HISTORY & CULTURE
History of Cyprus
At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, this jewel of the Mediterranean has been one of the most desired countries since people started recording history. From Ancient Greeks and Romans to Crusaders and Ottomans, this island has experienced its fair share of colonization and conquests. The beauty of it all is an intricately connected culture that no other country can boast of and the legacy of the past times that can be seen on every corner of the island. To top it all off, the breathtaking nature of the island makes it a perfect holiday destination. It is no wonder the Goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite herself chose this island as her birthplace.
The oldest remains depict the settlements of Neolithic period, some 9000 years ago. They are scattered all across the island, giving this country a unique vibe. In 2500 BC, copper took the main stage as the most valuable commodity. The island was so abundant in copper that the people named the very country by its name (Cyprus is Greek for copper).
It was copper itself that attracted the interest of many dominant powers of the region, the first being the Achaean Greeks in 1200 BC. They brought with them their Mycenaean culture, the traces of which can be seen in ivory carvings and vases illustrating different motives, from human figures and boats to bulls and chariots. After the Achaean Greeks, the Phoenicians, Assyrians and Egyptians subsequently seized control of the island, building roads and establishing infrastructure.
When the Romans arrived, the island was already neatly divided in small city kingdoms with the main language being Hellenistic Greek. The Romans took it upon themselves to transform the island into a senatorial province.
After the Romans, the island was on and off a part of Byzantine Empire, until Richard the Lion Heart conquered it in the name of England. After being sold to the Knights Templar, the island changed hands several times, from Franks to Lusignans and then to Ottoman Empire, until it was again in the possession of Britain in 1878. In 1960, Cyprus gained its independence. However, in 1974, after the invasion of the Turkish Army, it was divided in two communities, separated by a ‘Green Line’, i.e. the UN-buffer zone. In 2004, the island became an official member of the EU, with the Euro being its currency and Greek and Turkish being the official languages. As the island is visited by millions of holiday makers each year, English is widely spoken all around Cyprus and is an official language in international business.
One word that best describes the Cypriot culture has to be hospitality, the warm welcome they extend to every visitor. Hospitality is so etched in their DNA and their language that literary there is no difference between a guest and a stranger, i.e. the Greek word 'xenos' denotes both. Next to their hospitality, Cypriots are renowned for their lifestyle of ease, relaxation and stress-free environment. This does not come as a surprise knowing that they live on one of the most breathtaking islands in the world in the best weather, bathed in sun for over 300 days a year.
This sense of ease and relaxation permeates every café, a hot spot for both social and business meetings. More often than not, the cafes are full of business people negotiating a deal over a cold drink, tourists enjoying a leisurely iced coffee (frappe) and local people in the streets and outside the coffee shops where the elderly Cypriot men can often be seen playing backgammon. For Cypriots life means nothing if there is no time to enjoy it. So, the pace of life is slow and gentle but it is far from being dull.
Cypriots are also family oriented, more often than not spending hours over a meal surrounded by large groups of family and friends. They are also a highly religious nation (mostly Greek Orthodox ), hence a great number of the festivals held in Cyprus are of a religious character, the most famous of them being Easter, i.e. Pascha.
Easter in Cyprus is full of life, with a bonfire near a church, midnight service that welcomes any visitor and fireworks. The excitement can be felt in every person as they hold the unlit candles called ‘Lampada’. The candles are lit after the priest calls onto his congregation to take the light which never perishes.
Families celebrate for three or more days, inviting their family to come and join them in the tapping of the hard boiled painted eggs, symbolising the breaking of Christ from his tomb.
40 days prior to Easter, there is a festival called Green Monday, which celebrates the beginning of 40-day lent. Many Cypriots go to the countryside for a vegetarian picnic and a competition in kite flying.
Another religious festival is held on 6th January, Epiphany or Ta Fota. As the festival celebrates the baptism of Christ, many local men dive into the sea to fetch the cross which the priest has previously tossed. It is believed that whoever brings the cross back will have luck and good fortune all year round.
Kataklysmos is a festival celebrated only in Cyprus. It lasts for 7 to 10 days, during which many swimming and boat competitions are held, as well as music and dance contests. The promenades are turned into fairs, with plenty of entertainment and traditional food stalls. People go about celebrating the ‘flood’ and Noah the Saviour. They also sprinkle each other with sea water as a symbol of the body - soul purification.
Cyprus Music and Dancing
Cypriot people love music and dancing. The music of Cyprus includes a variety of traditional, Western classical and Western popular genres. Cypriot traditional music is similar to the traditional music of Greece and includes dances like Sousta, Syrtos, Tatsia, Antikristos and Zeimbekiko. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots use the violin as the main solo instrument, accompanied by the Lute for Greek Cypriots and the Oud for Turkish Cypriots. The Tamboutsia and the Pithiavli are also used.
Cypriots celebrate a summer festival of music and performing arts in Larnaca. This annual festival provides outdoor, indoor concerts and a feast of entertainment at various town venues throughout the festival days in July. The festival serves up the performances of dance, theatre and music, film screenings and poetry by national and international talents, a fine example of true Cypriot culture.