Tuesday 15th September 2015. Our all-female, party of five had travelled from Scotland to engage with the Erasmus+ course, Empowering Communities in Cyprus. The group consisted of heritage & education professionals with definite interests museum practice, interpretation, learning and community engagement. Although, through the week other interests & skills would surface as we got to know each other.
Day one consisted of some orientation. For me, this was a first visit to Cyprus although others in the group had been before & we even had the privilege an ex-pat, Cypriot in our number. I purposely had not researched my destination in advance of my travels, so I was coming to the Kato Drys municipality uniformed & ready to learn. We were staying in the village of Pano Lefkara. The village & surrounding area is renowned for it’s lace making, so much so, in 2009 it was recognised by UNESCO. Lefkara laces or Lefkaritika was added to the list of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage . It also used to feature on a Cypriot bank note.
We set off on foot to explore the village with our host, Martin Clark. Just by our lodgings we started with some foraging – sampled fresh figs plucked from the tree, learned about the often, overlooked carob and picked a few almonds. The importance of these crops has been integral to the economy of Cyprus both past & present. Next we wondered towards the centre of the village to visit one of the many lace vendors, namely Harry & Maria Loizou’s shop.
Here we were welcomed with some homemade traditional lemonade & shown a wealth of Lefkaritika as well as locally made silver jewellery. I had not seen the lace in reality before and there was no doubt that Lefkaritika was indeed beautiful. The pieces on offer were mostly traditional & could be considered old fashioned by some, however the lace is labour intensive to produce and requires years of skill to become a proficient maker. The lace makers of Lefkara are traditionally women, who learn the art from their mothers & grandmothers. Sadly this knowledge of applying cotton thread to linen is being lost as the population shifts away from Lefkara and other socio-economic pressures increase on Cypriot life.
Loizou’s heavily stocked shop had an abundance of local hand crafted embroidery, which sat alongside a certain amount of imported mass-produced lace. This is testament to the financial straits the retailers of the village find themselves; in an attempt to offer cheaper products for the tourist market, it is however to the detriment of authentic, local lace making. This was not the only instance we would encounter such compromise, local high quality craft versus imported cheap mass production. The challenges of sustainable tourism were becoming obvious.
Following-on our walking tour, we proceeded to explore the narrow streets and admire the vernacular architecture. Did you know, the dimensions of the typical Cypriot house were originally dictated by the standard length of the local trees. I was especially interested to discover the significance of the colours adoring the homes around the village. Coming from Northern Ireland, I am all too aware of the power and impact of certain colour schemes. We were informed the homes with blue doors, shutters & window frames, were those of Greek Cypriots whereas the homes with green paintwork, were those of Turkish Cypriots, some of which were unoccupied. In the same vein, many doors had knockers in the shape of a woman’s hand. These would be referred to as the hand of Mary or the hand of Fatima depending on whether it was a Greek Cypriot Christian or Turkish Cypriot Muslim home respectively. Amongst the numerous Greek Orthodox churches in Lefkara we visited the impressive & ornate 14th Century Timios Stavros church. Further down the hill we also admired the derelict, but well maintained, mosque. It quickly became apparent to me that impact of history, politics and conflict was visible everywhere. As a visitor it was plain to see Lefkara is one village, with two distinct communities linked through many common threads.
Food brings people together, so later that day we had the pleasure of helping to make a batch of ketchup – this was a lot of fun. The glut of tomatoes had been harvested by a group of UK environmental conservation students on a course with Archnetwork’s, sister organisation Grampus. We also had a demonstration of preparing & preserving green olives for the coming months. Our evening meal was prepared for us by our second host, Panayiota Demetriou local resident of the neighbouring village of Kato Drys. We observed the lighting of the customary Cyprus outdoor oven, a selection of dishes including tavas was put in & the domed oven was then sealed with clay for several hours of slow cooking. The results were delicious & served us well as a welcoming feast.
Mosaic – Ancient & Modern
Wednesday 16th September 2015. Up early for our road trip we started for the coastal town of Limassol, ready for another day to find out about Cypriot culture. Our first destination was the wonderful Mosaic Collective run by Soula Christou, a truly inspiring woman. The Collective design, create and sell contemporary mosaics across Cyprus and internationally. Their artwork is innovative and work is carried out in both two and three dimensions.
Clients commission the mosaic for domestic settings as well as commercial purposes such as hotels. Soula spoke with passion about her art and with real enthusiasm for life, leaving us all feeling upbeat as we left her studio.
The group had a brief interlude and wandered the narrow streets of old town Lemesos, where we came upon an outlet for the Cyprus Handicraft Service. Part of the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism, the Service advocates the preservation of folk art as part of Cypriot cultural heritage and aims to perpetuate folk art as part of Cypriot historical and national identity. What a find! Inside we found a various traditional crafts, including of course Lefkara lace as we had encountered the previous day. However here there was evidence of design innovation, for example one potter had made plates with Lefkara lace imprinted into the surface. The result was simple yet effective, aesthetically pleasing and contemporary. The shop only stocked & sold Cypriot made craft, pricing ranged from affordable to expensive. It’s a shame it is tucked away from the main streets where it would perhaps have more footfall & custom.
We drove out of Limassol, along by Akrotiri. There is a large Royal Air Force station here, so the sky had plenty of military air traffic. Here was another inescapable dimension to Cypriot life, the British military presence.
The afternoon was spent on site, firstly visiting the ancient archaeological site of Kourion. We were able to view staggering Roman mosaics in the House of Achilles, which are protected from the elements under huge canopies. We made direct comparisons with the Mosaic Collective and appreciated the longevity of the medium and it’s ability to tell stories. The whole site was huge and included a cliff top auditorium, classical architectural details littered the area – a brilliant place. I got carried away photographing the ionic capitals in particular. As well as all the perfectly carved stone, the exposed structures of under-floor heating were made from stacked ceramic discs and blocks. Coming from a ceramics trained background, I am always drawn to such functional use of clay, not to mention the Roman drainage system & sewers. We completed our itinerary for the day at The Temple of Hylates.
Kornos Pottery & Lefkaritika Lessons
Thursday 17th September 2015. Today was a hands-on day. In the morning we journeyed 25 minutes north east of Lefkara, to the small village of Kornos. Here we were greeted by the wonderful, women of the pottery cooperative. They provided us with a demonstration of their pot making techniques and the opportunity to make our own using the rich red terracotta clay. Coffee was served and through translation we exchanged lots of information. The unprocessed clay sat in mound by the side of the road which I found curious, so I enquired about it’s preparation, as it is heavy work. A tour of the clay mill & machinery ensued and it was explained that a local man helped with this. We looked around the store room full of fired pots in all shapes and sizes, from bee hives to cooking pots. We saw their working electric kiln. There was also an unmissable 200 year-old, brick-built, wood-fired kiln – a thing of beauty in need of restoration, which is planned. Another more dilapidated kiln sat crumbling behind the main building, seemingly beyond repair.
The shop also served as a make shift museum, displaying photographs of the potters throughout the 20th Century when it was a much larger concern, employing many more villagers and supporting more families. Today there are no young people joining the Kornos pottery or learning the skills, so it’s long term future is uncertain.
The pottery workshop facilities were very basic, partially in the open air. As we were working it struck me, the pace at which the potter’s could complete an entire pot was hastened because of the warmer climate allowed the clay to firm up much quicker than the UK. Paired with their perfectly honed building skills, the potters could produce a complete decorated piece in under an hour, to await firing in the kiln.
I also asked about the potters’ health, if anyone suffered from chest complaints from the clay dust, which can cause silicosis, they all shook their heads. The workshop had no extraction system, which is mandatory for health & safety in the UK. Then again, the workspace was open and ventilated by nature. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my pot making skills as well as meeting these great people.
In the afternoon we returned to Lefkara clutching our unfired earthenware. It was time to apply more dexterity and attempt some Lefkara lace making. Panayiota was our patient teacher and she started us off by showing the margarite pattern. This geometric design requires precision embroidery, good eyesight for counting warp & weft threads and for a beginner, vast amounts of concentration. The instructions made perfect sense but putting it into practice was another matter. The lesson made us all appreciate Lefkaritika that wee bit more.
Loulla’s Farm, Lefkosia North & South
Friday 18th September 2015. Today started with a trip into the countryside for breakfast. On our way a black snake slid across the road in front of us, apparently a large Whip-Snake, quite a sight. At Loulla’s Farm we found out how Cypriot cheese is made, we had a demonstration of how the goats’ milk is treated, brined and stored to produce halloumi – yum! The process was straightforward with the addition of a pinch of mint and a vacuum pack, done. Outside there was a cheese safe containing what I believe was maturing kefalotyri, another Cypriot delight. We got to visit the goats & even meet a day old kid. Now we were ready to see Lefkosia or Nicosia, on both sides.
Nearing the capital city of Cyprus I was very surprised to see a giant Turkish Cypriot flag painted onto the side of the Kyrenia Mountains – what a statement. Following the conflict of 1974, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus TRNC became a self-declared state, however it is only recognised by Turkey. The political and military dispute in Cyprus remains unresolved and the island continues with life, divided. The Green Line runs 112 miles from east to west across the island, splitting families, property and communities.
We parked by the C16th Venetian city walls and continued on foot through the narrow back streets to our first destination, Helen’s of Kyrenia, a lace shop at 33 Ippokratous. The stock in the shop dated back decades. To my delight amongst the heaps of lace, tatting & embroidery, I found a packet which explained the provenance of the Lefkara lace within; Guarantee Hand Made – Made in Cyprus – Irish Linen – French Thread. Perfect.
Despite the daily impasse, the people of Nicosia go about their business as usual, at least on the surface. Once you start to look around however there are clues on the streets. Still on the south side of the city, we began to notice thought provoking graffiti, not unlike the imagery that adorns the barrier walls of Bethlehem or indeed the peace lines of Belfast. When people live conflict every day for 40+ years, it cannot be ignored. at the time The Scotsman newspaper reported on the Turkish-Cypriot war & is documented with poignant imagery from 1974. (Image © The Scotsman. Licensor Scran)
Nicosia is a vibrant & sophisticated city, with a buzz in the streets. Trendy shops & coffee houses lined the artists’ quarter. After a little pick-me-up in the form of some Cyprus coffee, μέτριο for me please, we neared the Green Line. Passports at the ready we crossed over to the north side of the city through two sets of border control, Greek & Turkish. It was easy enough the pass through, plenty of tourists and locals alike were going to & fro. Yet, CCTV was evident, uniformed armed guards were on duty & signage warned us that photography was strictly forbidden in this narrow slice of no-man’s land. The freely available maps of the city tell their own story, both versions simply do not show basic information on their enemy’s side. Visitors must use not one, but two, maps to see the lay of the land and get their bearings in Nicosia.
Once we had crossed the Green Line we made our way to the breath-taking Buyuk Han or Grand Inn. It as built in 1572 by the Ottomans and was been restored to it’s former glory in the 1990s. The contrast in the city was immediately apparent. We passed by the intriguing Selimiye Mosque as the call to prayer rang out. Formerly it was the Cathédrale Sainte Sophie, so architecturally & spiritually it has been re-purposed. The result is an odd juxtapostion of east meets west – gothic grandeur, flying buttresses with minarets and ornate window grills. I even spotted a Green man lurking in the masonry over the entrance. Also by the main door there was a suspiciously Scottish looking, ironwork structure used for the washing of feet. It was not dissimilar to a bandstand, however it had obviously been re-purposed too. I was unable to find any makers mark but it was reminiscent of the products shipped around the world by The Lion Foundry of Kirkintilloch. (Image © East Dunbartonshire Council. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk.)
The many souvenir shops in the area were selling Turkish Delight, not Cypriot Delight, as they were just a few hundred metres away. Within the Buyuk Han, we feasted on a meze of Turkish Cypriot dishes and then visited the wonderful Senay Ekingen, at Su-Ha Tic. Senaye studied tourism in England and has run her business since 1987, making Lefkara lace in the traditional manner as well as creating new products to incorporate it, such as bags & jewellery. She also imports her base fabric from one of the last linen producing mills left in Ireland, Thomas Ferguson.
Not only is she a successful businesswoman, but Senaye also works on bi-communal projects, using craft to bring together Cypriots from both sides of the divide and trains up young apprentices too. Thereby generating hope for the future and breaking down barriers. Later we visited the amazing Yagcioglu haberdashery, which stocked the all-important DMC (Dollfus-Mieg & Compagnie) French embroidery thread for making Lefkaritika, in an extensive back catalogue of colours. (Here’s an example of embroidery on Scran using DMC thread)
We wound our way back along the colourful Ledera Street, via the folk arts museum, stumbled on some Limassol Brick & Tile co. roof tiles for good measure & once again crossed the Green Line, pausing to look at the contemporary sculptures in our path.
Saturday 19th September 2015. After such a full day in the capital, we stayed local and visited the neighbouring village of Kato Drys. Firstly, we went to the top of Sotira hill, behind Lefkara to get panoramic view across the Larnaca District and surrounding landscape and visited the tiny church perched there. It had some charming icons dating from the early C20th.
Next stop was by an ancient oak and some knarly, old olive trees. We heard from Martin some local folklore about village rivalry & how the village took its name from the many “Dryes” (oaks) that grew in the area. Martin also informed us about community efforts to sew acorns & regenerate some of these magnificent trees.
We had the pleasure of visiting house of Elli Papachristoforou, who generously let us sample some of her honey which was rather special. She then gave us a guided tour of both the (Embroidery) Museum of Folk Art and the (Bee) Agricultural Museum of Kato Drys. Both were captivating and provided further context for everything we had learned over the previous days in respect of Cypriot culture, nature, social & economic growth. The homestead of Reo Stakis was pointed out to us, the famous son of the village who built the Stakis Hotels empire.
From Agros to Zygi
Sunday 20th September 2015. In the capable hands of our host for the day, Adriana Patkova, we wove our way through the twisty mountain roads of Cyprus, spotting beehives, bikers, wind turbines, reservoirs, solar farms, eucalyptus trees, terraces & an asbestos mine.
I took issue with the interpretation on site, there was the distinct lack of information about the hazards of asbestos & the effects on the nearby mining villages as clearly studied in here. Report on the Health Effects of the Asbestos Mines on the … Some advice for visitors poking around in the rocks would not go amiss.Contaminated land from historical mining in Cyprus is an issue. The Amiantos Asbestos Mine in the Troodos National Park, where we stopped is undergoing restoration. The biodiversity conservation, restoration and management project concludes at the end of December 2015. (Image © Newsquest. Licensor Scran)
Moving on. We arrived at picturesque Agros where we visited a smokery, had a peek into the smoking room at Kafkalia and sampled their products; posirti, lountza, loukanika, hiromeri, zalatina, tsamarelle and pastourmas. After lunch we continued to climb to the top, reaching Troodos Square we couldn’t help but notice the familiar environment, it looked like Scotland! There was a thistle to prove it. The British military presence was again, all around. We went to the rather dated visitor centre and proceeded to Pano Platres where we saw a peculiar post box. Finally we had a long drive, down to the coast and back to Lefkara with a pit stop in Zygi.
Silversmithing & Stansted
Monday 21st September, our final day. We made an early morning visit to the silversmiths in Lefkara and learned about their processes, which are mostly mechanised but involved all sorts of materials, rubber, wax, plaster and of course silver. The workshops were very interesting but we could not linger. Adriana had to get us to the airport for our incredible journey home to Glasgow, via Stansted. I’m glad to say on our way to Paphos she took us to see Aphrodite’s Rock, the ideal way to say goodbye & ευχαριστώ
The experiences of this week were fascinating. From knowing very little about Cyprus I now feel after this cultural exchange that I have gained a decent understanding of Cypriot life, both contemporary and traditional.
Everybody we encountered was genuinely friendly & extremely welcoming. I found more personal parallels with the socio-political divide in the country than I expected. Equally wrong and sorrowful situations continue to blight people in both Cyprus, Northern Ireland and in so many places around the world.
The cuisine was fabulous, the crafts exquisite, the landscape so dry and different & the company… well, we had a lot of fun too!
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