Riviera Beach Bungalows, Studios & Superior Hotel Rooms, Kyrenia, North Cyprus

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THROUGH CYPRUS
WITH THE CAMERA,
IN THE AUTUMN OF 1878.
By
JOHN THOMSON F.R.G.S.

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[Kyrenia] [Famagusta] [Nicosia] [Lefke] [Limassol] [Paphos] [Larnaca]

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NICOSIA / LEFKOSIA / LEFKOSA

CHANNEL SQUADRON GATE, NICOSIA

Nicosia (Lefkosia / Lefkoþa), the capital of Cyprus, stands in the centre of the island, on the Plain of Mesorea, four hundred feet above the sea. It is connected with Larnaca by a carriage-road, which has recently been repaired and rendered available for an omnibus that plies daily between the fort and the capital. This road runs direct to the Channel Squadron Gate (so named by British blue-jackets when they took possession).

The wall and gateways are strongly built of stone, and are in good preservation, although traces of neglect and decay are to be met with everywhere around. The Moslems, as a military people, have made languid and fitful attempts to keep the ramparts in repair, while within the walls they appear to have left nothing worth the cost of a siege.

The air was tainted close to the gateway, for animals were being slaughtered in an enclosed space hard by. The poor, make-shift abodes in the immediate neighbourhood are strangely at variance with relics of the ancient magnificence of Nicosia; and the motley crowd that now-a-days passes to and fro through the massive archway, would form a striking contrast to the chivalrous bands that followed in the train of the Lusignan Princes when the town became a royal residence.

A writer of the fourteenth century states that the nobility of Cyprus were, at that time, the richest in the world. But they have passed away, and their wealth and fame are almost forgotten. What of their descendants? The writer heard a poor muleteer (a man of fine physique and courtly bearing) boast that he was a descendant of one of the most noble families of Cyprus.

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NICOSIA, FROM THE CITY WALL

Nicosia may be seen to greatest advantage from the summit of its wall. In the distance rises a forest of tapering minarets, that contrast well with graceful palms, and with the undulating lines of foliage that mark the sites of the gardens of the metropolis. The atmosphere, obscured by a heat haze, imparts a soft, but indescribable, charm to the distant objects in the landscape. The square, flat-roofed houses, with their small windows and narrow, walled-in spaces, are suggestive of a strongly conservative population, where each family had determined to dwell alone, cut off from the outer world, These purely Eastern fortified dwellings afford a semblance of security against invasion, but sadly remind us of the despotic rule under which the people have struggled for centuries. They arc for the most part built out of the soil on which they stand, and in this respect resemble huge ant-hills, under which the inhabitants were fain to burrow, unseen by their taskmasters, the Turks.

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NICOSIA, FROM THE CITY WALL

The minarets of the mosques and the belfries of the Greek churches tower conspicuously over every town in Cyprus, while the earth-built dwellings of the people are hidden away among masses of friendly foliage. These heavenward-pointing spires of a crushed and heavy-laden race vie with Nature in adorning the scene. Happily, Nature in this island is not only beautifying, but bountiful, and she yields a handsome return for invested labour or capital. While the gifts of the faithful and the votive offerings of the poor are not neglected, there is no other quarter of the island where one meets with such skilful tillage as is bestowed on lands belonging to the churches and mosques. The photograph affords a most attractive glimpse of the capital, which here appears to be a perfect garden of cultivation. The picture faithfully represents a portion of the outskirts of the town, but many quarters are to be found in which desolation reigns supreme.

Formerly the streets of Nicosia were the convenient receptacles for all sorts of garbage and refuse, but they have now been so cleansed and so improved as to render a promenade through the town as agreeable as it is instructive.

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ST. SOPHIA, NICOSIA

The cathedral of St. Sophia, now used as a mosque (Selimiye Mosque), is a noble edifice, which carries one back to the period of the Lusignan princes, whose mutilated monuments may be seen within its walls. The lofty, pillared interior is approached through three arched portals, richly sculptured and pointed. These portals have escaped the rough usage which has wrecked other parts of the building, and (as may be gathered from the photograph) the finely-sculptured windows have also been preserved. But as for the splendid interior, it has lost its rich decorations; and its carved work and pillars are now daubed with gaudy- coloured paint, or with a whitewash which possibly typifies the purity of the faith of the Prophet.

It is fortunate that Moslem economy, or, perhaps, a lack of fanatical zeal, has preserved to us so much of this fine specimen of early Gothic architecture. The tower, which once crowned the edifice, has given place to galleried minarets; the old sonorous summons of the cathedral bell has been exchanged for muezzins, which each morning and evening call the faithful to prayer.

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ST. NICHOLAS, NICOSIA

Hard by the Cathedral of St. Sophia stands a church once dedicated to St. Nicholas (also know as Bedesten nowadays) but now used as a granary, whose richly-sculptured portal, the subject of this photograph, is one of the finest examples of its kind to be found in Cyprus. Nicosia, when at the height of its prosperity in the fourteenth century, boasted no less than two hundred and fifty chapels and churches; but the work of demolition has since been so successfully pursued, that only two or three edifices now remain to testify to the wealth once lavished on their building and decoration.

In strolling through the town, one may readily perceive that the churches, very shortly after the Turkish conquest, were used as quarries, and long continued to supply building materials to generations of Cypriotes. When these resources became at last exhausted, as no labour was forthcoming to procure stone in the hills, the islanders fell back upon the old sun-dried brick which figures so largely in the ramshackle architecture of the capital. What could be more striking than the contrast of the two such styles as have been presented face to face in this picture? The one Gothic, the other Turk mud-ine if we may so denominate it! In the latter case, however, nature has made the most of the projecting rafters, and the roof is garnished with curious herbage. Beyond, in the distance, is a mound of debris. Many such mounds are to be met with during an hour’s march through the streets and lanes of Nicosia, and the nature of their contents, when some inquiring spirit shall one day open them, will throw light, if not on the early history of the capital, at any rate on the sanitary condition of the locality.

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NATIVE GROUP, NICOSIA

The accompanying group was taken in front of the ancient Cathedral (now a mosque) of St. Sophia. A friendly-disposed crowd of spectators had gathered round the mosque to witness the process of photographing the exterior of the building, and while pious moslems held themselves aloof, a large number of native Greeks volunteered to sit for their portraits; those selected were deemed fair specimens of the inhabitants of Nicosia.

The turbaned Turk in the distance was introduced into the picture accidentally. He was leaving the mosque, and, as he halted for a second to view the proceedings, was unconsciously portrayed. Two boys figure on the right, the sons of negro parents, who not many years ago were slaves in a Turkish household. There are also three peasants, and on the base of a pilaster sits a merchant of the town. The costume of the Cyprian peasant consists of a fez, bound round by a coloured cotton kerchief, a jacket of striped cotton, girdle and trousers of the same material. His boots are flat-soled, and resemble those worn by the Mongolians; these boots are the most costly part of his attire, and are worn to protect the feet from snake-bites, when working in the fields or travelling through the bush.

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ON THE RAMPARTS, NICOSIA

It is doubtful whether the ramparts here depicted formed originally a part of the substantial fortifications constructed by the Venetians in olden days, and still surrounding the town. The pierced wall looks flimsy, and its weakness and insufficiency have evidently been at one time concealed beneath a coating of plaster. For all that, the multitude of empty, harmless embrasures presents a formidable front, when we view it from the plain.

Strong as these old battlements undoubtedly are—battlements which, in 1570, enabled the Venetians to withstand a seven weeks siege—they would hardly bear the brunt of a bombardment for as many hours by modern artillery. The road from Nicosia may be seen winding across the plain and disappearing over an eminence. The land on both sides of this road was once famed for its fertility, and yet, although it is still most productive, only a patch of ground here and there is under cultivation. Vast tracts lie fallow, overgrown by thistles, shrubs, and stunted herbage, and affording fodder to flocks of sheep and goats. However, these tracts, as they thus supply pasturage, can hardly be called waste land, and a few years hence may become the richest farms in the Levant.

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AN AGED CYPRIOTE

Any attempt to photograph the fleeting expression of sentiment in the human face is almost certain to fail; nevertheless, a chance shot with the camera secured for us the accompanying pleasing picture—one which conveys something of the feelings that crossed the mind of the aged dame as she caressed the pretty little Greek girl who stands by her side. The old lady is hale and hearty in spite of her years, and, like many other natives to be found in the island, might be still considered a fair risk by a life insurance office.

Numbers of aged folks dwell in regions where there are no physicians, and where fever and famine, though no strangers, alike have failed to shorten their days. As for the fever about which so much has lately been written, it has neither wrecked their constitutions nor impaired their strength. They have had it, some of them more times than one; but aided by nature arid by simple nostrums they have thrown it off, and the malady has left them free to spend their declining years in peace.


In the absence of trustworthy statistics, it is impossible to arrive at just conclusions regarding Cypriote longevity; appearances, however, favour the opinion that the inhabitants attain a good old age, and that, too, in spite of the social disadvantages of their condition and surroundings.

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A WATER-CARRIER

The illustration represents a female water-carrier, bearing one of the terra-cotta jars which are made at the potteries of Varosia, Famagusta (also known as Maraþ / Gazi Maðusa), and which bear a close resemblance to some of the ware found in the ancient tombs of the island.

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A WOMAN ON LABOURING CLASS

This is a typical woman of the lower orders in Cyprus; one who to a powerful physique, well-formed features, and dark eyes, adds an expression of unflinching resolution. It was some little time before she could be persuaded that neither sorcery nor witchcraft were practiced in the mysterious operations of photography; but, at last, the desire to see her likeness overcame her scruples, and she faced the camera with statuesque immobility.

Women of every age and clime have betrayed a passion for ornaments and for the arts which concern personal decoration. Nor are these matters neglected by any Cyprian, however humble her rank in life. Accordingly, the head-dress had first to be arranged, and the necklace of beads to be properly adjusted before the plate could be exposed and the picture secured.

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BEGGARS

Mendicity is not an art practiced to any great extent in Cyprus, and “backsheesh” is a Word as yet happily unknown among the islanders. There are, however, a few lepers near Nicosia, who live partly by begging and partly on the bounty of the Greek clergy. These lepers find a shelter in the tombs, and are cut off from all intercourse with their families and with the world. But a healthy mendicant is so rare a sight in the towns that it was only by an accident that I fell in with this type of her class.

The woman shown in the present picture was evidently no professional beggar. She simply presented herself at the doorway of the house where I happened to be lodging; there she waited silently until some one came and spoke to her and gave bread to her children, which they greedily devoured. I afterwards found another half-famished family sheltered in a ruined hut in the outskirts of Larnaca; these people had travelled on foot with their children from some poor inland district, hoping to meet with employment in the town. The inhabitants of the district had been helping them through their troubles with food and assisting them to work.

[Kyrenia] [Famagusta] [Nicosia] [Lefke] [Limassol] [Paphos] [Larnaca]

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