The most surprising people have visited or lived in Cyprus during its "10,000 Years of History." Achaean heroes landed here from Troy, establishing 10 City Kingdoms and a strong Greek tradition that continues to this day. Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoicism, was a son of Cyprus. A post mortem Lazarus appeared in a leaky boat from the Holy Land to preside as Bishop for 30 years. St. Paul visited twice. The worn stone pillar in Pafos attests to where he was lashed in 45 A.D., but he succeeded in converting the Roman proconsul, so Cyprus has been Christian for 2100 years.
Leonardo da Vinci was so impressed with the famous Lefkara Lace that he took an altar cloth back for Milan Cathedral to use its geometric 'River pattern' for the tablecloth in his painting, The Last Supper. In 1879, Sir Samuel Baker, explorer of the Nile, spent four months travelling about in a gypsy caravan, meeting young second lieutenant Kitchener, surveying the island. He also visited the Governor, Sir Garnet Wolseley. This distinguished soldier was in command during the 1874 Red River Expedition and later led 390 voyageurs up the Nile in a vain attempt to rescue Gordon from Khartoum. (Canadian connections are always pleasing.) More recently, Lawrence Durrell bought a house in the village of Bellapaix and wrote Bitter Lemons, most entertaining and poignant of travel books.
Because its copper mines, timber, and strategic location at the cross-roads of Europe, Asia and Africa make it a perfect entre-pot, there have been sinister visitors, invading Cyprus constantly, swept up into a dizzying list of empires: Phoenician, Assyrian, and Egyptian. Alexander the Great freed the island from the Persians. It was given to Cleopatra by Antony. (Octavian took it back.) Arabs attacked it repeatedly, beginning in the 7th century, but it flourished under the Byzantine Empire. Later, there were marauding Crusaders, Franks, and Venetians. From 1571-1871, Cyprus was part of the Ottoman Empire; between 1878 and 1960 it was under British control, until at last, an independent republic was established in 1960.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots had lived together civilly, but in 1974, Turkey invaded to occupy a third of the island. Now, 40,000 regular Turkish troops face 8,000 Greek Cypriot guards (17 to 20 year-olds doing their national service) separated by mined zones, barbed wire fences and a United Nations force of 800. Othello's Famagusta is a ghost town. Despite the tragic past, at the moment there are glimmerings of hope for the longed-for "Solution," and the atmosphere is peaceful.
Too few Canadians visit this land of citrus, olives, pines and mountains, which averages 340 days of sunshine a year. In March, I revelled in prehistoric ruins and Byzantine churches, fortresses, mosques and monasteries, fishing harbours and beaches. Did I mention the food?
Cypriot cuisine is similar to the Greek, although lighter, with Middle-Eastern touches. They are particularly fond of coriander, olives and lemons with everything. Meals in a taverna consist of Mezes, short for Mezedhes or 'little delicacies.' This succession of small dishes should be enjoyed Siga, siga," slowly, slowly" and with discretion as there will be more. The meal often ends with a selection of the magnificent fresh fruit, but desserts such as baklava and the delectable galatopoureko should not be overlooked.
Why were the streets empty on a week day? Turns out, we were lucky to be there for Green Monday, first day of the Greek Orthodox Lent. Everyone takes a holiday and heads for the country to fly kites and enjoy a vegetarian picnic: olives, salads, greens of all sorts, and bread. They may barbecue shellfish, such as shrimps, octopodi, squid and kalamari. The devout fast for forty days, giving up meat, fish, eggs and dairy, good for both souls and cholesterol count.
The extraordinary hospitality of the Cypriots is legendary. Kopiaste: "Come join us" a typical greeting. "Go into a village and say 'good morning' to a housewife and, she'll invite you in for coffee," said our guide. In Bitter Lemons, Durrell writes that it was dangerous to call out "good appetite" to labourers at lunch time. "A dozen voices would reply and a dozen hands would wave loaves or cans of wine... After ten days of this I began to feel like a Strasbourg goose."
Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines as well as a food blog, 'Edible Souvenirs' on the website
www.kingstonlife.ca. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/