Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism – Cyprus, September 2015
Funded by Erasmus+, promoted by ARCH, host partner, Kato Drys
Key Objective: Living and working in a remote rural area in the far North of Scotland I applied to participate in the Cyprus Programme to see if there were any useful comparisons between the two countries to explore opportunities for sharing/learning from one another as to how best to incorporate traditional skills back into fiercely competitive economies.
So many things spin in my head as I contemplate my recent visit to the various projects and places in Cyprus. I feel unable to categorize them as there are so many overlaps so I have settled for two rather broad categories – the land and the people – within these I hope to give a flavour of the geographical area and highlight some of the traditional skills of the local people.
Imagine you are talking to someone who has no knowledge of either place…you say Cyprus and first thoughts may be hot, sunny, dry, mosquitoes; then you say Scottish Highlands and it quickly changes to cold, grey, wet, midges. The term ‘Chalk and Cheese’ springs to mind but already there is a commonality, the native blood-sucking beastie! Both, of course, were bred by local inhabitants to ensure that visitors do not outstay their welcome. So, I ask myself, do the two places have anything at all in common other than their local ‘pest’? At this point I feel that I have to make a confession…my initial instinct prior to this trip was that the answer be ‘very little’. Well, I got that one wrong by a long shot. Within just one week I was astounded at just how much my remote rural area had in common with this far off foreign land. That said, there were some striking differences too but without these we cannot learn from one other. And, imagine my surprise when I spotted our traditional emblem growing happily in a completely different climate! I took this as a ‘sign’, this was going to be a Home from Home…
The heat hit me the minute I stepped off the plane in Paphos, a stark contrast to the temperature I had left behind. However, once packed cosily into our vehicle, the headlights began to shine on some immediate parallels – we were driving on the left for starters…oh, and as in Scotland, the wee one always gets put in the boot! The road signs looked the same, the English name and the one you cannot pronounce, except here it was Greek rather than Gaelic – to my shame I would fail in equal measure in my attempt at either. May I make my tribute here to our guide for this trip, Martin Clark, who from the very outset shared his wealth of knowledge of the area with us. I cannot emphasise enough how invaluable a resource such as Martin is to these projects – thanks Martin J
On arrival at our truly excellent accommodation in the small village of Lefkara I was greeted by something totally alien, an open air swimming pool, but decided that this was something I could learn to live with…in time… NO… in seconds…I had just come out of a human microwave after all.
The morning dawn brought with it a striking difference – instead of looking at lush green grass and a treeless landscape under a cloudy sky I opened my eyes to sun shining on white clay-like soil and an endless selection of healthy trees, all weighted down with fresh goodies ripe for the picking – but I was looking at mountains and inhaling clean country air, so yet again felt rather at home. And of course, there’s nothing like a pylon or a windmill these days to make you feel totally at ease!
After covering a bit of ground, the history of the land began to emerge, as did the comparison with my homeland. In the rural parts of both countries the old farming traditions have been lost to a large degree and there are vast areas poorly cultivated, inaccessible by machinery…the same story in both, people are no longer willing to do things by hand as their ancestors did, if it cannot be done by machine then it cannot be done is the rule. I felt a sense of sadness, as I do at home, seeing potential produce lying on the ground rotting because there is nobody left to harvest it…and deserted houses where people have left in search of a ‘better way of life’ or were forced to move due to political powers beyond their control. But all is not lost, there is clear evidence of regeneration and re–cultivation taking place in rural Cyprus, in some parts more than in my own local area.
Our visit to the archaeology site of Kourion (on the outskirts of Larnaka) highlighted similarities in our histories…the Romans reached both destinations without cheap airline tickets! I stood looking at some (more recent, in historical terms) living quarters that had been unearthed and could have been standing on a site in Orkney except for the white rather than grey stone colour. I just get so excited to see that the same structures were thought of by people so many worlds apart in different climates but meeting the same basic daily living needs (underfloor heating system on right). Similar attempts have been made in both countries to conserve these ‘finds’ for research and future generations, lest we forget what we can learn from our ancestors. Similar controversies appear too, objections by local people to conservation structures, however, clearly these structures were built with the landscape in mind. The natural wood frames and the colour of the protective cover in-keeping with its surroundings. It took me in mind of recent local objections to a wooden structure built for purpose on our own open landscape. Whilst I barely noticed what some called an ‘eyesore’ I still notice the pylons which never seem to have blended into the landscape.
The coastline…the immediate contrast was the ‘almost black’ sand compared to our golden equivalent…then deckchairs all lined up rather than miles of deserted beach. The sea looked inviting with its calmness…let’s just say ours often has a bit more ‘life’ about it and appeals mainly to the surfers nowadays. Having a father as a fisherman, the fishing appears to be much like home too in that it is there are only a few working ports left, like the one in Zygi where it is tough to earn a living from it due to reduced stock and the introduction of fishing quotas. Like home, fresh fish has become an expensive meal out.
Water management is an issue in both our countries, albeit one is trying to conserve it while the other is trying to dispose of it. I was impressed with the dam structures and terracing dotted all over the higher ground, catching every possible drop before it disappears into the dry landscape. Our dams may have different aims but the process is similar and fulfils the purpose to a degree. I was particularly impressed with the smaller scale drainage system built by a group of UK students in the ‘Green Garden’ next to Martin’s home – again, it is designed to conserve excess water from a nearby pool overflow. Living on a steep hillside myself I plan to pinch this simple yet effective method to prevent my shed at the bottom from being flooded in heavy rainfall. I also picked up that perhaps in Scotland we need to plant the thirsty Eucalyptus rather than the traditional Pine. Knowing little on the ‘tree’ subject I am sure there is a legitimate explanation why we don’t.
Key Learning: Despite having totally opposite climates both countries are experiencing similar declines in their traditions of farming and fishing. Water management is an issue for both, in different ways, but there is real scope for sharing lessons on forestry plantations and effective drainage/conservation mechanisms. Use of solar and wind power as alternative energy sources is developing at similar rates. Our archaeological histories have a striking resemblance with evidence of the different eras being discovered but the Scottish Highlands have scope to learn from conservation and visitor attraction techniques being used in Cyprus.
Highlanders are renowned for their hospitality…and according to my ‘senses’ barometer, so are Cypriots. You need not even speak the language to feel the warmth, to read the eyes, to notice the gestures…everywhere I went I felt nothing but welcome. The rural villages bore a striking resemblance to my own …empty houses, the average age population being older…the younger generations moving to the cities to earn money…to access higher education…to live a more prosperous lifestyle than their parents. As someone who did exactly the same in my youth I can empathise but I only hope that young people today do not take as long as I did to recognise the true value of life in the richness of the landscape, of local heritage, of the skills and lessons of our forebears, of the need to care for our environment that we seem so intent on abusing.
Talking with some local craftspeople the familiar story of home – the ‘young’ have no interest in learning how to sew, how to mould pots, how to carve wood or how to work the land.
Pottery: We visited a local workshop in Kornos and watched 3 extremely skilled self-employed women at work…the speed at which they created the finest of pots was breath-taking.
We had the privilege of being shown how to make our clay pot, using the same Neolithic coiling method that is evident back home – in fact one of our oldest pieces on display in my local museum is the Chealamy Neolithic Beaker. I did attend a workshop run by Strathnaver Museum using exactly the same method but the temperature and terracotta clay did make the process easier in Cyprus as the material was much more flexible.
There are exciting plans to restore the original kiln at ….within the next few months. I look forward to seeing it in action when I next visit as it has so much more character than the modern-day version, as well as being more environmentally friendly.
The women who work here are also keen to have their own workshop rather than be part of a co-operative venture. I truly hope their dream can be realised as they have so much more to offer to the pottery industry and to those of us eager to learn from their valuable skills.
Lefkara Lace: Sadness again envelopes me as I see the most beautiful, time-intensive, intricate and uniquely skilled works of art dying a slow death as the people who are still able to create them get older and have nobody to pass their gift onto…piles of amazing pieces sitting on shelves with no recognition of the devotion that went into them. Once again however, there is evidence of innovation taking place here too – workshops and training opportunities are being promoted to encourage people to learn traditional skills, evidence also of product designs appealing to the more contemporary market. It was the strangest thing….I sat one evening after visiting some lace shops in Lefkara and began jotting down some ideas of items that could be made out of local lace to broaden their market potential …imagine my surprise when I walked into Senay’ s shop in Nicosia to see that almost every ‘novel’ suggestion on my list was already on display. I felt a sense of sheer excitement that things were already happening to save these skills and bring this beautiful work to the attention of the wider world. I do feel that there is potential here to explore the re-creation (call it recycling) of existing lace items into more marketable products so as not to leave large piles of time-intensive labour sitting on shelves.
Back in Lefkara we were privileged to watch local women at work and be shown the traditional lace-making method by Panayiota. Lefkara Lace is created by embroidering designs onto Irish Linen with specific traditional thread colours – the designs are made using thread counting method which is incredibly time intensive and requires an extremely good eye. Being a keen hand sewer myself, I plan to use this method back home to create designs and ideas relevant to my local area, once I have bought myself some glasses that is! It is comforting to know that Lefkara Lace achieved inclusion in the World Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2010 thanks to the help of Cyprus Handicraft Service.
Mosaics: A brief visit to the Mosaic Collective in Lemesos highlighted, for me, the progress that has been achieved by supporting a local artist to set up her own workshop and gallery. This visit showed clearly that traditional with contemporary can be successfully combined and that the younger generations can be inspired to maintain and develop the art of mosaic.
Silver: Our very last visit (on the way to the airport) was to a local Silversmiths in Lefkara. I got the sense that the local tradition of Silversmithing has been hit the hardest here with clear evidence of most workshops closed down. This is mainly due to cheap imports being readily available on the market. I was slightly disappointed on this visit to see jewellery being made, en masse as it were, using moulds and machinery. Having attended a workshop at home on traditional Greek Jewellery Making I think I was expecting to find the same in Cyprus. With such fierce competition in the market it may be worth the Silversmiths taking a step back and returning to the more traditional hand crafted designs. It would not guarantee survival but at least the pieces made would be totally unique and appeal to a more exclusive market perhaps.
Key Learning: Having only got a glimpse of some of the local skills in Cyprus the resonance with home is clear. These unique traditions are fast disappearing in both and if we are not to lose them completely we need to join forces to come up with realistic solutions as to how they can be preserved. Both countries face a similar economic market so ideas need to look at the potential for income generation via the tourism industry (e.g. promote ‘cultural workshop’ based holiday packages, develop contemporary but unique portable products using individual or a combined skill base) Although it is happening to an extent (e.g. lace design silver and mosaic) it would be great if these traditional skill bases could work together more to produce new ideas combining designs, methods and materials.
I was speechless (and this is rare) as the door was unlocked and I entered into what I can only describe as my own wee ‘heaven’…the rest of the group almost had to tether me to the floor I was flying so high in my excitement! And this was only one of the two museums in the tiny village of Kato Drys.
Just to give a brief context in case you read this and think that I am being a bit overdramatic in my enthusiasm here – I have spent the last 5 years working as a Volunteer in Strathnaver Museum situated in a very remote rural area so I literally could not believe it when I saw exactly the same, but different, objects on display in Kato Drys .
I just feel such a sense of awe when I see how our ancestors came up with almost exactly the same ideas so many miles apart. Now we have the technology of course but back then, these people sat down and thought of the best way to do a specific task and came up with the same ideas – now that is pretty fantastic. Yes, they may look slightly different, according to design and materials, but the purpose and functionality is the same. The entire trip was a constant wealth of learning for me but to be able to walk into another museum and feel as though I am at home really is beyond words…the only downside is that we visited on a day that this museum was closed to the public so I did not have a chance to speak to anyone involved in running it. I am however committed to developing links and finding out more on my return home.
Traditional spinning wheel Traditional kitchen & cooking oven Traditional living/dining room
The very current relevance here is that Strathnaver Museum is about to undergo a major refurbishment and I can immediately see how we could better interpret our displays by seeing how brilliantly they have done this in Kato Drys. It speaks volumes through its simplicity, photographic imagery and uncluttered layout. This form of display interpretation is ideal for a multi-cultural audience and minimises the need for lengthy text in multiple languages. This Museum is relatively new whereas Strathnaver celebrates its 40th anniversary next year so there is real scope for sharing what has been learned over time and when it is time to look at things afresh.
We did visit the second museum and what a pleasure to meet Ellie who runs it within her own home. This woman has a personality that would inspire anyone to participate in her workshops on lace-making and bee-keeping. The two village museums are different but have clear links. I did not get an opportunity to ask about joint working between them but do see that it would make sense to combine their efforts to draw people to this attractive and informative place, perhaps one focussing on the historical side and the other on the more practical skills.
I was particularly excited to hear about plans to renovate an old school building in Kato Drys with the intention of offering workshops and skills training in local arts/crafts. In Strathnaver we already work closely with our local school and currently offer similar opportunities using evening classes to teach woodwork, spinning, traditional jewellery-making, knitting, crocheting, genealogy and Gaelic language and so on. Both museums are looking at options to ensure future financial sustainability, which includes looking at product development based on local craft skills, research and training opportunities, and attracting a wider audience. I see huge potential here for some method of joint-working and information sharing so that the best practice methods of working could be shared and adopted by both.
Key Learning: The museums in Kato Drys and Strathnaver have such striking similarities that it would be a waste not to work together in some way to promote and preserve their futures. Both have the same goals – to preserve their local heritage, culture, traditions and to attract a wider audience with the ultimate aim of becoming financially self-sufficient in the future. I see huge scope here for some exciting collaboration work.
I am aware that I have omitted so much in this report, not because I have overlooked things, but simply because there was so much. And so much delicious food! I enjoyed the simple fact that we were eating fresh, home-grown, home-cooked food – a welcome change from the prepackaged menu back home. I feel that the local food merits a report in itself so I will say no more.
This may not be relevant but I just have to add it. Having lived in my own rural bubble for the past 10 years I was shocked to see such a change in my own outside world. I actually laughed out loud sitting in Glasgow station (I believe LOL is the term) as I observed that the human race had developed some strange growths since my last visit… some form of handheld device literally growing from the palm… on the streets, on buses, on trains, in shops, pretty much everywhere… this new look seems to be the latest trend. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the spoken word, eye contact, expression and gesture. I am pleased to report that I found this ‘old’ system still alive and kicking in Cyprus, with the added bonus of retaining the traditional Sunday of lunch, family time, spiritual feeding and rest. I can almost feel a workshop in traditional human communication skills coming on!
To sum up the whole experience in just one word, inspirational. There are not enough words to describe my sincerest gratitude to all who made this fantastic opportunity possible and there are certainly not enough words here to cover even a fraction of what I experienced and learned but I do know that I now have real options, home and away.
Must go now… have more important things to do… need to get my needle and thread out to practice my Lefkara lace-making skills…thanks Panayiota J
My reserved seat in Lefkara!
Key Outcome: Despite the vastly different climate and landscape, I drew on more comparisons than differences. Both communities have the same aims…to preserve and promote their land, history, heritage and traditional skills, to inspire younger generations to participate via projects/ workshops/training initiatives and to attract interest/visitors in order to become financially sustainable in a tough economic climate. I see real scope for future joint working partnerships between Cyprus and Scotland, more especially between Strathnaver and Kato Drys Museums. Having just secured a place on a Museum Studies Course via St. Andrews University I aim to ensure that I pursue this vision.
Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill, Scottish Highlands