In September 2015, I was able to participate in a Erasmus+ cultural heritage exchange to the island of Cyprus. Our base camp for the trip was a set of apartments called Althlesi Heights in Pano Lefkara, a village in the south-west foothills of the Troodos Mountains. There were five of us who travelled on the trip and we all worked within heritage education and community outreach and were known in Cyprus as the “teachers”!
The week long course looked at aspects of managing cultural assets in Cyprus and the empowerment of the local community through the management of their cultural heritage. The island of Cyprus has a rich history with continuous occupation periods including Neolithic, Phoenician, Minoan, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Ottoman, Colonial British periods.
The trip looked as several aspects of Cypriot culture; including mosaics, the historic domi (terraces) and lacemaking and how this can empower people in the local communities.
Following a late arrival into Paphos airport on the Monday night, our first day was one that we spent familiarising ourselves with the village with the expert help of our host Martin Clark.
We started with being shown the different types of foods that could be foraged from the immediate area around our apartment. These included Prickly Pears (which we were warned not to touch without supervision), figs and carab pods. Many of the older generation still care for pick the fruit of the trees.
Martin then took us around and introduced us to some of the locals (who provided us with fresh lemonade which became a staple drink for me), many of whom have shops selling the traditional Lefkaritika lace and silver.
The production and selling of Lefkaritika and silver smiting had a great impacted on the development on the village in the past, and are a key part of cultural heritage and everyday life in the community.
While Martin took us around the village he pointed out the various buildings of interest and points of reference for navigation, which proved very useful. The streets in the village are narrow and winding, with cars, motorbikes and people navigating the streets. I have no idea how people drove around the village when in several cases there was little more than an inch either side of the wing mirrors.
What was really interesting to see in Pano Lefkara (Upper Lefkara), and that is the same in other Cypriot villages, is that there are some buildings which are unoccupied. As we walked around Martin told us that buildings that had green paint are traditionally a Turkish Cypriot house while blue is a Greek Cypriot house. Following the occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, and the drawing of the Green Line the Turkish Cypriots moved north and left behind their homes. Likewise the Greek Cypriots from the north moved south, leaving their homes.
What I found most interesting about the houses in the village have doorknockers in the shapes of female hands. Traditionally Turkish Cypriot households this represents the hand of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, while in Greek Cypriot households it is the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus. The hands are so similar and to me the ‘tourist’ they looked the same, but it was amazing how with the knowledge of the colours and a little about the religion you could read the differences.
That evening we were able to sample some of the local food from Martins outdoor clay oven – personally my favourite was the Tava, a kind of stew, made in a clay pot which was made by Panayotia.
Day Two – Limassol and Kourion
The following day we visited the Mosaic Collective (founded in 1981) in Limassol. We were able to meet Soulla, a fantastic woman who shared her passion for the art of mosaic and Cyprus with us. Soulla’s art takes the traditional mosaic and makes beautiful contemporary pieces which have been exhibited all over the world, including the Athens Olympic Games. As she spoke to the group about her work and Cyprus we all went very quiet and just listened. Her passion for art was infectious. Mosaic’s are an important part of Cypriot cultural history and Soulla uses her passion for art and this traditional art form for Art Therapy to help people. Through her use of a traditional art form she is able to make contemporary mosaic and use it as a tool to help others. It is a perfect example of traditional cultural heritage providing a platform to build contemporary designs and empower people and communities.
We moved on from Limassol to the Archaeological site of Kourion for the afternoon. Sadly we were too late in the season to see the pink Flamingos on the salt planes, but it was a beautiful drive along the coast line of Cyprus.
In the afternoon we visited the Archaeological site of Kourion, with a masters and undergraduate degree in archaeology this was one of the best parts of the trip for me!
While being extremely hot in the direct sun the entire group braved it to see the amazing archaeology at the site. What was amazing was the mosaics which have been beautifully preserved one of which is the same geometric shape as the pattern stitched into the lefkara lace. This geometric shape had been present in Cypriot culture for hundreds of years prior to is appropriation into the lace pattern.
Soulla had been very firm in describing this as an art form not craft.
Our mosaic day was very interesting as we were able to see the historic mosaics that act as an inspiration and help empower communities and artists.
Day Three – Kornos Pottery Collective and Lace Making
In the morning we travelled to Kornos, where we introduced to woman who are part of a pottery collective. The collective has a small museum with images of people hand throwing various types of ceramics. On site their is a huge kiln in need of restoration. This is an upcoming project which Panayotia and Martin are going to be working on with the ladies.
We were also able to have a shot at making our own pots, which are made in a similar way to the Neolithic pots which have been found during excavations on the island.
Some of our group came into their own in this experience, it did not come to me so easily- with the language barrier the ladies were very helpful and I was told I was adding too much water!! Eventually with the help of the ladies I successfully made a small pot and brought back to the UK in hand luggage.
Panayotia spent a few hours with the group teaching us the basics of the lefkara lace margarite pattern. As we had spent a few days in Lefkara and the surrounding areas I had seen a lot of Lekara lace, in this particular pattern!
It is amazing to walk around the winding streets of the villages and see woman sitting outside their shops making them. To be honest they made it look easy.
I watched the highly experience Panayotia show us the basics and watched a few of the others have a go before I finally dived in. You fix the linen to a cushion board with pins and use DMC Embroidery thread to stitch onto the Irish Linen; they only use this as the threads are good as they are “easily” counted for each stitch.
This was very tricky as you had to not pull the threads too tight – as I inevitably did! You also need to keep a hand between the cushion and the linen so not to stich the two together – again I did this somehow. The few hours spent doing this gave me a new appreciation for the time and dedication put into making the lace – and also when to spot (with the help of P) lace that isn’t quite up to scratch!
Lefkaritika is named after the village that we stayed in as it was the production hub for the fine beautiful material – Lefkara. The tradition dates back to at least the 14th century, it was influenced by preceding craft and fused with the embroidery of Venetians who ruled the from 1489. The geometric patterns can be seen in Roman mosaics and coming from Greek and Byzantine geometric patterns.
The craft is passed to young girls through watching and learning from female family members. Currently the interest of the younger generation is not on learning the traditional craft and many young woman do not know.
Helping to combat this was our hosts working with the locals to incorporate Lefkaritika patterns into contemporary clothing, and encourage people to become inventive with using it.
Around Lefkara only a few woman who work with Martin and P have incorporated the design into their products. There was little evidence of everyday tourist/lace shops doing this with the lace. As you walked around traditional embroidered sheets, hankies, table covers and so forth are hung up as if on washing lines for potential customers to see.
Lefkaritika lace making is registered as by UNESCO as intangible heritage. The definition of this term is that:
“While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.”
It is summed up in these four phrases – traditional, contemporary and living at the same time, Inclusive, Representative and community based. The lace truly is and the development of the lace and its incorporation into other pieces is very exciting and will open it up to a new audience.
Day Four- Nicosia and the North
Before the drive north to Nicosia we went to a halloumi farm; while I was unable to sample the halloumi the rest of the group greatly enjoyed the taste. We were then taken through to the back and shown how the halloumi was made. This was an interesting process, that was straightforward and done in two large vats. We were then taken up the hill and introduced to the herd of goats from which the halloumi came from.
We then headed north to Nicosia, as you head into the city there is a large statement by the Turkish Cypriots north of the Green Line the Turkish Cypriot flag painted onto the side of the Kyrenia Mountains. This flag is a statement meant for those driving in to the city. This flag represents the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which is only recognised by Turkey.
As we headed into Nicosia there was clear evidence in the form of street art that the political and military dispute in Cyprus remains unresolved. Like the unoccupied houses in Pano Lefkara the street art was a visual sign of the divided community.
As we headed across the Green Line check points we left behind the designer shop and art scene of Nicosia in Cyprus and headed into the winding streets and market shops of the north. Martin expertly guided us to the Buyuk Han(The Great Khan)for lunch and also to meet a businesswoman Senay.
Buyuk Han was built in 1577, which had major renovations in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is where we met who is involved in the bi-communal project of lace making with Panayotia.
The architecture of the building was unlike any building that I had seen south of the Green Line. We had a beautiful Turkish Cypriot lunch and enjoyed being in this busy little square.
Senay makes the traditional lace, embroidery and silk cocoon artwork; and then incorporates traditional Lefkaritika designs into necklaces, rings, bracelets. The labour intensive process of making the lace gave me an appreciation of the craft – however the bold colours used in Senay’s work really caught my eye. Senay is part of a bi communal project, with Panayotia which Martin helps to facilitate. Martin described the strong colours in the works as Ottoman colours – vibrant reds and purples and oranges. The stark contrast in colour (traditionally there are four muted colours) yet similarly in geometric shape are amazing when the traditional muted colours are paralleled with the bright threads.
We spent a while with Senay, drinking coffee and being shown how to make flowers from the silk cocoons. What was most striking for me about the time spent with Senay, was that regardless of what side of the Green Line people live they have the same passion for preserving their shared cultural heritage. People became displaced during the 1974 conflict and moved to their respective sides of the wall but they did for many years live side by side, creating their cultural heritage.
It struck me as similar to when at Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre we have visitors from all over the world who connect their family back to the ’45 conflict or even just wider Scotland. While they live many thousands of miles from these islands they have a passion for the cultural heritage. Wither it is the clothing (although clan tartans were not a thing until the Victorian period!), the language or the crafts. When I was reflecting on the experience of Nicosia it struck me that people are people where ever they are and regardless of political or religious affiliation, cultural heritage and intangible heritage connects people and can introduce a common ground which can open up wider discussions.
My favourite building in the north of Nicosia is the Selimiye Mosque, previously Cathedrale Sainte Sophia which was a Byzantine church. We arrived in the north during a call to prayer and we were able to see into the mosque through the huge open doors to see people at prayer.
Day Five – Kato Drys
Here we met Elli who works with Martin and Panayotia took us around the Museum of Folk Art and the Agricultural Museum of Kato Drys. This was a very interesting museum which was actually in Elli’s family home. She was a fantastic host for us and allowed us to try honey comb. The home turned museum is set within beautiful gardens which had very full fruit trees and flowers. It was a very idyllic place in which Elli explained the processes of wine, honey and Zivania; which is made from the skins of grapes and is similar to Grappa.
In Elli’s museum we were able to share knowledge on best practice for curating fabrics. I greatly enjoyed this part of the experience as we were able to have a dialogue between the group and a small Cypriot museum. For me it embodied the cultural exchange aspect of the trip and allowed me to share my (limited) knowledge.
Day Six- Agros and Troodos
Asbestos mine, the mine covered an area of 4.7km2 and was the biggest deposit in Europe, produced on an industrial scale from 1904 until the closure of the mine in 1988. At the viewpoint where we stopped, there was an information board. It explained that 130 million tons of asbestos was mined producing over 1 million asbestos fibres. The information board discussed the work that is being carried out to rehabilitate the land to stabilise and reforest the area as part of a wider master plan. It said nothing about the damaging effects that asbestos has on people’s health, having lived in a city where there are charities which were set up to help people who suffer the medical conditions coming from asbestos I found this bizarre that there was no mention.
What I did find interesting that it was used historically in the classical and roman period for the creation of shrouds, shoes, wicks and lamps.
We also visited the Troodos Mountains Visitor Centre/Museum which had taxidermy displays looking at the wildlife around the centre, the best part of the museum for me was the tree section on display which showed the rings and showed significant historical events. I found this a really simple yet interesting display.
This cultural exchange came at an interesting point in my adult heritage education “career”. When I applied for this trip I was the Learning and Volunteer Management Intern at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, part of the National Trust for Scotland. What attracted me originally to this placement was the agricultural side of the placement. Looking at the land management practices and way communities are working within historic landscapes. Burns Cottage was a Market Garden farm when the Burnes family lived there and agriculture and nature was a huge influence in Burns’s work. However I changed jobs and moved to be the Head Education Guide at Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, also a NTS property. Cyprus came in two weeks after I had moved north and was very fresh in my new position. However it still fitted in well as I could look at the conflict and bi communal project sides in more depth. I was able to look at the impacts of a civil war on a community, and how cultures the Cypriot island like the British Isles are a huge melting point for cultures and history.
I spent 7 days with 4 other wonderful ladies who are all at varying points in their adult education heritage careers. I was able to learn as much from these wonderful ladies as I was from the Cypriot people that we met. A real asset to the group was Zooulla, from Hugh Millar’s Birthplace Museum, she was able to give us an insight into her thoughts as a Greek Cypriot looking at Cyprus as a tourist, and do a lot of translations particularly about coffee and lace making for us.
A huge thank you to Libby, who organised the exchange trip at the Scottish end and also to Martin, Panayotia and Adrianna who hosted the adventure, they made the days informative and fun! We had amazing people that we met around Cyprus who shared many good Cypriot coffees, lemonades and stories with us. And of course the ladies I travelled with it would not have been the same without you.
What is Intangible Heritage, UNESCO http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00002