For a small country with a very long history, Cyprus, the third large island in the Mediterranean , crossroads to the middle east, Africa, Asia and Europe, can boast of some of the world’s greatest antiquities.
Few countries can chronicle their existence back 10,000 years. But there’s proof and a plethora of antiquities from Neolithic settlements, temples, fortresses, castles, mosaics, monasteries and museums to back up these facts.
Almost dead centre on the map of Cyprus is Nicosia (Lefkosia,) the 1000 year old capital encircled by a 16th century wall built by the Venetians.
Within one day, I visited several museums all worthy of more time than I had available. I easily could have spent many more hours in the Cyprus Museum where there are few equals in quantity and quality from Neolithic to Roman Periods age collections.
From the grand golden brown sand stone, typical of many buildings in Nicosia, the unique Cyprus Museum is the nations treasure trove of history housing the most important collection of Cypriot antiquities. Although the lobby is unimpressive, a let down from the grandeur of the exterior, what awaits in the galleries are antiquities that would be the dream of every archeologist and budding historian..
The chronological order of the exhibits makes it easy to follow for neophytes like myself. However, good luck was shining on me that day. No sooner had I entered the first large exhibit hall, when my very knowledgeable guide Chris, pointed out his former professor, Vassos Karayiorgys, the father of Cypriot archeology, who was showing the exhibit to a visiting friend. Much to my surprise, my introduction to him was greeted with great enthusiasm and his direction and suggestions were unquestionable worthwhile.
Stones, bones, sea shells are represented in the first room. These were non-ceramic since there was no clay at this time, The Chalcolithic Age 3900-2500 BC, shows evidence of a fertility cult.. One of the impressive pieces and most reproduced artifacts is a pregnant woman with both male and female characteristics which form a cross. This is the Goddess of Fertility. One of the most crucial discoveries was copper (in Latin, Kuprum which in Greek is Kypros). This mineral generated immense wealth and attracted Greeks who settled in Cyprus. They were only the first of various invaders including Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians and Romans Ottomans and finally the British. (Cyprus became independent in 1960).
Continuing the tour, the Geometric Period 1050-750 BC is when the cult of Aphrodite gained popularity. Pottery shows enameling and geometrics and also the periods of prosperity, conquests, monumental and small sculptures, copper and marble, metal spears, jewelry, helmets, burial customs and the Necropolis of Salamis’ furniture. It’s in Salamis that Professor Karayiorgys excavated and discovered numerous treasures. An ivory bed and chair from the Salamis tombs are incredible finds. Salamis is located in northern Cyprus. Karayiorgys had excavated and spent years researching before the Turkish invasion and confiscation of the site in 1974. Gone were his years of research and papers.
Because Nicosia was divided after the Turkish invasion in 1974, the Greek Cypriot part isn’t large. Getting from one museum to the next didn’t take too long and traffic snares don’t seem to exist. Not too far away in old Cyprus, are four other major museums all located in Archbishop Square. The consistent problem in Nicosia is parking but leaving things to chance, Chris left the car in a restricted area. Naturally, when we arrived back, there was a very noticeable ticket on the windshield wipers However, the museum was worth the parking ticket price.
The Ethnographic Museum is house in the most important 18th century building in Nicosia and was once the residence of the Dragoma Chatzigeorgakis Kornesios. Textiles, agricultural tools, typical furniture, glazed coloured pottery and details of the lifestyle of the 19th century, are charming but it’s the 15th century building, once a monastery, that really takes over from the collection.
Nearby is the Byzantine Museum and Art Gallery with the largest collection of icons on the island. They cover the period from the 9th to 18 centuries This, by any comparison, is one of the great icon museums in the world. The grand collection is well lit and well placed. Also in the Art Galleries are oil paintings, maps and lithographs..
It’s difficult to pass St. John’s Cathedral without a fast visit. It was rebuilt in 1662 and is one of the most ornate interiors in Cyprus. Chandeliers, the gold altar from 1673, original icons, carved gilt wood and a speculator Archbishop’s throne are truly remarkable and awesome.
Many lives were lost during the liberation struggle from 1955-59 invasion and the extremely contemporary all white National Struggle Museum, which opened in April 2000, although small, is a must-see. The innovative architecture is a complete contrast to the rest of the buildings on the square. The Resistance was formed by Archbishop Makarious and objects reflect the spirit and character of the struggle. Photographs, documents, memorabilia and personal belongings of the soldiers are on exhibit..
Perhaps after seeing the completeness of the other museums, I was greatly disappointed by the jewelry Museum was opened in 1992. There were ecclesiastic objects, perfume containers, jewelry making machines and pictures of jewelry, none was truly fabulous or presented with style or originality. However, going through the maze of streets to get to this second floor series of three rooms, was another insight into the trade and products of Cyprus.
After the somewhat disappointment of the last museum, off in a narrow street is The Leventis Municipal Museum. This private collection funded by the well known and affluent family, has taken the modern usage of visuals and computers and multi dimensional displays to show ancient times to the present.. The neo classic building was revitalized and became a musuem in 1989. A sign says it all- “to preserve the study and promote the history of Cyprus”. It has done that well.
Mon-Sat 9-5PM, Sun 10 – 1PM
Byzantine Museum and Art Galleries
Archibiship Makaarios III Foundation Cultural Centre, Plateia Arcy, Kyprianou
Mon-Fri 9 AM –4.40 PM Sat 9 AM –1PM