September 2015 saw myself and four other cultural heritage professionals travel from Scotland to the island of Cyprus under the Erasmus+ cultural research exchange programme through ArchNetwork. The theme of the programme was entitled ‘Empowering Communities’ and took the form of a structured training course. Our home for the week was to be in Pano Lefkara and links were to be made with the Kato Drys community which had been a partner in the “Leonardo da Vinci – Development of Innovation” project from 2010 – 2013. Kato Drys is a community which specialises in sustainable development. I have two sides of why I had applied to be on this programme, the first being a museum professional with an interest in the culture of other areas and how they engage in their communities and secondly as a student of BSc Sustainable Development through University of the Highlands and Islands.
I was fortunate to be able to travel from the far north of Scotland with one of the others on the trip which certainly made the journey easier and feel quicker! Our meeting point had been arranged at the airport with the rest of the group and the usual nerves abounded, would we be able to find everyone? How would we recognise everyone else? Would we all get on? I think we had answered the last question by the end of day one! A very fine group of ladies to have travelled with all bringing something different to the group and many laughs in amongst the serious business of learning. More on that later, which also answers the first question. Technology in the form of mobile phones and descriptions of colours of scarves and hair colours are wonderful ways to find strangers in an airport!
Day One – Food, foraging and finding out – Tuesday 15th September
After a late arrival to a humid and dusty Cyprus (there has recently been white dust storms blowing over from Syria) we awoke bright, early and delighted by the amazing views in daylight of the vallies from the foothills of the Troodos from our accommodation. Breakfasting on a feast of delicious salty olives, fruit and halloumi it was time to start our familiarisation day.
Martin Clark our guide for the week started the day by showing us what could be foraged for just metres from our accommodation. Figs, Carob, almonds and explained their importance in Cypriot life and as exports from the country. A guided tour of the village and our first introductions to Lefkara lace. What I found most interesting around the village was how similar it felt to fishing villages on the East Coast of Scotland with steep hills (braes) and the colours found on the doors also being reminiscent in their hues of how fisherman’s cottages are painted, it dictates a sense of community. However in Cyprus these colours are more meaningful than leftovers from a boat paint, blue doors represent Greek homes and green doors represent now generally abandoned and Turkish Cypriot homes. This was not my first visit to Cyprus, I have been twice before however learned more about the culture, food, religion and the division of Cyprus than I had done on any previous trips. The end of our day very much took the theme of the wonderful fresh produce and food of the area – ketchup making and a wonderful meal cooked in the clay oven by Panayiota Demetriou with the oven having been lit by Martin.
Day Two – Mosaics past and present with a dose of Motivation – Wednesday 16th September
A bright and early start saw us travelling to Lemesos still known to many as Limassol (the name Lemesos dates back to the 10th Century) to the Mosaic Collective run by Soula Christou. Lemesos is the second largest city in Cyprus and very much a holiday destination with a long beach front. Areas are under redevelopment such as a large new Marina, the port of Cyprus is also based here, a very busy tourist, financial and marine industry co-exist here. I was immediately struck on entering Mosaic Collective building by not only the wonderful mosaics displayed on every wall and surface but also by the fact that the building holds a dual purpose. In order to remain sustainable as a result of the recession the Mosaic Collective have opened a Café in the lower area of the building. Soula is a truly inspiring woman who has completed commissions for the Athens Olympics among others, she is herself a displaced Cypriot having been originally from a village in Northern Cyprus. Her work is based on the traditional and ancient art of mosaics however she has brought it into the contemporary. Soula advised us to “be the rainbow in someone’s cloud” her beautiful mosaics were certainly the rainbow of our morning. Please follow the link above to see more of her amazing work.
Following our visit to Soula at the Mosaic Collective we briefly wandered the streets of Lesamos old town until direct by our wonderful colleague on the trip Zoulla Spirou who is herself Cypriot however now living in Scotland we came across a shop run by the Cypriot Handicraft Service. The Service has as its basic aim the revitalisation of Cypriot traditional folk art and to gradually develop it into modern handicraft. There are certainly elements of this present in the shop with very successful interpretations of Lefkaritika Lace being made contemporary through impressions of the design in simple ceramics.
Our next stop for the day was to visit the ancient site of Kourion. The site is vast and contains ancient mosaics preserved from the Roman period. Immediately you can see how the ancient craft inspires the present. Of most note to myself as a planner of Viking Festivals and an interest in all things Viking was the element of the Marguerite eight pointed start. Common in Christian iconography and here it was at the most ancient of sites. A design I personally associate most now with Scandinavian design. Those pesky Vikings borrowing cultures!
Day 3 – Making Pots – Thursday 17th September
A short trip this morning to the wonderful ladies of the Kornos Pottery Co-operative. We watched them in action doing very talented and fast work and then it was our turn. A varying degree of talent from our group saw some pots being created. The co-operative maintain the pottery in a traditional manner however it is a dying trade unless young people can be encouraged to enter the craft. In the days of mass production it was fantastic to see how these ladies go about creating the pots so perfectly. I mention mass production as in the time it took us to create our pots several had been created by the ladies.
The pottery is now fired in an electric kiln however on the site is a traditional stone kiln, a member of my family works in stone conservation so it was interesting to hear the plans for restoring the kiln. I’ve witness such co-operatives working in other areas of the world, carpets in Turkey, Harris Tweed in Scotland in terms of sustainable development it would appear it is the only way for crafts such as this to remain sustainable.
Very proud of my pot and even more excited to say that it made it all the way home from Cyprus wrapped in my dirty washing very much intact! The pots are made by starting them with a coil, a technique dating back to the most ancient of pots. Due to my talents at pot making (one of the lovely co-operative ladies actually finished it off for me) I will be doing exactly that in our museum with a group of children creating coil pots.
Day 4 – Halloumi, Nicosia and the North – Friday 18th September
Today was the day of the trip I was most looking forward to with a trip to Nicosia (Lefkosia) having been to Cyprus for the first time just over 20 years ago I had crossed into the North on that trip. Crossing over in the countryside with very much an element of military and UN blue helmets being present at the Green Line I was intrigued to see how the crossing would be in the city and what may have changed. I am also a frequent visitor to Turkey so am aware and very interested in Turkish culture. Interesting fact, did you know that the Green Line in Cyprus which divides the island is so called as the man from the United Nations just happened to have a green pen?
On the way to Nicosia we stopped firstly at a reservoir area which has all but dried up. Striking throughout the area are the use of terraces to grow produce from the ancient to the modern terraces. In such an arid country water conservation is obviously an issue. Cypriot policy is ‘no drop of water to the sea’ so series of damns have been built, at the point where we visited in September after hot summer many of these small reservoirs have now all but dried up.
Nicosia old town is a beautifully vibrant hip area, full of small coffee shops which wouldn’t be out of place in the trendy areas of cities across Europe. Reclaimed timber for tables sit outside cafes run by bearded tattooed young men. In the more main thoroughfares the British influence however is very clear with Marks and Spencers, fast food outlets. Cyprus still very much has a British influence seen in the post boxes, road signs and of course the British military bases throughout the island. It is still very much a strategic position for British forces.
They say that street art tells a story and this is very present in Nicosia, I will leave you to come to your own conclusions on the story these tell.
Entering into Northern Cyprus – a state only recognised by Turkey, it remains unrecognised by any other Government in the World – was a slightly surreal experience. Passport control then less than 100 metres later Turkish passport control. The shops from my visits to Turkey straight away indicate that you are in a Turkish state! It is a shame that the stores you are immediately faced with are the typical fake handbags and clothing stores. Further into the old town however you soon come across the more traditional where we came across a traditional mattress maker.
We visited the Buyuk Han, a wonderful fortress which has been restored to house restaurants and traditional crafts where we met Senay Ekingen who has been working on a bi-communal project with Panayiota Demetriou to bring Lefkara Lace into the contemporary. Lefkara lace could be seen to be out of date to the modern home however Senay has incorporated it into gorgeous clutch bags and jewellery making it more suitable to perhaps the modern and younger fashionista. I certainly feel that it will only take for the editors of Vogue or similar to discover these gems in Senay’s shop for Lefkara lace to shoot to the dizzying heights of fashion stardom.
The most eerie experience I have to say for myself during our visit to Nicosia was hearing the call for prayer from the Greek side, quite used to hearing it in Turkey (I had only just returned from Turkey before taking this trip) it seemed out of place, yet in the Turkish side hearing it again it seemed very natural despite the fact the mosque is in what was an orthodox church.
Day 5 – Kato Drys – Saturday 19th September
After an intense and very busy day in Nicosia a quieter day was planned for Day 5 with a visit to Kato Drys a beautiful village a short distance from Pano Lefkara which specialises in sustainable development. Two rural museums exist in the village and are both very reminiscent of smaller heritage museums found in Scotland. A number of projects have taken place in the village including a festival held in the earlier part of the summer. In my post I have been involved in planning and delivering a number of festivals so can see how vitally important continued efforts for an annual sustainable festival is in socio-economic terms. Our guide to one of the museums was Elli Papachristoforou, in terms of social capital in the cultural and heritage sector if you could take Elli’s infectious enthusiasm, bottle it and deliver it to everyone the world would be a better place.
Day 6 – Heights of the Troodos – Sunday 20th September
On our last full day in the capable and incredibly good driving hands of Adriana Patkova we climbed the dizzying heights of the Troodos Mountains. In Cyrpus during the winter you can both ski and sunbathe on the same day, evidence of this is clear even in September where when at the top of the mountain range the temperature had dropped to 17 degrees yet when back on the coast had risen to 28 degrees. A popular drive on a Sunday for motorbikes and families escaping the heat of the coast and an area of outstanding beauty. Designated a conservation area evidence abounds through signage of the need to protect the area.
On coming down to the coast we visited a large newly built marina full of small fishing boats. A number of fish restaurants and cafes were in the area. Freshness of fish could not be doubted however it was disappointing to see fish listed catering more to the palate of tourists?
Day 7 – Silversmithing, Hello and Goodbye to Aphrodite – Monday 21st September
Our last day with a mid-morning flight back home. After a flurry of packing and working out how to get those all important pots made at Kornos home we were safely in the hands of Adriana to take us to the airport but firstly a visit to the Silversmith in Lefkara. Using traditional motifs the silversmiths fashion jewellery through a mix of traditional and more modern casting techniques. Again with all of the craftspeople we visited the emphasis for sustainability and survival is to incorporate the contemporary into their work and also to work with younger people to ensure the craft does not die out. Lefkara used to have a number of silversmiths and now only one remains.
Our last stop prior to arriving at the airport was to stop and view Aphrodite’s Rock, said to bring your true love if you swim around it 5 times in an anti-clockwise direction. A fitting hello to Aphrodite and to goodbye to Cyprus, although I feel some of us may be back.
I took more from this trip than I ever thought I would, I can now look at a different country and culture with new eyes and I don’t think that my travels anywhere will be the same again. I learned that if you look at the detail and find out more on what you are seeing you can gain so much more awareness of the culture. From searching for influences in ancient archaeology to understand more about the conflict and divisions in Cyprus from a factor as simple as the colour of doors my mind has been more than expanded. It has made me look more for the details even here at home in Scotland, giving more attention to the vernacular architecture around me.
In terms of what I will take back to my museum, overwhelmingly a confidence in what I do. As an individual who has come to the museum sector later in my career I have had a steep learning curve. Spending a week networking and learning with fellow cultural heritage professionals has made me realise I don’t do too badly. The struggle for cultural heritage organisations to be sustainable and relevant is the same in both Scotland and Cyprus and I have definitely learned and will disseminate as best I can the passion and enthusiasm of those we met in Cyprus.
We learned and we laughed, definitely laughed. Huge thanks to the ladies I travelled with, a better group I don’t think we could have been. Martin Clarke who made us smile every day along with Panayoita and Adriana. Thank you.