympathetically in the environment, a windy area overlooking the sea. The impressive theater which is largely reconstructed due to earthquake damage seated 3000 people. The theater is still used today.
The site appeared to be well supplied with water its many baths, drainage channels
and terracotta pipes are evident. The under floor heating was evident in numerous areas. The House of the Gladiators with its impressive mosaics. The mosaics represented beliefs and myths of the time.
A visit to Kornos Pottery, here we all loved the atmosphere, the lady potters and the thoroughly enjoyable learning experience of making and keeping our own work. Yiayia (Granny) the master potter was in the process of making a traditional pot that took as long to make as we were there and that was most of the morning.
Pottery has been made in Kornos for thousands of years. The potters obviously proud of their craft, their wish to show and share this activity was wonderful to see. We saw the old kiln it was in a disused state, with talk of a project to restore it.
The kiln was large enough to walk into and was heated by burning a fire under its floor to bring it to temperature.
There are over 100 dams and reservoirs in Cyprus, forty large ones and today we saw a Gabion dam in Delikipos valley, which attracted many birds and wildlife.
It did not look like an ordinary dam, but a wetland area with reeds growing on its sides. We learned how the introduction of the eucalyptus tree in the past to dry the area and keep the mosquito down, has not worked, as it has an undesired effect of taking a large quantity of water from the ground.
In the afternoon we had a session of trying our hand at making Lefkara lace with Panayiota as our teacher. We were given a piece of linen and shown the basic design. Panayiota told us that she can tell if mistakes are made on a piece and she can tell which woman has made the lace. If anything it proved to us what time consuming work it can be and like any craft can never be charged to reflect the time spent on making it. The designs are very specific and have been handed down for generations. There are some makers diversifying and making new types of items and put to different uses to expand the appeal of the lace to a wider market. Traditionally the items made were tablecloths, curtains, bed linens and runners, with decoration put on items of clothing collars, edging of blouses ect.
Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese made with goats and sheep milk.This national cheese is now so popular in Britain it can be found on offer in supermarkets and local shops served widely in tea rooms and restaurants. A success story for a national product.
In the morning we visited Loulla’s farm where we breakfasted in her home, she showed us the making of the cheese with that morning’s milk, which is a surprising simple technique and recipe, but according to my mum the Greeks have tried for many years to make it, with no success. The Halloumi once finished, were put into containers with some of the whey that has been salted, it will keep like this for at least one year.
In the afternoon we headed into Lefcosia.
Firstly we saw Helen’s shop full of Lefkara lace including Tatin knotting, Needle work and Viennese work.
Leather working another traditional craft still carried on today in another shop.
We crossed the green line into the occupied part of Cyprus. As this was my first time over the line since the coup and occupation of 1974 I was very apprehensive.
Had lunch at the restored Bayuk Han (‘the great inn’ where travelers would rest from their journey) It was a joy to see Cypriot dishes on the menu and that whether Greek or Turkish origin a Cypriot is always a Cypriot.
We met a Turkish Cypriot lace maker, Senay who enthralled us as she worked with silk cocoons a traditional Cypriot craft, making flower shapes and using these in pictures. She also put the Lefkara designs into rings necklaces broaches bracelets frames purses and bags.
This side of Lefkosia was just vibrant and bustling with activity we stopped briefly to admire a Cypriot mattress, duvet and pillow maker, reminiscence of any one making this type of product in any part of Cyprus.
Below in the valley the ancient oak trees, the pruned wood used for the fires, acorns for pig food, shade for animals and people.
Every year at Christmas the community get together to plant acorns, in an attempt to maintain these majestic trees as part of the natural landscape.
We met Eli and she showed us round the Museum of Folk Art, parts of which are her home, we sat in her courtyard and had coffee and natural honeycomb. In other courtyards there was on oven a place to make and store wine and Zivania a Cypriot clear spirit.
The house is furnished to show each rooms function, it felt like the occupants had just popped out and we were looking round their home. The only room upstairs was the bedroom furnished with a bed, sewing machine and a lovely decorative shelf
The Lefkara lace collection was impressive on the beds and
the whole collection of family and rural artifacts was very informative.
Agros and Troodos
We stopped briefly to see where asbestos mining took place and I saw for the first time asbestos in its natural form in rock. There was unfortunately no information about what harm asbestos can and has done.
Stopped at Argos and saw how the traditional smoked meats and sausages were made and smoked, an important part of Cypriot food heritage.
We also had time to visit the Troodos Visitor Center, good information about the wildlife including the Cypriot Mouflon the geology of the area and how the Forestry Department battles against fire and the human impact on the area. Slightly dated displays but informative in a winter tourist destination.
Onto our last day, a visit to long standing silversmiths in Lefkara where they made mainly cast silver decorative items and many pieces for the church. The old machines like resting giants gave an atmosphere of bygone days.
The people, culture and history of this small island is bountiful.
My fellow travelers, guides and hosts were all a delight to meet and get to know, a big thank you to them and the organisers.
Now home, yes the other home, is how I believe many feel going back to their place of birth, the torn apart feeling that will probably never go way. Going back as an observer it did feel that I was from the outside looking into familiar scenes.
The trip has shown how different interpretations of the many aspects of a country are dealt with by Cyprus. Some deemed more important than others and some taken up locally like Kato Drys. All culture, heritage and history is important and a real concerted effort is needed to secure its future for all.