Cyprus: A Communion with Religion and History


An open-air museum is the best way to describe this small island country and its long and storied history. Add in the strong Greek mythology and devout Greek Orthodox religion, and you have a country that is a true communion with history and religion.

Eleni, our tour guide during the week we were in Cyprus, educated us on numerous aspects of her country, including: nature/natural resources, history and geography, mythology, the tourism industry, the Greek Orthodox religion and the politically charged Cyprus Problem. She was cautious to preface some of her opinions, as just that, but I certainly learned more from her than any history book.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, and is located about 60 miles from Turkey and 72 miles from Syria. The country was formed from a volcano. According to history, earthquakes destroyed almost all of the towns of Cyprus during the fourth century. Its soil is mainly chalk and limestone with sparse vegetation, and the climate mostly hot and arid.

Geographically, Cyprus is divided into three portions: the Troodos Mountains, the Kyrrian Mountain and the Mesari plain, located between the two mountains. The Troodos Mountain range was formed from an earthquake and is mostly solid lava rock.

Cyprus has two natural salt lakes, both of which are dry most of the year, filling up only during the winter rainy period. During the Middle Ages, the salt was mined and exported, as Europe didn’t have salt for some reason. It is no longer mined, according to Eleni, because it is polluted.

salt-lakeThe largest salt lake, near the Larnaca airport, attracts thousands of flamingoes, wild swans and other migrating birds from Asia during the winter months, which then return to Asia in the spring.

According to the story of how the salt lake of Larnaca was formed, as told by Eleni, when Lazarus came to the Larnaca area in 32 AD, he was thirsty and hungry. He saw a vineyard of grapes ready for harvest, and asked the vineyard owner, an elderly lady, who was holding a basket full of grapes if he might have some. She refused telling him that the basket was full of salt. Lazarus became very angry and reportedly transformed the vineyard into a salt lake and the basket she was holding into a basket full of salt. People who later worked in the salt lake said they would periodically find roots of the old lady’s vineyard.

Larnaca aquaductNearby the lake are the remains of an aqueduct, built in 1745 AD that supplied water to Larnaca and was in use for approximately 200 years.

Natural Resources/Nature
Copper was discovered during the period between the Stone and Bronze ages. At first the discovery was not well known; however, during the 2500 BC period, word got out, and then the island invasions began in earnest, says Eleni. The Syrians, Egyptians and Persians all invaded Cyprus for its copper. It is believed the island has taken the name from the ‘Cypressus’, the Cyprus trees, and that the island gave the name to copper.

black-olivesAs you may suspect, olive trees are abundant on the island. According to Eleni, the oldest olive trees in the country are about 700 years old and still producing. She explained the way to recognize an old olive tree is that it has a hollow trunk. Urban legend says you can put a double bed inside an old olive tree trunk.

In addition to olive trees, there are also plenty of carob trees since they do not require much water and grow well in poor soil. Cyprus has about three million carob and olive trees. The carob has the shape of a bean and is black. There are many seeds within the actual plant. “In the past, four seeds of a carob was the standard measure. The carob is used in the plastic industry making cassettes, cosmetics and carob syrup, also known as black honey,” explains Eleni.

Grapes are another important natural resource. Cyprus has about 120 different varieties of grapes that are divided into two categories: table grapes and wine grapes.

Eleni launched into a story about the wine grapes, which she categorized as Very Good. According to her story, “when Richard the Lionhearted came to Cyprus, the inhabitants wanted to welcome him so they offered him a new variety of grapes. They were very delicious. When he tasted them, he announced ‘very good’. But the inhabitants could not speak his language, and they thought he said the name of the variety. Since then, this variety of grape has been known as ‘Very Good’.”

Table grapes grow in the lower elevations with limestone, while the wine grapes grow up in the mountains where there is high rainfall. Because wine grapes ripen longer and become sweeter, workers are paid according to the sweetness of the grapes when they take them to the winery, Eleni stated.

Pine, eucalyptus, mimosa and cypress trees are popular and also plentiful across the island. The British imported Eucalyptus trees to Cyprus from Australia. There are 27 kinds of Eucalyptus documented on the island. This type of tree has the ability to absorb the water from the ground, another reason why they are so popular.

The government has begun reforesting the trees as many had been destroyed. The three reasons for destruction were:

  • Cedar trees provided hardwood for building products and home building;
  • Trees were cut down for heating homes after the copper discovery; and
  • Forests were destroyed by invasions of armies.

A Brief History Lesson
In 323 BC, Alexander the Great liberated Cyprus from the Persians. This was the start of the Hellenistic period. The capital of Cyprus was transferred from Salamis to Paphos, simply because Paphos was the nearest point to Alexandria. Paphos was the capital from the Roman period of 58 BC until the fifth century AD.

During the Byzantine period from the fifth century to 1191 AD, the Archbishop of Cyprus controlled the country. In a vision, he was told that under a carob tree in a Roman tomb in Salamis were the relics of St. Barnabas. He went there, found them, and took them to the archbishop.

During 1191, Richard the Lionhearted was on his way to the Holy Land. One of his boats (carrying his sister and fiancé) mistakenly landed in Cyprus and the occupants, including the two women, were captured. Therefore, Richard the Lionhearted subsequently invaded the island, taking control of it, and released his sister and fiancé.

“But because he really didn’t want to keep Cyprus,” explains Eleni, “he sold the island to the rulers of Jerusalem. Because of the revolutions, they could not keep the island either, and eventually gave it back to Richard.”

In 1489, the last queen of Cyprus – who had a Venetian bloodline – passed the island to the Venetians who ruled from 1499 until 1571. They placed heavy taxes on people and built many fortifications. None of the walls were finished, however, when the Ottomans invaded. The Ottoman Turks then ruled Cyprus until 1878.

From 1879 until 1960, Cyprus was a British colony. In 1960 Cyprus won its independence and has remained so. As part of the agreement, the British bases would remain. According to Eleni, there are about 99 square miles of British bases on the island.

Archbishop Makarios III was elected president in 1960 was making Cyprus the first country with a Christian leader. His vice president was Dr. Fazil Kucuk from the Turkish Muslim community. At the time of Cyprus’ independence, the population was estimated to be 650,000, of which 80 percent were Greek Cypriots, 18 percent Turkish Cypriots and two percent other minorities, such as Armenians, Latins and Maronites.

“The Greek Cypriots speak the Greek language, as do the Christian Orthodox,” explains Eleni. “The Turkish Cypriots speak the Turkish language and are Muslim, but the common language between the two communities is English.”

military-checkpointThe Cyprus Problem
Soon after the 1960 election, problems began surfacing. In 1963, the Turkish Cypriots left the Parliament. In 1974, Greece tried to assassinate the Cypriot president. “This was the chance Turkey was waiting for,” believes Eleni. “The Turks invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974 and took control of 40 percent of Cyprus. Two hundred thousand people were forced to leave their homes and came to the central part of the island where the government built them houses. They live with the hope that one day they will go back to their land and homes where they were born. But it’s been 40 years now,” she continues, “and there has been no improvement to the Cyprus Problem. Since 1974, 1,619 people are missing and no one knows what happened to them. So with the solution of the Cyprus Problem, we also hope we will discover what happened to these people, which includes women and children, and whether they are dead or alive.

“When the Turks invaded, Greek and Turkish Cypriots were living harmoniously all across the island. The Turks landed in Kyrenia by boat and the people began fleeing in a panic to save their lives.

unfinished-high-rise-on-Famagusta-beach-1“The Turks bombed the town of Famagusta from the air. When the Turkish Cypriots who fled tried to return to Famagusta, it was impossible because the Turkish troops refused to allow them back. Turkey allowed 140,000 Turkish settlers to settle in Famagusta, giving them property and enticing them to stay on the island. The real Turkish Cypriots were living in poor conditions and many of them were forced to immigrate to other countries. When we say we don’t want the Turks in Cypriot,” emphasizes Eleni, “what we mean are the Turkish troops and the settlers, not the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots are Cypriots. They belong to Cyprus.”

Following the 1974 invasion, it was impossible for the Greek Cypriots to enter the Occupied Area around Famagusta. “If a Turkish Cypriot wanted to come to the west or southern side of the island, there was no problem. This is the reason why we had 8,000 Turkish Cypriots who were passing through coming to work on this side of the island,” reports Eleni. “The Turkish troops would allow them to pass through, but not to stay overnight. For the Greek Cypriots, it was impossible to go to north Cyprus; Turkish troops would not allow them into the Occupied Area.

checkpoint-at-Famagusta“Ten years ago, one day out of the blue, the Turks told the Cypriots that if they wanted to come to this side of the island, they would be allowed in if they brought a passport. You cannot imagine the result!” exclaims Eleni. “Thousands of people came to see the side of the island they had not been allowed in to in 30 years. After 1974 one third of the island population were refugees. The Turkish Cypriots still living in their houses who had not left were overjoyed to see friends and relatives. They invited them in, offering them coffee, and telling them they also wanted a solution to the Cyprus Problem. Settlers who now inhabited the houses shut the doors in the former owners’ faces and would not allow them in to see their old homes.”

Cyprus’s economy is heavily based on tourism. About 25 percent of the island workers are in the tourism industry. According to Eleni, today if a Cypriot applied for a tourism job, starting salary would be 700 euro ($800) per month with only one day off a week. And then it is only seasonal. She said that 80 percent of hotels in non-tourist areas close, and if the hotels close, that means restaurants, shops and other stores in the area close as well. That is why Cyprus has such high unemployment from November to May. “It is impossible to find another job because everyone else is looking too. Those who have worked for two consecutive years at the same place can claim unemployment that amounts to approximately 70 percent of their salary for six months and no more,” Eleni states. “If you worked less than two years for a company/shop/restaurant/hotel that closes for the off season, you would need to leave the country and return again for the new tourist season and hope to get your job back or find a new one.”

Last year (2013) Cyprus saw just under $2.5 million from tourism.

Poised among political struggles, early religious strife, the comfort of modern civilization stemming from mythology and ancient ruins, along with the sensory splendor of nature, Cyprus and its historic island culture have something to offer everyone.



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Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships

Most of us can relate to relationships gone bad as an innocent child, during our tumultuous teens, or as adults. Perhaps a close loss, an imploded marriage or first love giving way to eventual maturity; whatever the situation, the loss, grief and emotional collapse are real.

Societies worldwide recognize and publicly celebrate births, marriages, graduations, celebrations of life (death) as per cultural traditions.

Have you ever heard of any formal recognition of failed relationships? Regardless of the circumstances or ethnicity, all produced some type of emotional effect.

Enter the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

Conceptualized in Croatia in 2006, “the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum’s collection,” explains the Museum literature.

It’s unique insofar as it was conceived around the concept of failed relationships. It’s intriguing given the personal stories shared, accompanied by a related memento. It’s not your ordinary museum; it’s sad and sometimes funny with healthy doses of irony and obvious bitterness.

According to its brochure explaining the concept, “whatever the motivation for donating personal belongs – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their emotional legacy as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony. The ever-evolving, community-built collection created challenges our ideas about heritage.”

Here are stories of wartime love, coming of age, rejection, loss of life, family separation, failed marriages, betrayal and much more. Mostly anonymous contributors hail from Brazil, the UK and US, Armenia, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia, with contributors constantly added.

the-postcardOne exhibit, simply entitled A Postcard, reads:

“I am a 70-year-old woman from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I visited Zagreb back in 1967 and the city is very close to my heart… This is a postcard that was inserted through the slit of my door a long time ago by our neighbors’ son. He had been in love with me for three years.

“Following the old Armenia tradition, his parents came to our home to ask for my hand. My parents refused, saying that their son did not deserve me. They left angry and very disappointed.

“The same evening their son drove his car off a cliff.”

An unadorned brown wood box containing various personal items is displayed under the heading Granny’s Box of Memories with the one-line sentence: “A memento of my grandmother’s great love, Karlo, who drowned in a river in 1920”.granny-box-of-memories

Someone from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina provided a stuffed toy caterpillar along with this story:

“I had this big, truly big love, a long-distance relationship, Sarajevo to Zagreb. It lasted for 20 months. Of course, we dreamt of a life together and with that in mind, I bought this huge caterpillar. Every time we would see each other we would tear off one leg. When we ran out of legs to tear, that would be the time to start a life together. But, naturally, as is often the case with great loves, the relationship broke and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”

a-catepillarA Child’s Wartime Love Letter, written in May 1992, recounts three days during the war.

“Escaping from Sarajevo under fire in a big convoy, we were held hostage for three days when leaving the city. A few days before, I turned 13.

“In a car next to ours there was Elma, with her mother and some other people… I only remember she was blonde and incredibly cute. I fell in love, with childlike honesty, and confessed it to her with the same honesty in this letter. I had given her some tapes since she forgot to bring her own music along before leaving in a hurry.wartime-love-letter

“Just as I didn’t get the time to give her the letter, because after three days they suddenly freed us and we lost sight of Elma’s car, she never got to return my tapes. Naturally, I never saw her again, and now I just hope that the music reminded her of something nice and cute in that whole terrible situation.”

An anonymous contributor from the UK donated a ceramic rolling pin with the caption From Birth to Six years (1981). This is what he or she wrote:

“Maternal separation is a broken relationship and is different to some of the current exhibits in terms of partner relationships ending. However, the feelings of loss, separation, grief, rejection and hurt are similar in many aspects.

“All the physical memories of my mother were burnt, discarded and buried. The most difficult part was that no one ever talked about her so I had nothing.

“I had a ceramic rolling pin which surprisingly missed the anger and emotional cleansing at that time. I kept it and it was wrapped carefully in each house move I had over the years.

rolling pin“This was mine to hold on to, to remember the happy moments of being in the kitchen with mum as a small child making Gingerbread Men cookies. A powerful memory evoking the actual feelings and memories of the day, the smells in the kitchen, the smell of my mum, being included, and feeling happy.”

“In October 2010, I was reunited with my mum. I now feel able to move forward in my life and donating the rolling pin means I do not have to cling to it any more. Let the good times roll.”

Finally, a brief but concise tale next to a book entitled Tarantula, Bob Dylan, states:

“Given to me by an American “boyfriend” when I was 17 and inscribed “for _________ who charmed the savage wolf.” I didn’t know that he would hound my parents for years, and would eventually have a sex change and steal their name for his new persona.”Bob-Dylan-book

An information board posted near the front of the museum states, “although colored by personal experience, local culture and history, the exhibits presented here form universal pattern that bring comfort to all those who uncover them. Hopefully they can inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random suffering.”

The permanent exhibition of the Museum of Broken Relationships is the winner of the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe. The traveling exhibition has since toured internationally.

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BUDAPEST: A City of Contrasts

History has blended Buda and Pest into one. But they were two very distinct and separate medieval towns at one time. Buda and Pest each honor their own culture and historical glories amidst the horrors of war and an extraordinary will to survive. Inspired by the past, Budapest’s split personality beckons.

Every city is smudged by contrasts – old and new, east and west, secular and sacred, opulent and downtrodden. From the dignified Parliament building in Pest to the pockmarked, machine-gun riddled buildings on Castle Hill in Buda; Budapest, Hungary is a city of contrasts and complex history.busy Budapest street

The mighty Danube River not only slices Hungary’s capital city geographically, but also culturally. Native Hungarians are quick to correct the naïve tourist unknowingly referring to Budapest as one city. I was one of those bumbling travelers set straight by our tour guide Yuri.

A Tale of Two Cities
Buda, older than Pest and positioned in the western hills, was a very Hungarian town and birthplace to the historic Castle District. It is also the more affluent, prestigious piece of the city. Narrowly crammed cobblestone streets winding slowly in and around a hilly terrain permeate this predominantly residential area of trendy addresses.

The Castle District of Buda became a town seven and a half centuries ago. The former royal palace towers swirl toward the sky on the Buda hillside. Its formation began in the 13th century and was added to over the centuries with its historic buildings detailing the splendid architectural styles of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance.

Pointed arches and ribbed interior vaulting identify Gothic architecture. Baroque is characterized by ornate decoration, carved surfaces, sculpture, color and oval spaces, while Renaissance style architecture, the European dominant style after the mid-16th century, is marked by round arches and symmetrical composition.

But cross the Danube via the Hungarian landmark Chain Bridge, blown up during World War II by the Germans, and you clearly sense the difference.Chain Bridge

Pest, the eastern part of the city, is the newest section – a mere 1,000 years old – boasting modern streets, flat terrain, glass-encased commercial buildings, fast food restaurants, luxury hotels, and the other numerous tribulations of a capital city.

Buda, a Slavic word for ‘water’ and the city of Pest, meaning ‘hot’, assimilated to become Budapest in 1873.

Hot water is just one of the city’s surprises, discovered by the Turks in the Middle Ages. There are nearly 150 thermal hot springs in Budapest supplying 50-some medicinal thermal baths, spas, and medical center therapy pools. The springs supply 15.4 million gallons of water daily ranging in temperature from 70° to 170°.

The thermal baths, constructed in Pest during the 20th century, are in the modern Art Noveau architectural style, a distinct contrast to Buda’s Gothic and Baroque architecture.

Typically, women and men have designated days in which to use the thermal baths, according to Yuri; however, Budapest does have some co-ed baths now.

Stripping off layers of history, I learn that in the 18th century, Pest was Catholic and more of a German town than Hungarian with allegiance to the German Habsburgs. Under the Habsburg reign, only Catholics, Serbs and Greeks were allowed to build places of worship within Pest’s town walls. An exception was made for the German-speaking Lutherans although not for the Jews and Hungarian-speaking Calvinists.

In 2006, Budapest’s religious delineation encompasses 67% Catholic, 27% Protestant, 1% Jewish, and 1% Eastern Orthodox. The remaining 4% are atheist.

Historic Landmarks in Buda
castleCastle Hill, home of the first royal palace and town hall in Buda, was conceived under King Bela after the Mongol invasion of 1241-1242.

King Stephan, the first Hungarian King, commissioned a cathedral to be constructed on Castle Hill. It was named for him in 1850, yet it would take until 1906 before completed. St. Stephan’s Basilica remains the largest Catholic Church in Hungary. King Stephan, canonized in 1083, was responsible for converting Hungarians to Christianity. In the Basilica’s St. Leopold chapel rests Hungary’s most religiously guarded relic – the embalmed right hand of St. Stephan.

Budapest History Museum in the Castle District presents the history and events relating to the capital from the past 1,000 years. The Holy Crown of Hungary is housed here.

Gellert Hill, the rocky limestone hill bordering the Liberty Bridge, is a protected area and named for Gellert, an aristocratic Venetian who came to Hungary to convert the “heathens”. He befriended King Stephan and was eventually killed in 1046 by rebels trying to eradicate Christianity from the country. A small chapel is tucked away in a dark cave on Gellert Hill in his memory.

Fisherman’s Bastion, located on the Buda hillside overlooking the Danube, consists of seven pillars. Each pillar represents the seven tribes that conquered Hungary in the ninth century. Town legend says this section of the medieval town wall was defended by the fishermen’s guild.

Mathias Church steepleMathias Church, built within the castle grounds after 1350, was constructed in a Moorish style of architecture from Spain with its green spire puncturing the blue sky. Mathias Church, as the Hungarians commonly know it, has had seven names. It has had its current name of Coronation Church since 1916 although it is better known as Mathias Church. Remarkably, all of its original stain glass windows survived World War II. Mathias Church sits next to Fisherman’s Bastion and across the street from City Hall.

Historic Landmarks in Pest
The majestic Parliament building, constructed of limestone, rises stately along the banks of the Danube. It houses the largest library in Hungary. If you think it resembles London’s Parliament building, you are correct. The structure was indeed modeled after London’s.

Before and during World War I, the aristocratic Gellert Baths were incorporated within the splendid Gellert Hotel. The baths were badly damaged during World War II and subsequently miraculously repaired to their former glory. The Gellert Hotel is also renowned as an international meeting location for foreign dignitaries.

In 1896, Europe’s first Underground Railway was constructed and became one of the stops for the famed Orient Express. It also served to connect Budapest to Vienna providing the rich and powerful relatively easy access to the Austrian capital’s abundant cultural offerings.

Hero’s Square, an open-air square built in the late 19th century, exhibiting the Millennium Monument, the focal point of Hero’s Square, is a symbol of Budapest. The clustered monument consists of the allegorical figures (War, Peace, Knowledge, Work, Welfare, Glory), the Archangel Gabriel holding the Cross of Lorraine and the Hungarian Holy Crown, the seven Hungarian chieftains on horseback, while behind them in a semi-circle pose the 14 Hungarian kings, ruling princes, and statesmen.

Hall of Exhibitions (including the Museum of Fine Arts) and Opera House are to the right and left of the Millennium Monument, respectively.

When the Budapest Opera House was built from 1875-84, it had to compete with the Vienna Opera House. So, in addition to headlining the best: Wagner, Verdi and Gounod, Hungarians added opulence, the most modern stage machinery of the time, extravagant refreshments, fine art, and gold gilding everywhere to create a resounding effect.
Good railway links assured Budapest and Vienna opera fans of being a four- to five-hour train ride from each other so as not to miss out on the latest opening of a new production or a famous opera singer’s performance.

World War 11’s Destruction
Unlike Prague and Vienna, Budapest was hard hit during World War II destroying its architectural splendor. More than 70 percent of the walled city was damaged and/or destroyed by bombs.

At the time of the war, there were 50 Jewish synagogues in Budapest; all but one was destroyed. The Germans missed the surviving yellow temple, which purposely bore no resemblance to a traditional looking synagogue.

The second largest synagogue in the world was built in 1863 in Budapest, and unfortunately, was one of the totally destroyed structures.

The retreating Germans blew up every one of the bridges over the Danube in 1945, including the Chain Bridge, the first permanent bridge spanning that river and linking the two cities. It was rebuilt and is again a symbol of the shared Hungarian capital.

After the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, investors flooded Hungary, and Budapest in particular, throwing up quick and cheap business centers and buildings. These are easily identified in Pest by the sheer numbers of glass-enclosed commercial structures, as glass is an inexpensive building material.

bullet ridden bldgToday, city and country leaders are faced with the dilemma of how to renovate their historic and/or broken-down structures seared by the war. Hungary’s economy is still recovering since the fall of Communism; thus, empty shells of buildings and bullet-ridden structures are painfully obvious with a lack of government funds to repair.

As we cross the Danube a final time, one last sweeping, panoramic view spotlighted by postcard-studded landscapes reinforces the complex and difficult history Buda and Pest share. They are survivors.

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The Paphos Mosaics of Cyprus

Today, their luxury vehicles, private jets and sleek yachts identify the rich and famous. But in the third century AD, the very rich – at least in Cyprus – showed off their wealth and influence with amazing mosaic floors that told stories borrowed from Greek mythology.

The entire city of Paphos, a seaport on the southwest coast of the Cypriot island, and the surrounding area, is on the UNESCO heritage list due to the exquisite mosaic remains discovered. UNESCO extended the area suggesting extensive remains are still buried underneath.

A farmer cultivating his field accidentally discovered the Paphos Mosaics in 1963. No one was aware there were mosaics in the area prior to his discovery. The excavations indicated a large and wealthy series of residences of the Roman period, the first of its type to be found not only in Paphos, but also in Cyprus as a whole. As more mosaic floors were located in the surrounding areas, archaeologists realized that such elaborate and rich mosaic floor decoration was not the exception, but rather the norm for Paphos during the mid-Roman period.

Eleni, our Cypriot tour guide, clarified that in the Roman times, especially in the mid-Roman period, most of the wealthy houses were decorated with mosaic floors. She explained that apprentices or ordinary craftsmen created the geometric frames and background filling in workshops, and the master artisans created the extremely accomplished figured compositions.

At the Paphos Mosaics, the amazing floors are featured in three third century AD noblemen’s villas – House of Dionysus, House of Theseus, and the recently excavated House of Aion – and are considered among the finest in the eastern Mediterranean. The mosaics mostly depict scenes from Greek mythology and are beautifully rendered and preserved. All are in their original location.

Also on site are the remains of Saranda Kolones Castle, an odeon, and the Castle of the 40 Pillars. Excavations are ongoing, and I observed workers slowly and meticulously scraping away layers of sand under the hot midday sun.

Eleni revealed that in 1964 near one of the newly uncovered ruins on the Paphos Mosaic site a skeleton was discovered. What was so special about it, however, was that in the skeleton’s arms was a jar of more than 2,200 silver coins from the Tollemite Period. Apparently sometime in the fifth century BC during an earthquake that destroyed Paphos – this part of the island was a notorious earthquake zone – this individual ran from his house with the jar of money and died on the spot. The jar and all of the silver coins are now in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus.

House of Dionysus
hunting-scene-mosaics-from-Dionthos-houseThis house belonged to a very rich person, according to Eleni, and was named for Dionysus because Dionysus – the god of wine – is portrayed in two of the extensive mosaic floors. The villa ruins encompass about 21,500 square feet with approximately 6,200 SF consisting of mosaic floors. More ruins outside also belong to the house.

The first mosaic we saw as we entered the covered structure was that of Narcissus. The mosaic is estimated to be about 600 years old. Eleni immediately launched into a story interpreting the mosaic pattern: “Narcissus was a very handsome man and all of the girls in the village were in love with him. But Narcissus did not love any of the beautiful girls; he seemed more intent on himself. So the maidens decided Narcissus should be punished. They told Zeus that Narcissus would spend his days sitting by the side of the river watching himself in the water. According to Greek mythology, to this day, a narcissus flower is at the bottom of the river.”

The atrium of the house depicted four stories through its mosaic floors. One of them is the love story of Thisbe, a very pretty girl, and Pyramos, a handsome man. The two were in love with each, but their parents refused to allow them to marry. The two decided to elope and agreed to meet in the forest under a mulberry tree. Thisbe arrived first. She saw a lion and was so frightened that she began running. In the process, she lost her veil. As the story goes, the lioness snatched the veil, which had some blood stains on it. When Pyramos arrived at the meeting point, he saw the lioness with the stained veil. He immediately thought the animal had killed his beloved Thisbe, so he committed suicide. When Thisbe came back, she saw her dead lover and committed suicide next to him. Does the storyline sound familiar? Shakespeare adapted it for Romeo and Juliet.

Apollo-&-DaphneAccording to Eleni, the best story of the House of Dionysus is that of Daphne, again, a very pretty girl. Daphne means laurel. Apollo was in love with Daphne, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Apollo continually followed her, begging her to marry him, but the nymph refused and ran from him. Apollo began chasing her. Seeing that he was bound to catch her, she called upon her father, “Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger! I don’t want to be a woman any more. Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!”

Her father touched her on her legs and she turned into a laurel tree. When Apollo discovered this he said, ‘If I cannot have you as my wife, I would have you as my laurel tree.’ Since then, according to the story, the laurel tree has been the holy tree of Apollo. To this day, laurel leave crowns are presented to winners of athletic events.

House of Theseus
circular-mosaic-from-house-of-TheseusConstruction of this building began in the second century AD and underwent many modifications. It was inhabited until the early seventh century AD. According to the excavators, the building was the official seat of the Roman governor of Cyprus.

The main feature of the House of Theseus is its gigantic floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. A second composition is Theseus and the Minotaur. What makes this mosaic renowned is that unlike other mosaics depicting Theseus, this mosaic has the hero Theseus shown in the center of the picture.

Due to the immense size and proportions of this structure, the building has not yet been completely uncovered – nor enclosed to protect the mosaics from the elements. The House of Theseus is the largest residential structure of its type found on the island so far and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

House of Aion
Excavations began in 1983 and only a small part of this house has been excavated. The uncovered rooms include the reception hall and a portion of the main room. The house was given its name because in the center of the main room is a composition of the depiction of the god Aion, the personification of eternal time. To date, most of the mosaics are in a geometric pattern.

seascene-house-of-AionThe story behind the mosaic named Scene on the Sea depicts the three most beautiful of Nereus’ daughters. They are returning from a competition judged by the impartial judge Aion in which none of the girls won. “Although beautiful and elegant in their dresses, they are angry and dissatisfied with the result of the competition,” Eleni tells us by pointing to various figures on the mosaic. “They ride away on the back of a friendly sea centaur and a young triton, the surface of the sea. A saddened Eros is riding a bull and Zeus and Athena are watching from above.” Eleni mentions that representations of this particular story are extremely rare and those that exist do not surpass this excellent example.

It is interesting to note that these mosaic renderings were made around the middle of the fourth century AD during Christianity. Yet the Paphos Mosaics are believed to represent a deeply cultured and rooted traditional value and creed of the ancient gods, which these artists were attempting to reinstate for the old pagan aristocrats resisting Christianity, who commissioned the works.

Saranda Kolones Castle
arch-and-steps-in-castleThe castle was erected around 1200 AD after the Frankish conquest of Cyprus on the site of an earlier Byzantine fort. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1223 and was never rebuilt or cleared.

The structure was a compact fortress surrounded by a massive external continuous wall with eight towers and a moat. The approach was via a wooden bridge over the moat. The interior of the castle was rectangular shaped with four corner towers.

Tall columns remained as they fell and the arch above the main entrance still stands.

We did not have time to hike over to the Castle of the 40 Pillars, although from a distance the standing pillars were visible with the sea as a backdrop.

It’s amazing just thinking about the painstaking process of making, painting and creating the detailed mosaic patterns this site is so famous for. But then too to wonder what these people were like who lived here; the ultra rich and conservative who refused to accept Christianity. It’s almost as though their mythology-related stories told through the gorgeous mosaics represented their personal rebellion. The Paphos Mosaics site must be an archaeological connoisseur’s dream.


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The Berber Women of Morocco: Pillars of Their Culture

dress displays
Women have been the guardians of traditions and language throughout history. The Berber women of Morocco are no exception. Despite a cultural mixing over the centuries – mostly due to conquests – the tribe’s cultural preservation survived.

Hallmarks of the Berber craftsmanship are native symbols found in their weavings, jewelry, pottery, tattoos, and even henna body painting.

The Berber identity developed thousands of years ago in a vast territory that stretches from Morocco’s Atlantic Ocean coast into borders of the eastern Maghreb bordering and inside neighboring Algeria.morocco_ethno_1973

The Bahrain National Museum in Manama, Bahrain is currently featuring a traveling exhibit entitled Berber Women of Morocco. “It is a tribute to the women who have never ceased transmitting the Berber culture’s singular identity,” states an exhibit storyboard.

The Berber people are recognized for their high moral virtues, including respect for the elderly, protection of neighbors and guests, renouncement of vengeance, and a hatred of oppression, among others.

Exhibit items featured, along with stunning archival photos, include woven carpets and rugs, capes and outerwear, woven belts, silver, amber and glass necklaces, toiletry items, cooking utensils, and weaving combs and distaffs. Accompanied by informational storyboards, the well-rounded exhibit lends itself well in providing an introduction into this interesting culture, its women, and the famous Berber rugs. A video shot in 1965 depicting young Berber women weaving rugs was particularly compelling in depicting the handiwork that has been handed down from mother to daughter for generations.

The Berber Rug and HanbelBerber-rugs

We’ve probably all heard of Berber rugs, but I for one, knew little to nothing about them, including how they got their name. Women have woven Berber rugs since the Neolithic Age. However, the techniques and traditional symbols incorporated are specific to each region of Morocco, as well as the uses. The colors were usually bright and designs simplistic, but over time they became even more vibrant and complex. These rugs are recognized by their distinctive knot texture and high durability, and the hand-spun cloth of natural sheep’s wool fibers was named for the tribe.

Thick heavy-piled rugs were ideal for cold weather dwellers in the high Atlas Mountains, while the lightweight flat woven mats and hanbels were suitable for the Sahara Desert’s scorching climate. Hanbels, on the other hand, were usually of simplistic design and less colorful than the heavier rugs.rugs-&-baskets

Modern Berber carpets, of course, are manufactured around the world today using nylon, olefin and wool, but the authentic Berber carpets from Morocco are still handmade. Modern carpets and wall hangings are often of bright colors or deep rusts and orange hues and not to be confused with the traditional hand woven Berber products.

The hanbel, which means ‘weaving’ in Berber language, is a woven piece that is lighter and thinner than the rug. It can replace the heavier rug, but it might also be used as a blanket, sleeping mat, or cushion. During celebrations, hanbels are often used as wall decorations similar to a tapestry.

Loom wire strainers (used to hold the fabric at a steady width), iron and wood weaving combs (used to weave thick rugs and compress the rows of tied knots) and distaffs (wood sticks) are all necessary components in weaving.

In addition to the rugs and throws on display, a woman’s cape, hat, belt, leg warmers, and shoes were also featured. Most of the fabrics used are wood and cotton, although silk can be found in belts. Interestingly, in Morocco, knitting and crochet work are exclusively done by men stated a sign next to the women’s leg warmers.woven-leggings

Figures shown on screens illustrated the variety of Berber female dresses, along with jewels, that display the tribal identity of those wearing them every day, as well as during festive celebrations. A white wedding gown was one of the featured archival

The Berber only dressed themselves with their sheep’s wool until cotton was introduced in Morocco in the early 20th century.

Many ornate head ornaments intermixed with silver, glass, seashells and leather were on display. An indigenous stone from the predominantly Jewish Souss region of Morocco used in necklaces was amber, complemented with silver, glass beads, and enamel objects. Pendants were mainly made of silver, enamel and glass coins. The necklaces appeared very heavy, particularly those with the large amber stones.Berber-silver-necklaces

Women’s Toiletries
Wooden combs, cosmetic bowls, basketwork and wood containers used for storing henna-based preparations were displayed. Mortar pestles used for mixing plants and dyes for cosmetics, as well as wooden, copper and molded skin boxes for storing cosmetics and jewelry were common items in the Berber woman’s

Household Wares
Most of the cooking utensils and jars were made of earthenware with colored pigments.

Although the exhibit was small and compact, it offered an interesting glimpse into a culture, which has endured despite today’s modern technology.clay-pottery


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A Passage to India

Everywhere I turned, I faced a riot of color. Pumpkin oranges, paprika reds, spinach greens, sunflower yellows, glamorous gold’s and every other captivating color imaginable. It was an amazing visual feast.little-girl-in-traditional-dress

My husband and I were not in some exotic, far-away land; in fact, we were at Katara in Doha, Qatar for the second annual two-day Indian Festival this past weekend. The performers, along with the thousands of Indian expat women and children garbed in traditional dress, displayed their love of vibrant clothing colors woven into their cultural fabric. They certainly proved they were guardians of their homeland’s cultural clothing tradition. An amazing 500,000 Indians live in Qatar.

Culinary and Cultural Diversions
Food stalls set up along the Katara esplanade featured traditional and popular Indian fare, including tandoori chicken, masala dosa, biryani, naan and various kebabs. Although shawarmas are not a typical Indian dish, one food stall was selling camel shawarmas – a first in Doha – and I could not resist. It was tender and delicious. My husband enjoyed the Indian food, which is far too spicy for my palate.

With a full belly, it was much easier to begin navigating the crowded stalls that featured jewelry, Sari designs and traditional female Indian clothing, paintings and handicrafts. I couldn’t resist a black beaded necklace with an accompanying black bracelet. Bob chose a handsome homemade teakwood comb for himself.

fabrics-&-spicesIndividual stalls highlighted various regions and states of India. For example, Karnataka, a southern state known for its sari fabric designs, had colorful material on display along with some of the spices indigenous to that area. Another stall – from the state of Ponjaya – depicted portrait and paintings on glass and silk, while still another had fabulous photographs on display of nature’s splendor in waterfalls.

Set against the backdrop of the sea, one of the main festival attractions was a replica of the famed India Gate – constructed on the esplanade and rising just shy of 33 feet high. The India Gate is a national edifice – and some say synonymous with India – and a massive war monument in the heart of New Delhi, India, I learned. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lufyens and built between 1921 and 1931 in the shape of a triumphal arch. The gate was built to commemorate the 90,000 Indian soldiers in the British-Indian army, who sacrificed their lives in World War 1 and the Afghan War for the Indian Empire. The gate’s inscription prominently states this.

According to Indian Cultural Center president Girish Kumar, the gate replica was built “to symbolize the nation, to mark the entry to the festival, and to inspire overseas Indians, families and children to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives. Even on a joyous occasion as this festival, we shouldn’t forget them.”India-gate

As the late afternoon unfolded, we made our way to the amphitheater. A sweeping view of the huge stone structure confirmed my suspicions: It was to be a full house this evening.

As the sun slowly dropped from its spotlight in the sky and dusk began to spread about, multi colored lights on the stage flickered alive. For me, the main feature was about to begin. India has quite the layered cultural history I was about to discover.

The emcee proudly explained to the throng of thousands, who were primarily Indian but a decent representation of Arabs and Western expats as well, that in India, dancing correlates with happy occasions and official celebrations, both of which hold social significance. Dancers and performers this evening were about to partake in homespun storytelling put to music and folk dance. “Each dance conveys a specific story, and each state has special dances, clothes and music,” the emcee announced.

The opening act featured a group of various aged youth demonstrating karate moves and poses. Their act was followed one after another for the next two hours of jaw-dropping costumes that dominated the color palette. Each stage performance was a sensory extravaganza. The vivid, colorful performers and dancers – all students from various Doha middle and high schools – presented a mix of classical and folk dance featuring the different facets of India.

4-girls-dancingDespite the majority of the songs in an unfamiliar language, the audience’s enthusiasm combined with the high energy of the performers shown through providing entertaining dances and stories that were obviously preserving their time-honored traditions.

Indian culture, often termed as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old. The country consists of 29 states, seven union territories and a population of 1.2 billion. It is the world’s second most populous country.

The festival highlighted an interesting mosaic of a people from India’s 29 states through displays, music and folk dances, which share a diverse culture. Clicking away, I fervently tried to capture as many moments as possible digitally.female-performers

Kumar stated that the objective of the festival was to “get together and share the wealth of India’s vibrant cultures, to embrace differences that make our country unique, and to discover similarities that unite people regardless of their origin. We wanted to provide a platform to come together to present India’s great cultural diversity to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience of Qatar.”

DSCN-8264The charm of India’s past appears well intact, and its heritage was beautifully portrayed this evening through music and dance. With my photos and video, I can now revisit my brief passage to Incredible India over and over again.

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Larnaca Fort: Cannons, Tombstones and Gallows… Once Upon a Time

After a steady diet of Greek mythology and archaeological ruins, touring the small somewhat restored Larnaca Fort in Larnaca, Cyprus was a nice diversion.

Located a few blocks from our hotel on the southern edge of the coastal corniche road, the fort is classified as a Byzantine structure, but there are two drastically different versions of when it was constructed. It is generally agreed upon, however, that the fort’s purpose was to defend the southern coasts of Cyprus, and in particular, Larnaca’s town harbor, and was later used as a prison, artillery center and an outpost.Larnaca-fort inside-Larnaca-fort

Since it is unclear as to when exactly it was built, most historians accept the late 12th century theory as the initial period given the fact that Larnaca gained great importance as a seaport during the medieval ages. Written accounts add credence to the claim that the fort was built during the reign (1382-1398) of King James 1 of Cyprus. The form of the entrance arch suggests a 14th century date.

fort-layout-diagramIts original shape was never decisively determined, but the fort appears to have taken the form of a square tower, and based on restoration of a monument, the foundations of an earlier phase were discovered indicating that the original fort was larger than the current structure. Documentation exists to support the evidence that it was rebuilt in 1625 during the Ottoman period.

Today, located in the center of the stone-walled fort is a small, nicely landscaped courtyard. Its north-facing entrance consists of a two-story building, now a museum, and is believed to have been from the Ottoman period. This is based on the Turkish inscription above the main entrance. The courtyard is currently used for cultural events, and the day we visited a stage was in place along with about 50 chairs in anticipation of a final concert of the season.

A sign on the grounds explains that the fort was ransacked, destroyed and rebuilt several times “since it was at the center of conflicting economic interests, which had to do mainly with the export of salt from the port of Larnaca.”

According to the fort brochure, famous explorer Abbot Giovanni Mariti, who lived in Larnaca during the first half of the 18th century, records that “the fort was built by the Ottoman Turks, but was already in a semi-ruinous state at the time, even though a garrison was still maintained here.” The abbot also wrote that the fort was mainly used as a firing-gun salute to passing Christian warships.4-medieval-cannons

By the late 18th century, Larnaca Fort lost its importance and the Turks abandoned it. Apparently the next written documentation comes during World War 1 when the Germans occupied the fort from 1914-1918 using it as a military outpost. At the end of the war, the British retook it and converted it into a prison where a gallows was installed to execute prisoners. The last execution was held in 1945. In 1948, the fort was converted to the current archaeological museum, but not opened to the public until 1969. The installations of the gallows were discovered during conservation and restoration works, but a date was not given as to when that discovery was made.

gallows-photoA sign above the gallows states that relatives and friends of the condemned were allowed to watch the execution from the courtyard, but far enough away, where they could not hear the sound of the trapdoor opening. Looking down the steep ladder to the deep hole of the former gallows was certainly an eerie feeling.

Highlights of the fort include a number of cannons on display in the courtyard – some dating to the medieval ages – and a room of tombstones dating from the 14th Century that are mainly from gothic churches of Nicosia, a town about 20 miles away. A second room featured various inscriptions carved into stone on the walls in various languages. Yet another room that faced the sea had a cave where numerous tombstones were originally uncovered.

As I clambered up some metal stairs to the two-room museum on the second level, a quick view of the calm blue sea beyond the old stone wall reflected the medieval character of the fort. Ducking inside the old door, I discovered displays of pottery, including crude utensils and dishware the soldiers used, along with photos from Early Christian churches (4-7th Century AD), Byzantine mosaics of the Early Christian period (same centuries as above), and Byzantine and Medieval Cyprus monuments from the 4-16th Centuries AD. A second room portrayed wall paintings of Cypriot Byzantine dating from the 11-16th Century AD.utesils-used-at-fort

No graceful architecture or any furnishings, for that matter, provided any hints of how comfortable or crude the fort must have been. Based on its size and the display of common household pottery discovered on site, this barren structure must have been sparsely furnished and somewhat lonely; probably not conducive to a “home away from home” for its occupants.

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