The History and Culture of Cyprus is among the oldest in the world. The first signs of civilization traced in archaeological excavations and research date back 9,000 years to the 7th millennium BC. This rich cultural landscape involves hundreds of archaeological sites scattered throughout the island, representing various historical periods in the island's evolution.
The discovery of copper in Cyprus in the 3rd millennium BC brought wealth to the island and attracted trade from its trading neighbors. Yet, although geographically placed at the crossroads of three continents Europe, Asia and Africa and a meeting point of great world civilizations, Cyprus has developed and for centuries maintained, its own civilization. It remained a center of Greek culture with Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, French, Venetian, Ottoman and British influences.
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities is tasked with the operation, maintenance, protection and preservation of the rich archaeological heritage of the island. Its activities comprise such areas as excavation and conservation of artifacts, the preservation of ancient monuments, the protection of ethnological and ecclesiastical art, the restoration of buildings of traditional architecture etc. The final goal of all these activities is the presentation of the island's unique cultural property to its people and visitors for the benefit of pleasure, knowledge and artistic inspiration.
Relevant to the excavations and complementary to them is the task of maintenance and protection of ancient monuments and antiquities in general. This includes reconstruction and/or maintenance of ancient theatres, sanctuaries, castles, churches and other monuments of every nature as well as movable antiquities, metallurgy, handicraft, icons, items of religious and popular art dating back to Neolithic Times and up to 1940 A.D. Maintenance of Mosaics and frescoes is also included.
The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia houses the richest and most representative collection of Cypriote antiquities in Cyprus. In its exhibition rooms one may see some of the most important pieces of Cypriote art and get a comprehensive picture of the Cypriote culture from the Neolithic period to the Roman times.
There are also district archaeological museums in all towns, two site museums, in Episkopi (Limassol) for the antiquities of Kourion and at Kouklia (Paphos) for the antiquities of Paleapaphos, Folk Art Museums at Yeroskipou, Lefkara and Phikardhou and an Ethnological Museum in the Nicosia House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios.
Most of the ancient monuments and archaeological sites on the island are open to the public and visitors may, with the aid of inexpensive guide books, tour the sites.
On the other hand ancient theatres have been fully reconstructed and host several theatrical, dance, musical and other performances. At the same time mobile Cyprus antiquities in the form of representative collections are sent abroad for exhibition. Such touring exhibitions are organized in many parts of the world.
Cypriote antiquities are also objects of scientific study during international congresses and seminars on archaeology.
An achievement of the Department of Antiquities is the inclusion in 1980, of both Paleapaphos (Kouklia) and Nea Paphos (Kato Paphos) in the World Cultural Heritage List of Unesco.
In 1986 nine Byzantine Churches situated in the Troodos range, those of Agios Nicolaos tis Stegis in Kakopetria village, Agios Ioannis Lambadistis in Kalopanayiotis village, Panayia tou Moutoulla in Moutoullas village, Archangelos in Pedoulas village, Panayia tis Poditou in Galata village, Stavros tou Agiasmati in Platanistasa village and Asinou near Nikitari village were also included in the World Cultural Heritage List of Unesco.
Cultural Life of Cyprus
There is an intense and active interest amongst all the people in Cyprus in fostering the creative drive in the field of Letters and the Arts and to strengthen cultural awareness.
Both the Government as well as non-governmental organizations and individuals have given high priority in making culture available to all, so that there is a greater participation and receptiveness on behalf of the public in the island's cultural life and in disseminating and projecting cultural achievements abroad in order to highlight Cyprus' links with international culture.
Particular emphasis is placed on promoting literature, music, dance (modern and classical), the visual arts and the cinema. In addition a special arts festival (The "Kypria") is organized annually with a view to upgrading the art movement on the island and highlighting its links with international culture. Since its inception, in 1993, this has become an institution making high quality cultural entertainment accessible to a wide range of people. The various performances include: theatre, ballet, opera, music. Alongside well-known international artists or ensembles, Cypriot artists who have distinguished themselves abroad and acquired international reputation are also invited to participate.
The Damage Done by Turkey
The Government of Turkey has been found by the European Court of Human Rights as being responsible for violations of human rights and other illegal activities in the occupied part of Cyprus.
The systematic nature of the looting and stealing that has taken place and much of the vandalism, suggests that Turkish official policy has directly or indirectly encouraged much of the destruction, damage and looting that has occurred. Further damage has been caused by erosion and neglect.
Recovery of Stolen Items
The Cyprus Police Force in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities, the Church of Cyprus and collectors of art treasures, have since 1974 constantly endeavored to inform INTERPOL, police forces of other countries, and the international art market about items stolen or looted from the northern part of Cyprus.
There have been notable successes which resulted in the recovery of icons and ancient earthenware from the UK in 1974, ancient figurines (3000 BC) from auctioneers in London in 1976, icons in the Netherlands in 1981, and a large number of icons, mosaics and frescoes from Germany in 1997 and in the Netherlands in 1998.
One of the most notable cases has been the recovery of mosaics taken from the Church of Kanakaria in 1989, when an Indianapolis Court reaffirmed their ownership by the Church of Cyprus and ordered a US art dealer to return them to Cyprus.
The authorities of Cyprus are constantly trying to obtain possession of art works stolen from the occupied area and are currently in Europe, North America and Japan.
Devastation in Occupied Cyprus
One of the most tragic consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion and continued occupation of the northern part of Cyprus has been the deliberate destruction, looting, pillage and desecration of Cyprus? unique cultural and religious heritage.
The following are examples of such destruction and pillage of the cultural heritage in the occupied part of Cyprus:
(1) Ancient Monuments:
In accordance with the Antiquities Law, Ancient Monuments are divided in two categories. Monuments assigned to the first category, Schedule A, are the property of the government and are managed by the Department of Antiquities. Monuments in Schedule B are private property. Monuments in the occupied area, including those of extraordinary importance such as Enkomi, Salamis, Soloi, Lampousa, Bellapais and the Monasteries of Apostolos Varnavas and Apostolos Andreas are not accessible to the Department of Antiquities. Out of the total of 197 Schedule A Monuments, 76 are in the occupied areas, whereas for Monuments of Schedule B, out of a total of 974, 130 are in the occupied areas. There are, therefore, 206 Ancient Monuments situated in the occupied areas.
There are reliable reports of abandoned archaeological sites, large scale theft, looting and damage. Notable examples are the pulling down of the city walls at Vouni, looting at ancient Enkomi and Salamis, and theft of statues. In some cases these have come to light because of attempts to sell items, for example the purchase in 1974 by the government of Cyprus of a four wheeled bronze Mycenean stand placed on sale in Frankfurt by Turkish antique smugglers.
Three of the island?s museums, the Famagusta District Museum, the Kyrenia Shipwreck Museum and the Kyrenia Folk Art Museum are in the occupied area. From the first, gold jewellry and pottery are missing, from the second, antiquities were stolen and from the third all the silver objects were stolen.
(3) Archaeological Mission Stores:
The stores of two French missions as well as the stores of an Italian, a USA, a Canadian and a British mission were located in the occupied area, and all have been looted.
(4) Private Archaeological Collections:
There were 150 private archaeological collections in the occupied area that were registered with the Department of Antiquities, consisting of thousands of objects. The fate of these is unknown.
In 1974 there were more than 520 Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches in the occupied area. There is information on the fate of 244 of these.Based on this information 100 were looted or vandalized, 68 were converted to mosques, 14 are used by the Turkish military, 11 are used as sheep pens/stables and one as a barn. The loss in terms of structures (including a number of churches pulled down), fittings and movable items, in particular valuable icons, is enormous in terms of both cultural and monetary value.
As is the loss due to vandalism and the defacing of frescoes, buildings and monuments etc. The change in the use of buildings of Christian worship is especially aggravating (i.e. Ayia Anastasia church, the Armenian monastery of St. Magar).
Most of the movable items in churches have been stolen, removed or destroyed. Valuable icons, wall paintings or fixtures of churches, all stolen are found in art galleries or other locations throughout the world. The 1997 arrest in Germany of one Turkish smuggler of cultural property, brought to light hundreds of icons stolen from 46 churches in the occupied area. Overall, however, it is estimated that over 15,000 icons are missing. Some of these have been put up for sale by art dealers in Western Europe and innocent European buyers have fallen victim to the smugglers.
Most of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Cemeteries in the occupied area have been destroyed. Evidence is available for 26 cemeteries that have been totally destroyed.
In 1974 there were 107 public libraries in Cyprus, of which 36 were in the occupied area. There were also 194 school libraries in that area. In addition the mobile library of the Ministry of Education was also located there. Most of these libraries have been destroyed, as were many collections of rare books. From time to time stolen or looted rare books appear for sale at auctions in Western Europe.
(9) Private Art Collections:
There were a number of art galleries, collections and studios in the occupied area, of which three art galleries, 10 art collections and 4 art studios cooperated with the Ministry of Education. Numerous modern monuments were located in the occupied area. While seven folk and other cultural societies were forcibly displaced from their roots, rare and valuable books, paintings and other items have, from time to time, been put up for sale by Western European art dealers.
CHURCH OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE SAVIOUR IN THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST
The Department of Antiquities, Ministry of Transportation and Works, has announced that the Church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour in the village of Palaichori has been inscribed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The decision to include this important Byzantine Church of the 16th century in the World Heritage List, was taken during the recent 25th session of the World Heritage Committee, which was held in Helsinki, Finland from 11-16 December 2001.
Here below is extract from the World Heritage Committee Press Release, relating to the decision for Cyprus, as well as the list of all Thirteen (13) sites from Cyprus that are now included in the World Heritage List.
FROM UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE NEWS:
"WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE INSCRIBES 31 NEW SITES ON THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST
Helsinki, Finland - 14 December 2001. The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Helsinki since December 11, has inscribed 31 new sites on the World Heritage List. The List now numbers 721 sites of "outstanding universal value" in 124 countries. For the first time, sites in Botswana and Israel appear on the List. The 31 inscriptions this year include six natural sites and 25 cultural sites.
In addition to the 31, six sites already inscribed on the List were extended. The full list may be found on the World Heritage web site at www.unesco.org/whc/heritage.htm.
... The following are the EXTENSIONS to sites already inscribed on the World Heritage List: CULTURAL PROPERTIES
... CYPRUS: Painted Churches in the Troodos Region 1985/2001 (extension to include the Church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour) (C ii, iii, iv) This region is characterized by one of the largest groups of churches and monasteries of the former Byzantine Empire. The complex of ten monuments included on the World Heritage List, all richly decorated with murals, provides an overview of Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting in Cyprus. They range from small churches whose rural architectural style is in stark contrast to their highly refined decoration, to monasteries such as that of St John Lampadistis."
LIST OF 13 ( THIRTEEN) SITES FROM CYPRUS INCLUDED IN THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST OF UNESCO
Location Information: Two archaeological sites in Paphos
Date Inscribed, Town, Sites, Approxiamate Date
1980, Paphos, Sites of Palaepaphos and Nea Paphos ,from 12th century BC to 5th cent AD
Brief description: Inhabited since the Neolithic Age, Paphos was a site of worship of Aphrodite and prehistoric fertility deities. Aphrodite's legendary birthplace was on this island, where her temple was erected by the Myceneans in the 12th century B.C. The remains of villas, palaces, theatres, fortresses and tombs give the site its exceptional architectural and historic value. The mosaics of Nea Paphos are among the most beautiful in the world.
Location Information: Painted Churches in the Troodos Region, Nicosia and Limassol District; Troodos Region
The World Heritage Committee declared that these churches bear outstanding testimony to Byzantine civilization, that they are well-conserved examples of rural religious architecture and that they provide evidence for the links between eastern and western Christian art.The architecture of these small churches is unique, confined to the Troodos range and almost certainly of indigenous origin. The interior-and in several cases partrs of the exterior- of these churches is decorated with wall paintings, frescoes, which are of exceptional artistic quality.
Date Inscribed, Town, Name of Church, Approximate Date
1985, Kakopetria, Church of Ayios Nikolaos tis Steyis(St. Nicholas of the Roof), 11th cent.
1985, Kalopanayiotis,Ayios Ionannis (St. John)Lambadhistis Monastery, 11th cent.
1985, Nikitari,Church of Panayia (The Virgin) Phorviotissa (Asinou), 12th cent.
1985,Lagoudhera, Church of Panayia (The Virgin)tou Arakou,12th cent
1985,Moutoullas,Church of Panayia (The Virgin) 13th-14th cent.
1985, Pedhoulas, Church of Archangelos Michael (Archangel Michael),15th cent.
1985, Pelendria, Church of Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), 13th-15th cent.
1985, Galata, Church of Panayia (The Virgin) Podhithou, 16th cent.
1985, Platanistasa, Church of Stavros (Holy Cross) Ayiasmati,15th cent.
2001, Palaichori, Church of Metamorphosis tou Soteros,(the Transfiguration of the Saviour), 16th cent.
Location Information: Neolithic Settlement of Choirokoitia Date of Inscription, Location, Site, Approximate Date
1998, Choirokoitia, Neolithic Settlement of Choirokoitia,7th- 4th mill.BC
Justification for Inscription: Criterion (ii): In the prehistoric period, Cyprus played a key role in the transmission of culture from the Near East to the European world. Criterion (iii): Choirokhoitia is an exceptionally well preserved archaeological site that has provided, and will continue to provide, scientific data of great importance relating to the spread of civilization from Asia to the Mediterranean world. Criterion (iv): Both the excavated remains and the untouched part of Choirokhoitia demonstrate clearly the origins of proto-urban settlement in the Mediterranean region and beyond. Brief description:The Neolithic settlement of Choirokhoitia, occupied from the 7th to the 4th millennium BC, is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Its remains and the finds from the excavations there have thrown much light on the evolution of human society in this key region. Only part of the site has been excavated, and so it forms an exceptional archaeological reserve for future study.