6 April-28 May 2014. Oh good Lord, poor Cyprus. Just about every European empire that has ever existed has laid claim to Cyprus – Mycenaean Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Egyptians again, Romans, Byzantines, Arab caliphates, French Lusignans, Venetians, then for over three hundred years the Ottoman, or Turkish Empire, and finally the British. It was granted independence in 1960, but the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots had a running battle that erupted in 1974 and resulted in the partition of the island with the northeastern part of the island becoming a separate political entity that is recognized only by Turkey. The dispute continues to simmer. The British also still have military bases there. Since 2004 it has been a member of the European Union.
For one small island it sure has seen a lot of action. For a very very long time. There are indications that human activity dates back as far as 10,000 BC.
Our own activity is very low key due to recovering from various illnesses and exhaustion from all our travels around South America but we manage to do some exploring in between reading and sleeping, although we never do get to the Turkish sector.
We live in the town of Pyla just outside of Larnaca. We go for walks along the boardwalk by the water, we go into town for groceries, we go to Mario’s for ice-cream, sometimes we stop for lunch at the aptly named Mer Bleue restaurant right on the beach looking out over the endless sapphire blue Mediterranean, and we go for walks along CTO Beach.
In Larnaca, when we are finally ready to explore a little, we visit the beautiful Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque. Most Turkish Cypriots follow Sunni Islam, while most Greek Cypriots are members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Hala Sultan Tekke is considered by some to be the third holiest of all Sunni Islam sites, and is a place of pilgrimage.
The mosque is situated next to the Larnaca Salt Lake inhabited by a flock of flamingoes. Cyprus has flamingoes! Who knew?
Right in the town of Larnaca is the Church of Saint Lazarus, built in the late 9th century, and one of only three Byzantine churches to have survived in Cyprus.
All Greek Orthodox churches have an iconostasis, a moveable wall of religious icons usually placed to separate the nave from the sanctuary, which contains the altar. We are endlessly charmed by their golden gorgeousness. Every church we go into has an iconostasis and for us it is always the most beautiful thing to see. The Church of Saint Lazarus is no exception.
For our first real “adventure”, when we’ve finally roused ourselves enough to go exploring beyond our immediate area, we head to the resort town of Ayia Napa. The early 16th century eponymous monastery, once in a forested area near a sleepy fishing village, is now the best-known landmark in a thriving resort town noted for its golden-sand beaches and flourishing nightlife and clubbing scene. We find a teeming beach
and many red roasted Brits. (And Russians, Scandinavians, Greeks, Germans and Swiss.)
But despite the changes and development, vestiges of village life remain. Sausages must be hung to dry apparently. What better place than the carport?
According to legend a hunter found a glowing icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave in the forest. It had probably been placed there during the period of iconoclasm, possibly as early as the 7th century. After the hunter rediscovered it in the 14th century the cave was built into a church. The name, Ayia Napa means Holy Forest. The medieval Venetian monastery was built in 1500 around the cave and church, and was restored in 1950.
Further along the coast there are spectacular views at Cape Greco.
Meanwhile, back in ‘suburban’ Pyla, quietly living our mostly sedentary and restful life, our neighbor comes knocking one day with a warning.
From Don’s journal – Our neighbour across the street came to warn us that the shops will be closed for the next three days because of Easter, and to expect lots of fireworks to be set off tomorrow night. She suggested that I wear boots to go shopping in the supermarket because the place would be “heaving” with people all wheeling their shopping carts over my feet. She painted a scene of utter chaos with people shopping as if the stores were going to be closed for a month instead of three days. So we got ourselves ready to go as soon as we could and I headed to the fruit and vegetable store expecting huge lineups, people running around the store in a state of panic, and shelves stripped. Not so much. The store was busier than it had been when I went yesterday, but there was plenty of produce and people were just walking around like normal. We didn’t even have to line up for long at a cash register. Then we went across the street to the supermarket where the situation was much the same.
Our backyard has a blue pool, which is enticing and pretty, but too cold to use. It also has a large lemon tree with the best lemons I have ever experienced – no pips, tons of flavour, and copious amounts of juice. I am forever extolling their virtues – an example of the excitement of our life at this time.
Pano (upper) and Kato (lower) Lefkara are two enchanting independent but inter-related villages located on the southern slopes of the Troödos Mountains.
What a sweet discovery. We spend the day exploring the two stone-and-cobblestoned towns. Although the villages existed long before, most of the houses date from the three hundred years between the 1570’s and the 1870’s when Cyprus was occupied by the Turks. The towns are known for the production of exquisite lace work, and skilled silversmiths who produce fine filigree. It is still a quite common centuries-old sight to see women in groups sitting in the narrow streets making beautiful intricate lace.
We meet this resident of Pano Lefkara who chats with us in perfect English and tells us she remembers the time before there was running water in their homes.
The church of Pano Lefkara, and a portion of its iconostasis.
Cyprus was a quiet time. That we even bestirred ourselves enough to get to the Lefkaras for a day was a big deal. But later things improved, and it became more interesting. Or perhaps I should say we improved and became more interested. Towards the end of our two months there we actually went on a road trip – through the Troödos Mountains and to some of the ancient ruins at Paphos and Kourion. And of course we came across some traditional dancing – all to be revealed in the next couple of posts.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.