Easter in Cyprus Jill de Fesnes

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“Discussion took place about how this type of activity could be promoted – both in Cyprus and back home in Scotland, if foraging walks or mountain biking trails could be advertised either as written texts, mobile phone applications – or as guided tours, with descriptions of the local environment, plants and wildlife incorporated into them. This in itself might help to preserve or at least document some of the local traditions around the landscape and environment of these fragile communities, and raise people’s awareness of different species of plants which can still be used either as food or for medicinal purposes today.” Jill de Fresnes RCAHMS

Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism

CYPRUS

19th – 26th April 2014

Introduction

On the evening of Saturday 19th April six of us from a range of heritage backgrounds arrived in Paphos Airport, Cyprus – not yet sure just exactly what we had let ourselves in for, but already clear that we would learn a lot from each other as well as from the week long programme of events laid on for us in the Larnaka region of Cyprus by the Archnetwork team.

We were met at the airport by Martin Clark, a forester by profession but also a former University lecturer in heritage management, and discussion about the local heritage began during our journey along the coast towards Kato Drys where we were to be based.

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It was straight in at the deep end at 11.30 at night – with Easter celebrations in full-swing and we were privileged to be invited to attend the local Greek Orthodox service in Kato Drys church. This was attended it seemed, by every member of the village from small babies to the oldest residents. It was an atmospheric service which celebrated the rising of Christ – ‘Christos Anesti!’ – culminating at midnight with a small child taking a lit candle down to the front of the church and lighting the other candles – until the church was once again ablaze with lights.

We were then taken to the house of Panayiota Demetriou and her family who had prepared a traditional feast of chicken soup and boiled eggs – the eggs being the symbol of Easter. Delicious – but slightly disconcerting at 2am in the morning!

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This was a great introduction to the culture and community of Kato Drys, and a fantastic start to what was an amazing week.

The week was packed with a variety of visits and trips, so in the following report, I am going to pick some of my own highlights, and try to capture the discussion which went on around these in terms of the ways in which they might be applicable to the wider heritage/cultural environment sector in Scotland.

Our first full day in Cyprus began with an introduction by Martin to our programme and an explanation of his own background and how he became involved both with the country and with the programme itself. His enthusiasm for the local environment and the local history and traditions is infectious and we discussed the way in which culture and heritage should not just be about the past, but can be used effectively to support fragile local economies. This is something which resonated with me as the fishing communities around the coast of Scotland are looking towards heritage and tourism as a way of supporting economies which can no longer be sustained by the industries which once supported them. There is also something refreshing about regarding the past as a way of contributing to the present and to the future.

Churches

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Our first adventure out into the wilds of the region included first visiting a small church further up into the hills. It was clearly still in use – and the faithful visit both to have services but also to place wax effigies and to pray for health and wellbeing. There are wax effigies in many of the churches made locally to depict afflicted body parts, and even babies – to pray for the health of a pregnant mother and her child – and sometimes full size wax bodies such as this:

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It is not clear how old this effigy was but it could have been in the church for well over 100 years. There is a sense that although these traditions are still upheld, what we are looking at is an ancient part of the religion which is no longer quite so widespread. Later on in the week, Panayiota told us that there are now people who are taking things from some of the central churches – and the older people are now not so happy to leave tokens or effigies there.

Foraging Adventures and Traditional Skills

One of the most memorable activities which we undertook was picking up almonds, and foraging for wild garlic, onions, asparagus, bay leaves, dill, holibar and mustard on the ground up in the hills above Kato Drys. Martin talked to us about the surrounding olive groves and how local families owned particular olive trees – or groups of trees, but that these needed careful tending annually to keep them healthy. This is a part of the local tradition which is clearly under threat with the modern generation unable to spare the time required to tend the trees in the way in which their parents and grandparents did. The olive groves are now not so carefully tended, and the almonds are now imported into Cyprus from America – where they can be grown much more cheaply with intensive farming methods. This was the first glimpse of a way of life – which had previously bound the local community to the local agriculture and seasonal activities which is clearly passing.

Discussion took place about how this type of activity could be promoted – both in Cyprus and back home in Scotland, if foraging walks or mountain biking trails could be advertised either as written texts, mobile phone applications – or as guided tours, with descriptions of the local environment, plants and wildlife incorporated into them. This in itself might help to preserve or at least document some of the local traditions around the landscape and environment of these fragile communities, and raise people’s awareness of different species of plants which can still be used either as food or for medicinal purposes today.

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The students on the gamekeeping exchange which Martin runs in association with the Duchy of Cornwall are given the opportunity to come out to Cyprus from college in the UK and take part in learning some of the traditional ways in which agriculture and landuse is undertaken. This helps to pass on some of the traditional skills – wall building, irrigation, charcoal burning – some of which will have direct comparisons with traditional skills back in the UK. And having some additional labour provides benefit to the local agricultural workers too. Later on, some of us had the chance to learn how to make ropes out of various reeds – which is actually quite an empowering feeling – as it meant we would never be stuck for a rope in the future if things happen to get tough!

Again this is something which could be applicable in Scotland where traditional skills are also being lost, and there is a growing appetite for activity holidays, for groups, families and even individuals who are keen to learn new skills and have new experiences. Such activities can be used to give people a sense of place and to connect them to their own environment – something which is clearly recognised as becoming lost in our fast paced lives ruled increasingly by technology.

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Some of the foodstuffs collected on our walk were added to the traditional dinner which was cooked using the traditional clay oven in the garden – using all natural and indigenous ingredients. It might have just been hunger – but there was something very enjoyable about eating indigenous food – cooked in a traditional manner and which came directly from the area in which we were eating it.

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Mosaics

During our week we saw examples of more contemporary mosaic – such as that at the nunnery on the outskirts of Larnaka – and also ancient mosaic in the archaeological remains of Kourion.

The use of the right colour of grouting to emphasise specific areas of the artwork were clearly visible in the religious mosaics on the walls leading into the nunnery:

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One of the most spectacular archaeological sites on the island is to be found at Kourion which was an important city kingdom where excavations continue to reveal impressive mosaics and other archaeological treasures. Noted particularly for its magnificent Greco – Roman Theatre, Kourion also included stately villas with exquisite mosaic floors and an early Christian Basilica.
Originally built in the 2nd century B.C., Kourion’s amphitheatre is now fully restored and used for musical and theatrical performances. The House of Eustolios, consisting of a complex of baths and a number of rooms with superb 5th century A.D. mosaic floors, was once a private Roman villa before it became a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. The House of Achilles and the House of the Gladiators also had beautiful mosaic floors.

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Cyprus is full of archaeological sites and people can find themselves tripping over bits of pottery and other ancient pieces of archaeology. It was refreshing to be able to visit the site without being herded along tourist tracks, being constantly presented with interpretation or prevented from touching the stonework. Although some measures are in place to conserve the sites, there is still a sense of being able to walk amongst the ancient history of the island and stroll through these Roman buildings, and for events still to take place at the original Roman amphitheatre which has the most spectacular view out over the cliffs towards the sea.

Local Industries

In terms of local industry which is still thriving or at least surviving in the region, we visited three main sites:

Olive Oil Factory

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We were shown around one of the olive oil factories which is run by Egyptian immigrants. These immigrants come into Cyprus during the season, and work– sending money home to families, and contributing to the local economy in so doing. It is a labour intensive process, but local producers can bring their olives to the factory to have them made into olive oil or can sell their olives to the factory which then exports the produce out of the country.

Winery

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The winery of Tihikos run by the Christoudia family produces some 50,000 bottles of wine per year. It undertakes the whole process – set amongst its own vineyards, and has expanded to include other produce including siousioukos – a traditional Cypriot sweet made from grape juice, and some extremely potent firewater – zivania – which is relatively pleasant when mixed with the traditional grape cordial – but not quite so palatable drunk neat as a ‘shot’.

Our guide at the winery was George, who explained to us the wine making process, and the way the factory functions. Speaking to him later – it turned out he had in fact been an accountant working in the North of Cyprus until around 8 years ago when the recession hit, and he was forced to move south with his family and join his brother in the winery. There are currently five employees at the factory all trying to make a living but local taxes particularly relating to exporting the wine, make it very difficult for the company to be successful.

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Silversmiths

Silversmiths are still fairly prolific in Cyprus and we had the opportunity to visit a silversmith business in Larnaka. The process itself is fascinating – and the links with the traditional heritage of Cyprus are clear with many of the designs depicting the Cyprus snail motif, and others some of the local and ancient archaeological finds.

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The silversmith himself spoke about how difficult it was to make a living now with much silver being imported into the country – in particular from China – and he told us that the younger generation are not interested in following on with these traditional crafts. Some of the group spoke about the opportunities that the internet – and selling online might hold for small businesses such as his, but he seemed to be content that he had made a reasonable living and would be happy to retire even if it meant the end of the business.

There are some local silversmiths who have embraced the idea of contemporary design while using traditional methods and interesting pieces such as this can be found in the local shops.

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Our group discussed some ideas around using the internet to encourage traditional crafts people to undertake commissions for specific pieces of jewellery, and even to use mobile technology to show these pieces actually being made. Whether this is really applicable is questionable but it is an area which may be worth exploring with the opportunity to use the internet on a world-wide basis, and those with money may well be willing to pay more for exclusive designs.

Lace Making

Lace-making is perhaps the most famous of the traditional crafts of Cyprus, and there are still a number of lace makers in operation. However, the whole process of lace making seems to have been in decline for quite some time due to the time-consuming nature of the process, and the ability to produce good quality lace now using machines. The history of the lace making industry seems to go hand in hand with the emigrant community – men traditionally would employ a number of lace makers, and would take suitcases full of good quality lace to Europe – to the UK and even to America, where they could command extremely high prices.

One of Kato Drys most famous sons was Sir Rio Stakis. He left for the UK in the 1930s and sold lace there before becoming involved in the hotel trade and eventually setting up his empire of Stakis Hotels worldwide.

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There are comparisons here with the decline in the textile industries in Scotland – although the processes had been already become more industrial. But there does now seem to be a growing appetite in ensuring that the skills of these types of process do not die out completely and there are those who wish to preserve the traditions. Martin introduced us to Marina and Aga – two design students also on an exchange visit – who are researching the lace making industry and are thinking of ways in which this could be used in contemporary design.

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Martin told us how he was trying to set up a lace based fashion label – Green Village – encouraging lace makers to add lace to contemporary clothing.

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While this is an interesting concept, it is an idea which requires considerable time and application – and a real knowledge of the fashion industry in order for it to work. One of the ideas discussed was the benefits of a community shop – with different arts and crafts people running it and using it to display and to sell their goods. Currently there is a shop in which Martin and Panayiota’s work is being sold, but the designs are not in a prominent enough position to attract attention.

Meanwhile, the art of lace making continues to be passed on with lacemakers such as Panayiota keen to share their knowledge and expertise with the younger generation.

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Sandy and I met the son of one of Rio Stakis’ cousins while out walking one morning and he told us that his father too had been a lace merchant who travelled first to the UK in the 1920s and then to America – although the depression years at the end of the 1920s made trade with America difficult. George’s father built up his business and like many others such as Panayiota’s husband Jim, George was taken on frequent trips back to Cyprus – to Kato Drys – to keep the connection with the local community there. He remembered spending some of his childhood there – and was saddened to see the threshing platform where we met him, above the village – now unused, and told us about the celebrations around harvest time when all the community would be involved. The celebrations traditionally followed the season – and feasts were common.

However, he said that there was too much effort required not for new generations to keep all these old traditions alive – the olive trees, the carebs and in particular the lace making, pointing out that when it takes 6 months to make a tablecloth, there is no point in trying to place a monetary value on it. The skill and the tradition are bound up in the lace itself – but it is not a commercially viable way to make a living anymore. He hopes that the village can continue to prosper and that tourism is perhaps one of the few ways in which people can make some money. George also liked the idea of linking tourism to heritage and keeping alive the memories of the traditions of his village.

Charcoal Burning

This is another local industry which has all but died out now. The local mayor – Nikos Vasiliou, is very much involved in a hands on way, with many of the traditional agricultural practices and works closely with Martin and others to ensure that the village benefits from projects including both heritage and agriculture. He met him several times during our trip and it was really good to see a political figure who was happy to get stuck in and be so involved with the processes as well as the politics.

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‘Art’ Day in Kato Drys

We were also fortunate enough to be in Kato Drys during a local ‘arts’ day. This included the promotion of some local foodstuffs – in particular, jams made by a couple from the UK. A mother and daughter have set up a shop in the local village selling jams and preserves. While this is a worthwhile venture using local produce, it is not clear that they have integrated particularly well into the local community. The cost of their produce is too high for most local people, but it is of very high quality and may appeal to the tourist market.

Doris Ball is an artist originally from America who has settled in Kato Drys and is currently undertaking an arts degree in Cyprus. As part of the business module from her degree, she invited artists to Kato Drys, gave them watercolour pencils and postcard size paper – and asked them to undertake sketches of the local environment – either the village itself, the people, or the local landscapes. We were also given the chance and it was great to get the chance to see the results. It was also a very effective way to produce a series of postcards which can be printed and then sold locally.

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Mural

Opposite the Kafenion, where the local men can be found sitting drinking coffee, there was a blank white wall on the corner of the street. Martin and Panayiota got permission for the students to paint a mural during the ‘Arts Day’ depicting a number of different aspects of village life and also reflecting the lacemaking traditions. This included the hunting tradition – with the grouse prominently featured, the water from the mountains – with an overflow pipe coming from the base of the mountains depicted which will spout water when it rains, and the bees along with the lace making tradition using marquetry.

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Kato Drys Museums

There are two museums in Kato Drys – including the village museum, which was based around a traditional house and included many specimens of agriculture along with various rooms depicting general domestic life. Although it would have been a wealthy household in its time, it has been furnished to show the traditional way of life in a rural household in the 19th and early 20th century.

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Ellie Kornioti runs another village museum – which is similar to the municipal one, but focuses more on bee-keeping and lace making. She advertises the opportunity to take part in seasonal activities such as alive, almond and grape picking as well as the production of olive oil and honey. This is an interesting way of expanding the heritage interpretation to include the traditional processes. She was keen to get some advice from our own group on the safe display of the lace collection, as she finds it hard to stop visitors from picking up the lace and handling some of the more fragile pieces. Both Geraldine and Mark from our group are involved directly in museums and interpretation and gave her some advice such as having spare pieces of lace available to touch, and ensuring that there are adequate signs to prevent people from handling the material.

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In such a small village, these two museums are a bit too similar – both in terms of their displays and interpretation, to exist in isolation from each other and it would benefit both to work together either using a joint ticketing agreement, or forming some sort of heritage trail through the village which includes both. Ellie’s ideas of running traditional activities around the local heritage could be expanded and supported by the municipal museum as well.

One of the highlights for me of the whole week was the opportunity to take part in the Easter feast on Easter Monday. Tables were laid out in the grounds of the church and a large bonfire lit. Traditional food and drink was served and it was a great opportunity to observe the village gathering for such a special occasion. We were able to watch – and take part in, traditional dancing in the streets – which we all did with much enjoyment!

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Panayiota’s family are very much part of the village – although her husband Jim, whose father was from Cyprus, was brought up principally in Glasgow. His sister told me how she remembers her childhood in Glasgow – but how she loved coming back to Cyprus. There are strong links between the two countries. Panayiota and her family’s hospitality towards visitors is second to none and as a result it is likely that these strong links will continue. At the end of our trip we were all invited to visit again with our families – and to go back to Kato Drys to visit Jim and Panayiota.

Our last full day in Cyprus was spent in the north – in Nikosia. We had been constantly aware of the tension between the north and the south – with deserted Turkish Cypriot houses in evidence in all the villages we past through. This is a particularly sad aspect of life in Cyprus, the general consensus among those to whom we spoke about the situation was the Cypriot people would have continued to get along with each other – whether Turkish or Greek, but the intervention of the two countries led to a bitter war which split families and divided the country. Forty years later, and the divisions are still apparent.

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However, the enjoyment of our trip north was greatly enhanced by meeting Angeliki, who had been at university with Geraldine and works in the heritage sector in the Greek part of Nikosia.

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Our trip to the north included visiting a mosque in the Turkish Cypriot area and some of us also went to see a ‘Whirling Dervish’ –a special form prayer undertaken by a Sufi holy man.

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The week was full of fun and enjoyment as well as truly being of value from a historical and heritage perspective. Thanks to all involved with the organisation and to my other group members who made this a very special week. I am looking forward to the reunion!

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Our group at Kato Drys museum with the Muhktari [Mayor] and Panayiota

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