The Cypriot Way of Life
Cypriot culture is a unique blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern; it has been moulded by centuries of rule by different nations that have coveted, fought over and possessed the island. Family life is considered of paramount importance and respect for the older generation remains strong. Despite an outwardly relaxed attitude towards religion, the traditions and values of the Orthodox church (in the South) and Islam (in the North) still play a key role in society as a whole.
The Great Divide
The daily lives of Cypriots are largely dominated by the domestic and international focus on the division that scores the island. For over 40 years, two generations have grown up with partition and the incessant political news and discussions on both sides of the Green Line regarding the 'Cyprus problem'. Nowadays, though there remains some allegiance to mainland Greece or Turkey, most people see themselves as Cypriot first and Greek or Turkish second. In recent years a significant number of the younger population on both sides of the divide, who were born after the island was split in two, have become increasingly tired of the political manoeuvring that dominates Cypriot headlines and are pressing for a final resolution.
When the first Green Line crossings between North and South opened in 2003, no one knew how the Cypriot people would react and what the consequences would be. Would there be riots or civil unrest? After all, no one had crossed the Green Line for 29 years, save for diplomatic reasons. Many still had friends, relatives and homes they missed on the 'other side'.
The newly opened checkpoints swelled with thousands of people crossing the buffer zone. Many Turkish Cypriots who came south were enchanted by the comparative wealth and the elegant shops and restaurants in streets of Nicosia (Lefkosia), while many Greek Cypriots wandered the streets of North Nicosia (Lefkoșa), surprised at the way time had stood still for 30 years. Old acquaintances met and tears were shed. Some Greek Cypriots visited their former homes and properties in the North, and in some cases existing inhabitants reportedly welcomed visitors cordially and even invited them in for coffee and gave them gifts of citrus fruit and flowers. It is estimated that more than 35% of Cyprus' population crossed in the first two weeks, and over 25,000 Turkish Cypriots applied for a Cypriot passport (from the Republic of Cyprus) in that year alone.
The people have treated each other with studied civility and kindness, and even now, years after the openings, no major incidents have been reported. Since the attitude to crossing the Green Line has normalised, over 20 million crossings have been recorded, with around 70% of those North to South. Indeed, many Turkish Cypriots now cross the buffer zone daily to shop or work in the southern part of the island. While Greek Cypriots make up less of the traffic, many do head over the line for Easter holidays and in particular to visit Apostolos Andreas church and for shopping bargains and casino visits.
While politics are discussed openly on both sides, travellers should always approach the subject with tact. Both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots may be forthright in discussing the issue, but it’s still better to let them initiate the discussion. There are pockets of hardliners still on both sides of the island and for the older generation, especially those who experienced the trauma of partition first-hand, the sensitivity they feel in relation to this subject cannot be overstated.
Although immensely hospitable people by nature, some Cypriots regard outsiders with a little caution and wariness, perhaps understandably so given the island’s long history of occupation and struggle for independence.
Patriotism is a strong force in people’s identity. In the North, some Turkish Cypriots define settlers from mainland Turkey as outsiders and make a clear definition between the two. In the South, for a small number of locals, especially those who have never left the island, even expatriates and second-generation Cypriots from the UK, US, Canada and Australia are considered to be xeni (foreigners).
Both sides of the island have had an influx of foreign migrants over the past decade. Northern Cyprus' universities have attracted a large number of foreign students, many of whom have stayed on to work afterwards. In the South, a growing number of manual and service jobs are filled by migrant workers. This swift multicultural transformation has greatly changed the face of the island’s population. Combine this with the lasting 'Britishness' that remains from the island’s colonial past and from its present-day reliance on tourism and as such, rightly or wrongly, many locals feel bombarded by outsiders.
Much of the worry stems from the gradual loss of traditional lifestyle and culture. While this has caused some consternation and resentment, this expanded diversity has been welcomed by others, especially those Cypriots who have travelled and studied abroad.
Gradually most Cypriots are recognising the trend in their society towards greater multiculturalism. Indeed, this is reflected in the increasing number of Cypriots who are marrying foreigners (14% of marriages), particularly Europeans and Russians (many of whom belong to the Orthodox Church), creating a new generation of multicultural Cypriots. This phenomenon suggests that if racial and cultural barriers do linger – as some suspect they do – then their influence is diminishing.
This hangover of insularity is more than balanced by a natural tendency of hospitality towards guests. Most visitors to the island will find the Cypriots they meet to be amazingly friendly, welcoming and kind, regardless of whether they live in cities, villages or less-developed areas.
Orthodoxy & Islam
Around 73% of Cypriots are Greek Orthodox, 25% are Muslims and the remaining 2% are Maronite, Armenian Apostolic and other Christian denominations. Due to the island’s division, Muslims predominantly live in the North, while the Greek Orthodox live in the South.
The recent increase in asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and central and south Asia has increased the number of practising Muslims living in the Republic, particularly in the centres of Larnaka, Nicosia and Lemesos (Limassol), which all have mosques.
The presence of the Orthodox Church is ingrained in both politics and daily life in the South, with the Cypriot year centred on the festivals, celebrations and saint's days of the Orthodox calendar. Sundays in particular are popular for visiting monasteries and the Byzantine churches of the Troödos Mountains.
In the North, Turkish Cypriots are mostly secular Sunni Muslims. While religion plays an important part in Turkish Cypriot culture, the more conservative Islamic tradition practised in the Middle East is not so obvious in Cyprus. Alcohol, for example, is widely available and frequently consumed by Turkish Cypriots, and women dress far more casually than their counterparts in other countries where Islam is the main religion.
Traditional ideas about the proper role of women – cooking, cleaning and tending to house and family – persist in some sectors of Cypriot society. However, modern Cypriot women, particularly those who live in cities, like to dress in designer labels, frequent beaches in bikinis, have careers and go out on the town.
Cypriot women have freedom and independence in many areas, but more needs to be done, especially when it comes to employment, as professional positions are still very much male-dominated.
Attitudes towards homosexuality have relaxed somewhat over the years, although open displays of affection are still frowned upon by the more socially conservative. The first Cyprus Pride Festival took place in Nicosia in 2014, and in 2015 civil-union partnerships between same-sex couples became legal in the Republic of Cyprus. In 2014 the North legalised same-sex sexual activity, becoming the last territory in Europe to decriminalise homosexuality.
Feature: The Kafeneio & the Teahouse
In the Republic’s villages, the local kafeneio (coffee shop) is the central meeting point. Most will have two such places, distinguished by their political alignment (socialist or nationalist). In the North the village hub is the local tea house. In both South and North, these cafes are filled with men of all generations, sitting, serving or flipping beads. Many come and go on their way to and from work. The older men sit quietly, spread across chairs, waiting out the days like oracles, eating haloumi (hellim in Turkish) and olives or drinking coffee, tea and (in the South) zivania (fermented grape pomace). Good friends sit in pairs, smoking cigarettes and playing tavli (backgammon) in the shade of the vine leaves. Their dice rattle, while moves are counted and strategies are shaped in whispers. And come lunchtime, only the lingering smoke remains, as the men stampede home for their midday meal and siesta, returning in the evening to do it all again.
Feature: Summer Souvla
A favourite Cypriot pastime is enjoying a souvla (spit-roast) that’s been roasting for hours over burning coals. It’s especially fine on the beach. There’s the joke that a Cypriot’s favourite vehicle is a pick-up truck, because 20 chairs, a table and all the barbecue equipment can fit into the tray when the family heads out for the weekend. Indeed, part of the summer holidays for many Cypriots is often spent camping on beaches, where the sound of rotating skewers and the smell of soft lamb with herbs permeates the sea air.
Driving Cypriots love to talk on mobile phones and not use indicators. Make eye contact at intersections before pulling out.
Tact Use it when discussing politics, division and the Green Line.
Eating out If invited for a meal, the host pays the bill. Offer to contribute, knowing you’ll likely be scoffed at.
Sidebar: Fast Facts
- Sunshine: 326 days a year on average
- Highest point: Mt Olympus (1952m)
- Length of coastline: 648km
Sidebar: First Names
Using first names alone is considered too familiar and is only done among friends. People greet each other with the title kyrie or kyria ('Mr' and 'Mrs' in Greek) before the person’s name. In Turkish bey and hanım are used the same way, after naming the person.
Traditionally, ultimate relaxation for a Cypriot man in his courtyard or garden requires the use of seven time-honoured wooden chairs. One for his stick, one for his coffee, one for each arm, one for each leg and of course one to sit on.
While topless sunbathing is generally OK in the Republic, baring all is not. In Northern Cyprus, only sunbathe topless on private resort-beaches (and check if it's OK before stripping off). Cyprus is a traditional country so across the island, when off the sand it's best to put on a T-shirt.
Landscapes & Wildlife
For a growing number of visitors, Cyprus' one-of-a-kind flora and fauna is the number-one reason for a trip here. Tiny rare orchids bloom amid the hillside wildflowers in early spring. Turtles nest on the beaches in their thousands during summer. Endemic bird species, along with seasonal visitors, can be spotted in the high forests and lowland salt lakes. This rich biodiversity makes it a nature-lover’s paradise.
Lie of the Land
Cyprus is an ophiolite that rose from the sea 20 million years ago. Shaped like a swordfish, with its sharp tip and flared fins, it is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean.
In the North, the 170km-long Kyrenia (Girne) Range was formed by upward-thrust masses of Mesozoic limestone. Its most famous feature is the five-ridged peak known as Five-Fingers Mountain (Pentadaktylos, in Greek; Beşparmak, in Turkish) that runs practically parallel to the northern coastline.
Directly south of this mountain range is the vast Mesaoria plain (which means 'In Between Mountains' in Greek), which stretches from Morfou (Güzelyurt) in the west to Famagusta (Gazimağusa) in the east, with the divided capital of Nicosia (Lefkosia) and North Nicosia (Lefkoșa) at its middle. The plain has over 1900 sq km of irrigation and is the island’s primary grain-growing area.
Further south, the island is dominated by the vast range of the Troödos Mountains, created millions of years ago by rising molten rock in the deep ocean. It features the imposing Mt Olympus and its lower plateaus to the east. This area is rich in minerals and natural resources such as chromite, gypsum, iron pyrite, marble and copper. Mined for thousands of years, it was instrumental in the island’s development during ancient times.
National Parks & Reserves
The upgrading of natural areas to national-park status has steadily increased. The declared list of parks in the South includes Akamas National Forest Park, Pafos region; Troödos National Park, declared in 1992; Cape Greco and the Peninsula Bay, east of Agia Napa; Athalassa National Forest Park, west of Nicosia; Polemidia National Forest Park, near Lemesos (Limassol); Rizoelia National Forest Park, near Larnaka; and Tripylos Natural Reserve, east of Pafos, which includes the wonderful Cedar Valley.
There’s also one marine reserve: Lara Toxeftra Reserve, off the west coast near Lara, Pafos region, established to protect marine turtles and their nesting beaches.
In North Cyprus, 150 sq km of the Karpas (Kirpașa) Peninsula have been declared a national park. Environmentalists were successful in having the vulnerable and precious area protected from development. Rare marine turtles that nest on the beaches on both sides of the peninsula are now benefiting from this decision.
A Plethora of Plant Life
The diversity of Cyprus' flora is not immediately obvious to first-time visitors. After the explosion of colour from endemic flora and wildflowers in spring, summer sees the island assume an arid appearance, with only a few hardy flowers and thistles.
The island is home to some 1800 species and subspecies of plants, of which about 7% are indigenous to Cyprus. Five major habitats characterise Cyprus' flora profile: pine forests, garigue and maquis (underbrush found in the Mediterranean), rocky areas, coastal areas and wetlands. One of the main places for indigenous plant species is the Troödos Mountains, where around 45 endemic species can be found.
The Karpas Peninsula has a further 19 endemic species that are found only in the North.
Over 40 species of orchid can be found on the island; many of these, such as the rare Punctate orchid, can be spotted in the lap of the Kyrenia Range. The best time to see Cyprus' wildflowers is in early spring (February to March) or in late autumn (October to November), when most of the species blossom, taking advantage of the moister climate.
Feature: Flower Power
For the best flower-spotting, enthusiasts will need to spend plenty of time trekking and searching, as many species are limited to small geographical areas. You’ll need to enjoy a ramble and be patient.
Casey’s larkspur This is a late-flowering species that carries a dozen or more deep-violet, long-spurred flowers atop a slender stem. Its habitat is limited to the rocky peaks 1.5km southwest of St Hilarion.
Cyprus crocus A delicate white and yellow flower from the iris family. An endangered species, it’s protected by law and is generally found at high altitudes in the Troödos Mountains.
Cyprus tulip Delicate and dark red, this is another rare, protected species found in the Akamas Peninsula, the Koruçam (Kormakitis) Peninsula and remote parts of the Kyrenia Range.
Orchids The most popular wildflowers for enthusiasts. The one endemic orchid, Kotschy’s bee orchid, is an exquisite species that resembles a bee, both in its shape and patterning. While fairly rare, it’s found in habitats all over the island. Other varieties found on the slopes of Mt Olympus include the slender, pink Troödos Anatolian orchid, the cone-shaped pyramidal orchid, the giant orchid and the colourful woodcock orchid.
St Hilarion cabbage This unlikely sounding beauty grows in the North, mainly on rocky outcrops near St Hilarion Castle. This large endemic cabbage flower grows to 1m high and has spikes of creamy white flowers.
Troödos golden drop A member of the borage family, this is an endemic yellow bell-shaped flower appearing in leafy clusters. Another endangered species, it’s confined to the highest peaks of the Troödos Mountains.
This beautiful island is unfortunately beset with environmental issues. True, some of its environmental concerns stem from tourism, but there is also the much deeper issue of littering on streets and beaches, and garbage dumping on roadsides. Industrial waste, fridges, rubble and all sorts of debris are often dumped in forests and near natural salt lakes.
In an attempt to remedy this situation, the Republic's government has responded with advertisements encouraging people to put rubbish in bins and stop discarding cigarette butts on beaches, and by introducing recycling points. On a more grassroots level, educational programs have been launched in primary schools to encourage the next generation to be more aware of their environment and the benefits of recycling. Local councils have joined in, providing skips near and around natural habitats where dumping regularly occurs. Positive actions such as these are providing new hope and putting a much-needed focus on the issue.
Water, Water, Everywhere…
A significant ongoing issue for the island is the shortage of water. Population growth, mismanagement of underground aquifers and years of drought, which depleted water reserves in dams and reservoirs, have all added to Cyprus suffering a severe water crisis.
Looking for a permanent and sustainable solution, the South opted to begin building desalination plants in the 1990s. There are now four installations (which each produce 40,000 cu metres of water per day) supplying over 50% of domestic water, and another being built.
In the North, the ambitious Northern Cyprus Water Supply Project became operational in October 2015. The project transports water from the Alaköprü Dam in Turkey to the Geçitköy Dam, near Kyrenia (Girne), via an 80km underwater pipeline, and cost 1.2 billion Turkish lira to implement.
Cyprus is a major overwintering stop on the north–south migration routes and is also home to two endemic bird species. The Cyprus warbler and Cyprus wheatear are found nowhere else in the world and many bird enthusiasts come to the island solely to tick them off their spotting list.
Although only approximately 50 species of birds are resident in Cyprus year-round, during the major Mediterranean migration period over 200 species utilise the island as one of their stops along the route.
October through to April are all good birding months but spring, particularly April, is peak time for birdwatching.
While the most famous Cypriot wild animal is still the mouflon (the native wild mountain sheep), a scattering of twitchy wild donkeys can be seen on the Karpas Peninsula. They are believed to be descendants of the domesticated donkeys that escaped or were abandoned in 1974.
In the island’s differing forest environs you may also see smaller animals such as foxes, rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, squirrels and fruit bats.
The island’s dry, hot summer landscape is a natural home for lizards, geckos, chameleons and snakes, of which only the Montpellier snake and blunt-nosed viper are poisonous.
Lizards and geckos, in particular, pop up everywhere, sunbathing on rocks, ruins and concrete walls. Keep your eyes peeled to spot the particularly common, grey-green striped Troödos lizard and brown-yellow ocellated skink.
Cyprus' warm, clear waters are home to over 260 different kinds of fish, and the coves and underwater reefs along its coasts are teeming with sea-life such as corals, sponges, mussels and sea anemones, making it a haven for diving and snorkelling.
Schools of grouper, jack, tuna, barracuda, rays and parrotfish are commonly seen by divers here, while the seas surrounding the island are also home to moray eels, octopus, and green and loggerhead turtles.
Feature: Where to Watch
Birds travelling between Africa and Europe use Cyprus as a stepping stone on their migratory path. Birdwatchers have an excellent window into both more exotic migratory species and local birds. Here are some of the best birdwatching locations on the island.
Larnaka Salt Lake An important migratory habitat that fills with flamingos and waterfowl from February to March. There are lookout posts (with seats) at various intervals along the airport road to Larnaka. You can also walk the nature trails around the lakes past the Hala Sultan Tekkesi mosque.
Troödos Mountains The ranges offer excellent vantage points along the many nature trails in the region. Take binoculars to catch the likes of griffon vultures, falcons and kestrels. One of the best birdwatching spots is the Kaledonia Trail, which showcases large amounts of Cyprus and Sardinian warblers and nightingales.
Cape Greco Peninsula In addition to being the home of wonderful sea caves, the cape, with its scrubland and rocky outcrops, is one of the prime migration zones for birds from across the seas. Expect to see a range of birds, from chukars and spectacled warblers to pallid harriers and red-rumped swallows.
Kyrenia Range Bonelli’s eagles nest amid the rugged rock faces and Cyprus warblers and wheatears are easy to spot. Sightings of black-headed bunting, spectacled warblers and blue rock thrush are common.
Famagusta Wetlands Like Larnaka Salt Lake in the South, the Famagusta wetlands in the North are home to a host of waterbirds. It's also the island's only glossy ibis breeding site. Likely sightings include pelicans, flamingos, Demoiselle cranes and spoonbills.
Mouflon are timid, nimble and skilled at climbing. The males have enormous curved horns and were hunted for sport by nobles in Lusignan times. By the early 20th century widespread shooting by farmers and hunters had nearly reduced them to extinction. However, awareness of the plight of the island’s national emblem increased, and now they are protected at sites such as Stavros tis Psokas forest station, in Pafos, which shelters a small herd. In the wild, mouflon are only found in remote parts of the mountain ranges and are rarely spotted.
Green and loggerhead turtles have bred and lived on Cypriot beaches for centuries, but tourism and beach development have encroached on vital nesting areas. They nest in the soft sands of the northern beaches in particular, which are now signed and closed at night (hatching times). Look out for conservation programs in coastal areas. Follow the rules, stick to allocated swimming times and plant your umbrellas as close to the water’s edge as possible to avoid crushing eggs.
Monk seals are rarely spotted off the coast and had been considered extinct as recently as 10 years ago. However, sightings off the eastern coast and at Cape Greco’s sea caves revived hope and a monitoring program was implemented in 2011. It's currently thought that a very small population of monk seals still survives in remote locations around the island’s shores.
Two handy field companions are Butterflies of Cyprus by Christodoulos Makris (2000) and Butterflies of North Cyprus by Dr Daniel H Haines and Dr Hilary M Haines (2010). Both comprehensive guides are available in paperback.
Search out Wild Flowers of Cyprus by George Sfikas (1994) and The Floral Charm of Cyprus by Valerie Sinclair (1992), for further information about the range of flora on the island.
The island’s national symbol is the Cypriot mouflon (wild sheep). Once endangered, it’s now only found in the remote mountain ranges of Troödos and Pafos, with subspecies reportedly roaming parts of the uninhabited buffer zone between North and South.
For those wanting to be immersed in the island's natural habitat, the Republic's agrotourism network (www.agrotourism.com.cy) offers an ever-growing range of rural retreats in the mountains and traditional villages.
Cyprus has 140 unique flowering plants only found in the Troödos Massif, 390 different migratory bird species during spring and autumn, and over 80 nesting sites for rare and protected turtles.
Sidebar: Birding Resources
- Birdlife Cyprus (www.birdlifecyprus.org; Republic of Cyprus)
- North Cyprus Society for the Protection of Birds & Nature (www.kuskor.org; Northern Cyprus)
- Birds of Cyprus (Jane Stylianou; 2009)
Although years of meagre rainfall is the main cause of Cyprus' water woes, the influx of over three million tourists every year has added to the problem. Travellers should be extra aware of their water usage while here.
Cyprus' heritage reflects a rich and diverse love of the arts. Cypriots, overall, have an aesthetic deep-rooted artistic sensibility towards both visual and creative arts. Examples range from dazzling icons painted in punchy primary colours to delicate embroidery with minute intricate stitchery, . Music is also an important facet of life here and tradition still strikes a resounding chord, particularly in the continuing popularity of the urban Greek folk music, rebetiko.
The art of Cyprus has long reflected both Eastern and Western influences. Political turmoil and the division of the island have similarly had an inevitable impact.
From Frescoes to Folk Painters
During the neolithic age, decorative ceramics and mosaics reflected a desire for ornamentation, which continued with the conversion of the island to Christianity in AD 45 and the emergence of Byzantine art. This religious expression was represented most vividly in frescos, mosaics and icons, many of which are still in evidence today in the monasteries and churches. For the most comprehensive collection of stunning artwork from this period, visit the Byzantine Museum at the Makarios Cultural Foundation in Nicosia (Lefkosia), home to the largest collection of icons relating to Cyprus, and the Kykkos Monastery near Pedoulas in the Troödos Mountains. Kykkos is just one of several monasteries where you can also see richly coloured and complex mosaics. Other recommended monasteries and churches, particularly for Byzantine frescos, include Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, Panagia tis Podythou, Panagia Forviotissa and Timios Stavros.
Little remains of the Frankish (1192−1489) and Venetian (1489−1571) periods, due to the looting and plundering of numerous invaders. This sorry situation continued after the conquest of the Ottomans in 1570, when physical survival took precedence over art.
The 19th century saw the emergence of folk painters and sculptors who were the forerunners of contemporary Cypriot art. They painted friezes in coffee shops and decorated glass and furniture, particularly traditional iron beds, which were adorned with plant motifs or similar.
20th- to 21st-Century Painting
In the 1950s artists began to return to Cyprus after studying abroad. Important artists who emerged during this period include Christofors Savva (1924−68), who was strongly influenced by the cubist and expressionist movements, and abstract artists Costas Joachim (b 1936), Nicos Kouroussis (b 1937) and Andreas Ladommatos (b 1940). One of the best-known design artists of this period is İsmet Güney (1923–2009), who designed the Cyprus flag (now used by the Republic of Cyprus) in 1960.
The 1974 division of the island had a significant influence on trends in art, with a rise in symbolism and subject matter that reflected the spiritual anguish of the time. Important artists from this period include Angelos Makrides (b 1942), who represented Cyprus in the 1988 Venice Biennale, and Emin Chizenel (b 1949), who has exhibited on both sides of the divide.
Female artist Haris Epaminonda, born in Nicosia in 1980 and known for her collages, installations and videos, has exhibited in Europe and North America, while British Cypriot Mustafa Hulusi had a solo show at London’s Tate Modern in 2010 and contributed to the Terra Mediterranea in Crisis exhibition at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre in 2012.
In 2014 the AG Leventis Gallery opened in Nicosia with a collection that includes some of the island’s most iconic contemporary artworks. At its heart is the monumental The World of Cyprus by the famous late Cypriot painter Adamantios Diamanis. The work is based on 75 drawings depicting the landscape and people of the island. Another art museum that provides an excellent insight into Cypriot art is the State Gallery of Cypriot Contemporary Art, also located in Nicosia.
Although some Cypriot churches and several museums still house magnificent Byzantine icons, many have been looted and their treasures sold on the open market. These are often unwittingly bought by collectors and, occasionally, celebrities. Singer Boy George had an icon of Jesus Christ hung proudly over his fireplace for decades before it was spotted by an expert during a televised interview. The icon was duly returned to the Church of St Charalambos in Chorio Kythrea in 2011, from where it had been stolen in 1974.
Icons are still produced in many monasteries today. The most justifiably famous contemporary icon painter was Father Kallinikos Stavrovounis (1920–2011) of Stavrovouni Monastery, who is credited with being a key figure in reviving the Orthodox Byzantine style of icon painting in Cyprus.
Cyprus continues its healthy tradition of folk arts, ranging from basket making to lacework. Head for a branch of the Cyprus Handicrafts Centre in Nicosia, Lemesos (Limassol) or Pafos to guarantee authenticity and a fair price.
Decorative pottery is worth seeking out. You can’t miss the enormous pitharia (earthenware storage jars), often used as stylish plant pots. Originally used for storing water, oil or wine, their sheer size renders them impossible to transport home. One of the best places to learn about the history of the pitharia is at the Folk Art Museum in Foini in the Troödos Mountains. Curator Theophanis Pilavakis, now in his 90s, is famed for making an enormous pitharia (on display here) that holds 2000 litres and made the Guinness Book of Records. The village of Kornos, between Lemesos and Larnaka, is also famous for its pottery, as is Pafos and the southwest region of the Republic.
One of the oldest handicrafts, basket making was traditionally learned by everyone in the family. Today baskets are still usually made from reeds found growing next to streams, though in the Akamas Peninsula, villages such as Kritou Terra are famous for their intricately woven twig baskets. Palm leaves and straw are used for creating the distinctive brightly coloured tsestos (sestas in Turkish; decorative 'platters' with geometric designs). These are more prevalent in Northern Cyprus, especially in the Karpas Peninsula and Mesaoria (Mesarya) regions. Be wary of synthetic copies made from plastic, which are fortunately easy to spot.
One of the most famous folk-art exports is the exquisite Lefkara lacework, from the same-name village, located in the southern Troödos foothills. Be wary of cheap Chinese imports. The village of Fyti in the Pafos region is also famous for its needlework, particularly woven and embroidered silk and cotton, and is, to date, not on the coach-tour trail. Also check out the Museum for the Preservation of Lace at Timiou Stavrou (Holy Cross) Monastery in Omodos. In the North, look out for the delicate cross-stitch motifs of Lapithos (Lapta). Traditionally embroidered on to clothing, they now more commonly decorate household linens.
Music & Dance
Cypriot music and dance is diverse and reflects Greek, Turkish and Arabic influences. Traditional music continues to have an enduring appeal – as evidenced by the distinctive bouzouki twanging out from all those open car windows – and both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot musical cultures share a remarkable overlap in sounds and instrumentation.
Republic of Cyprus
The bouzouki, which you will hear all over Cyprus, is a mandolin-like instrument similar to the Turkish saz and bağlama. It’s one of the main instruments of rebetiko music – the Greek equivalent of American blues. The name rebetiko may come from the Turkish word rembet, which means 'outlaw'. Opinions differ as to the origins of rebetiko, but it is probably a hybrid of several different types of music. One source was the music that emerged in the 1870s in the 'low-life' cafes called tekedes (hashish dens) in urban areas and ports. Today’s music scene is a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, with young Greek Cypriots as happy with rebetiko as they are with contemporary rock.
Although Greek rock from mainland Greece is hugely popular, the Republic of Cyprus has a small but vibrant modern-music scene all of its own which is producing eclectic, original bands and musicians, some of whom have received international acclaim.
For more traditional sounds, Cypriot singer and lyricist Evagoras Karageorgis has produced some excellent music including Topi se Hroma Loulaki (Places Painted in Violet), a nostalgic and painful look at the lost villages of Northern Cyprus sung in a mixture of Cypriot dialect and standard Greek. Alkinoos Ioannidis is one of Cyprus' most prolific and popular artists, with 11 albums which merge traditional Cypriot and Greek music with rock and classical influences.
Of the newer names on the scene, Monsieur Doumani's debut Grippy Grappa and follow-up album Sikoses have both won plaudits in the global music scene for the Nicosia trio's quirky, contemporary interpretations of traditional folk music. Jazz trio Tricoolore bring a melodic Mediterranean vibe and swags of stylish improvisation to their instrumental tunes, and blues-band The Zilla Project (who sing in English) remain firm favourites locally for their authentic gravelly sound.
In the North, musical trends tend to mirror those of mainland Turkey, with arabesk (a melancholy, Arabic-influenced musical style) and Turkish pop and rock dominating the scene. Turkish Cypriot folk music, played at weddings and other important events, with the darbuka (goblet-drum) marking out the beat, was traditionally played to accompany folk dances.
Although most Turkish Cypriot musicians remain unknown off the island, a handful have found acclaim overseas. In particular, concert pianist Rüya Taner is highly regarded in the classical-music world, while jazz-fusion bass guitarist and composer Oytun Ersan has released two albums which feature collaborations with some of jazz's top names.
Traditional Cypriot dances are commonly 'confronted pair' dances of two couples, or vigorous solo men’s dances in which the dancer holds an object such as a sickle, knife, sieve or tumbler. Shows at popular tourist restaurants frequently feature a dance called datsia where the dancer balances a stack of glasses full of wine on a sieve.
Dances in the North share very similar patterns of development and execution to those in the South, the only real difference being the names. Thus the tsifteteli (a style of belly dancing) is the ciftetelli in the North. In addition there is the testi and the kozan, both wedding dances, and the kaşıklı oyunları, a dance performed with wooden spoons. Restaurants with floor shows are most likely your best opportunity to sample northern variants of Cypriot dancing.
Dancecyprus (www.dancecyprus.org) is Cyprus' ballet company. It produces inspiring modern and classical works to a European standard with a distinctive Cypriot influence. Venues include the prestigious Rialto Theatre in Lemesos.
Cyprus has produced a sprinkling of literary stars and the literature scene is actively promoted and encouraged in both the Republic and Northern Cyprus. Novels and nonfiction books by local writers are often translated from Greek to Turkish and vice versa.
Home-grown literary talent of the 20th century includes Loukis Akritas (1932−65), who made his mark mainly in Greece as a journalist and writer, and later championed the cause of Cypriot independence through letters rather than violence. His works include novels, plays, short stories and essays. Theodosis Pierides (1908–67) is one of Cyprus' most respected poets. His Cypriot Symphony is considered to be one of the island's finest epics. Also important is his contemporary fellow poet Tefkros Anthias (1903−68). Anthias was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church and internally exiled by the British administration in 1931 for his poetry collection The Second Coming. He was arrested during the liberation struggle of 1955−59 and imprisoned. While in prison he wrote a collection of poems called The Diary of the CDP, which was published in 1956.
Novelist, poet and playwright Panos Ioannides (b 1935) is one of the biggest names on the contemporary literary scene and has won the National Prize for Literature five times. His most recent short-story collection, Gregory and Other Stories, was translated into English in 2014.
The North supports a small but healthy literary scene with more than 30 'name' personages. Neşe Yaşın (b 1959) is a writer, journalist and poet, and a founding member of a movement known as the '74 Generation Poetry Movement. This was a postdivision literary wave of writers that sought inspiration from the climate generated after Cyprus was divided. Yaşın’s poems have been translated and published in magazines, newspapers, anthologies and books in Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
Sidebar: Top Cypriot Sculptors
- Demetris Constantinou (1924–2010)
- Andreas Savvides (1930–2016)
- George Sfikas (b 1943)
- Nicos Dymiotis (1930–90)
- Kypros Perdios (b 1942)
- Leonidas Spanos (b 1955)
Sidebar: Top Five Music Festivals
- Bellapais Music Festival
- Pharos Chamber Music Festival, Lefkosia
- Fengaros Music Festival, Kato Drys
- Pafos Aphrodite Festival
- International Famagusta Art & Culture Festival
Sidebar: Ancient Greek Theatre
The International Festival of Ancient Greek Theatre in July is one of the best opportunities to watch productions of the dramas, tragedies and comedies of Classical Greece and takes place in venues across the Republic.
Sidebar: Shadow-Puppet Theatre
Karagöz shadow-puppet theatre spread throughout Cyprus during the Ottoman era, though today this artform is dying. The only theatre (in North Nicosia) which regularly hosted performances of this centuries-old art form closed in 2014 when puppeteer Mehmet Ertuğ retired due to illness.
Sidebar: Aydın Mehmet Ali
In Aydın Mehmet Ali's lastest short-story collection, Forbidden Zones (2013), the London-based Turkish Cypriot writer explores conflict, the life of the exiled and political and personal barriers.