2014年2月17日 星期一

Cyprus blues

Nefeli, in Greek mythology, was a cloud nymph, a minor female nature deity. It was also the name of our guide in Cyprus
Nefeli was a good guide. She had a handsome middle-aged Greek lady face, which when translated meant a trifle severe and scary when she was not smiling. And she was definitely not smiling the moment we arrived at Ancient Amathunta (Amathus) when everyone disappeared to take pictures, and she was left with just 2-3 of us in tow. Nefeli was a good guide because she cared, and rightfully fumed ! "We can start now," I said in my most conciliatory tone of voice, "not everyone's interested in the history." She would have none of it and the group was assembled and roundly given a talking-to ! Guides the world over, alas, have to undergo the same baptism of being ignored by the H K tourists ! 

Limassol, the second largest city in Cyprus, was built between two ancient cities, Amathus and Kourion. Amathus was built by the Argives in 1100 BC, and is one of the most significant ancient city kingdoms of Cyprus. Excavations have revealed the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite , the acropolis, and the upper and lower city. It was here that the world's largest stone vase was found, which is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris

Kourion was named by the Argives after Kourea, son of the mythical King Kinyras. The city has passed through Hellenistic, Roman and Christian periods, evidenced by such features as the large Agora (market place) , big public baths equipped with cold, warm and hot spas , and a Christian Basilica with a baptistery attached to the north face. A national treasure of Cyprus, it's a huge site and not much shade, there were canopies but only to cover the ruins to protect them from the weather elements ; but the pathways and viewing platforms were good. 
As most of the treasures from Kourion were looted by America and Britain and are now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, and the British Museum (minus the thousands of pieces in Standford University that were destroyed during the earthquake of 1906) , all that's left for us to see here in Cyprus were several houses and their mosaics floors, which couldn't be removed easily. The most notable were:
The House of Eustolios (5th century AD), once a private Roman villa later turned into a public recreation center, it contains a complex of baths and a number of rooms with superb mosaic floors
The House of Achilles ( 4th century AD), thought to be a reception centre
the House of the Gladiators (3rd century AD), so named because some of its mosaics depict gladiators fighting

Much of the mosaics and Roman writings had Christian symbols and references, as Christianity was in vogue in the then Roman Empire .

The Greco-Roman Kourion Ancient Amphitheater sits 2000 spectators. It was destroyed a few times by earthquakes, but after centuries of neglect, was recently completely restored for the benefit of tourists. Once an arena for gladiators, it is now the perfect setting for open air concerts and theatrical performances. The theater is built circular, with a hole in the middle of the stage. The actors would stand at the spot, the sound of their voice would bounce off the seats with a stereo effect, so everyone in the audience can hear. It is now one of the venues for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama. 
Worship had began in the Temple of Apollo (called Hylates in Cyprus) as early as the 8th century and continued until the 4th century AD, when it was destroyed when a series of 5 strong earthquakes hit the city in a period of 80 years . Originally the sanctuary complex includes the Temple of Apollo, a circular monument probably destined for procession or dances, an Archaic Altar , a central courtyard, palaestra, stoa, the treasury and the baths. Just to show how serious Apollo worship was at that time, there's a cape nearby from which sacrilegious offenders who had dared to touch the altar of Apollo were thrown into the sea 

All monuments are in limestone as there's no marble in Cyprus. Limassol's quite near to Akrotiri, the British Western Sovereign Military Base. " How many British soldiers are stationed here ib Cyprus ?" I asked Nefeli. " Several thousand, perhaps," she's not particularly interested" We don't mix, they don't leave the base." " Even their families?" " Well, they take sightseeing holidays around Cyprus, sure, but they've got shops and schools and everything on the base."
There're actually two British Military bases in Cyprus, the other one's at Dhekelia near Larnaca. Britain retained sovereignty over the bases under the 1960 Treaty of Independence, when Cyprus gained independence from the British Empire. The strategic location of Cyprus at the crossroads of three continents, and being close to the Suez Canal and the Middle East, makes it an ideal staging post (the 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' ) for British military aircraft and forces sent to locations in the Middle East and Asia. The of course there're the intelligent gathering operations conducted there. In Dec 2012 , after a rumor that the bases would be closed due to budget cuts, the UK Secretary of State for Defense in a written statement to the lower house reiterated " The Sovereign Base areas are in a region of geopolitical importance and high priority for the United Kingdoms's long term national interests......" Just how important the bases are, was revealed by US  whistle blower Edward Snowdon.
The Guardian newspaper, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the Greek Daily Ta Nea and the Greek channel Alpha TV all claimed : Cyprus is a key site for the mass internet surveillance systems operated by Britain and the US in the Middle East and surrounding regions. Undersea cable maps show Cyprus' at the hub of numerous fiber-optic undersea cables, the most significant are the cables connecting Cyprus to Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt , North Africa and Turkey, obvious targets for Anglo-American spying. Vast quantities of e-mails, phone calls and web traffic carried on these cables were intercepted by Ayios Nikolaos Intelligence Station, part of the British Eastern Sovereign Base Area. This is made easy as the Treaty granting Cyprus independence from Britain included a special clause, section 6, which states that Cyprus must "consult and assist" Britain in all its telecommunications matters, i.e. Cyprus Telecommunications Authority is legally obliged to assist the British Intelligence bases. 
On behalf of the US Intelligence Agencies, Britain has instituted a project called " Mastery of the Internet"( according to Snowden, £39.9 million was funded by NSA in 2010 ) and has been spying on foreign (including European) government leaders ; foreign embassies; United Nations agencies ; private companies ; police forces; military and political organisations. It's claimed currently Britain does more Internet monitoring even than the US National security Agency (NSA). In 2011 the Guardian reported NSA paid ' half the costs of one of the UK's main eavesdropping capabilities in Cyprus " This is not new as since 1974 NSA has repeatedly been paying Britain ( constantly strapped for money) to keep the Cyprus bases open. A Snowden document, viewed by Sueddeutsche Zeitung journalists, claims NSA officers dressed as tourists are working alongside British intelligence on the base, in violation to the British-Cyprus agreement.
Relationship between the Cypriots and the British Military has never been a bed of roses. In 2001 violent protests broke out at the bases by angry locals against the construction of radio masts to upgrade the British military post, citing harm to health and wildlife in the area. In Nov 2009, BBC news reported a diplomatic row between Britain and Cyprus after the British High Commissioner Peter Millett unveiled and laid down a wreath at a new memorial in Kyrenia, in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, on Remembrance Sunday. More British soldiers were killed during the " Cyprus Emergency" between 1956 and 1959 than have died in Iraq and Afghanistan ( Cyprus deaths - 371; Iraq - 179 ; Afghanistan - 235).  President Demetris Christofias raised the matter with the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Cyprus High Commissioner to London later said not to have consulted the Cyprus government was insensitive, to built the memorial in the occupied part of Cyprus was an insult. In Dec 2013 British soldiers and military police clashed again with protesters at the Akrotiri base over the construction of yet another new communication antennae, presumably in response to a recent British Intelligence document which argued "the Cyprus operations have to remained resourced and equipped...... to maintain healthy relationships with USA customers". 40 policemen were injured in the incident, which Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned as " completely unacceptable". Squabbles're expected to escalate now that British spying's indisputable. In August 2012 the Cypriot Government demanded an official explanation from the British Foreign Ministry after the Sunday Times reported that the British Sovereign Bases in Cyprus collected intelligence on Syrian army movements, which they then channeled through Turkey to Syrian rebel forces. A year later in August 2013, Cypriot and British media both speculated that long-range ballistic missiles ( potentially could deliver chemical weapons) from Syria in retaliation of British involvement against the Bashar Al Assad regime utilizing Akrotiri and Dhekelia bases could seriously hurt Cyprus. Far-fetched ? It just reflects the sentiment of the general public.
En-route from Limassol to Paphos , in the middle of the sea are 3 huge limestone rocks collectively known as the Aphrodite Rock, the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love and beauty. When Gaia ( Mother Earth) asked one of her sons, Cronus, to mutilate his father Uranus ( sky), Cronus cut off Uranus' testicles and threw them into the sea. A white foam appeared from which a maiden arose. She sailed to the shore on a shell towed by dolphins, and rested in the nearby area of Palaipathos where a temple was built to honor her. The maiden was named Aphrodite by the Greeks but referred to as Venus by the Romans. This was the most famous and important site for worshiping Aphrodite in the ancient world, and attracted a huge cult following until it was crushed by the Romans. A local myth circulates that any person who swims around the Aphrodite Rock will be blessed with eternal beauty.
An alternative name for the rocks is Petra tou Romiou ( Rock of the Greek). This is associated with the legendary soldier of Byzantine times, the hero Basil as told in the Digenes Akritas. Basil was half-Greek and half-Arabic, hence the name Digenes (two-blood). Legend tells that Basil hurled the huge rock ( Petra) from the Troodos Mountains at the marauding Saracens during an attack to keep them at bay.
Paphos is a coastal city and abounds in sea food restaurants. In Greco-Roman times it was the island's capital. Paphos is in the official UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures of the world's heritage and has recently been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2017. The economy of Paphos depends largely on tourism, and the sights are the nearby Aphrodite Rock, the Saranda Kolones ( Forty Columns) and the nearby Crusader Knights Tower , Tomb of the Kings, Ayia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa Church and St Paul's pillar. 
North of Paphos is the Byzantine Castle built by the King of Cyprus presumably in the late 7th century AD to protect the port and city from Arab attacks. An earthquake which struck the area in 1223 caused extensive damage, and the ruins became known as Saranda Kolones ( Forty Columns) because of the large number of granite columns scattered there. This area could be part of an ancient market. Recent excavation shows a square fortress with a round tower at each corner. It was surrounded by a moat and access was by a wooden bridge over the moat. The excavation area's quite extensive, including the ruins of Lusignan Castle.
                                                                                                                                       
By the end of the 13th century the Crusader Knights were all expelled from the Holy Land and took refuge in Cyprus. King Henry II granted the Knights fiefdom in the southern part of the island. They built a tower ( resembling that of Safita in Syria) at the centre of an enclosure which included a sugar cane factory and wine cellars and did very well for themselves .
Just behind the seafront is the Ayia Kyriaki Catholic Church. It was built as a Latin Church in the 13th century over the ruins of a Byzantine basilica destroyed by an earthquake. St. Paul and St. Barnabas visited Cyprus in 45 AD (Acts 13 verses 5-12) and tradition has it that St. Paul was flogged on a pillar near this church by the Roman Governor of Paphos, Sergius Paulus. St Paul later succeeded in converting him, making him the first Christian ruler and Cyprus the first Christian country.This church is, therefore, often known as "The Church by St. Paul's Pillar". What is special about this church is besides the Catholic services, the Anglican Church , the Latin Church and the Orthodox Church all use this building for functions.
The cemetery was used during the Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods. Due to their monumental character, the tombs are described as "royal"but in fact kings were never buried here, only the rich citizens and high officials of the Ptolemaic state. The architecture of the underground funerary monuments imitates that of the houses of the same period . They consist of a stepped dromos, a central atrium and burial chambers provided with many loculi for single burials. Often the tombs are plastered and covered with frescoes. In many cases, entrances to the various loculi imitate temple facades.



Pathos Castle on the edge of Paphos harbor was originally a Byzantine fort built to protect the harbor. In 1570 it was dismantled by the Venetians. After capturing the island, the Ottomans restored and strengthened it. Throughout the ages it has seen many uses. It has served as a fortress, a prison and even a warehouse for salt during the British occupation of the island. It was declared a listed building in 1935 and is one of the most distinctive landmarks of the city of Paphos.

After lunch by the sea we were given some free time, I wandered into an Exhibition Hall where paintings and handicrafts by local artists were on sale. Sitting at a desk piled with books was a large Englishman. I could never go pass a book stand without fingering the books. " It this any good?" I picked up a book called The Hated. " I sure hope so, I wrote it ! " Mark Cotton fell backwards laughing." I believe you !"I said hurriedly" Why is it called The Hated ?"" Well, it's about the paratroopers and their operations" " And people hate the paratroopers ?" " Everybody hates the paratroopers !"Mick Cotton said almost defensively. Mick was of course previously in the British Army, well no, he's never been stationed in H K, but he's served in Belfast, Rhodesia and many other places.     

There must have been a time when soldering, particularly in a place like Cyprus, was great fun. These are some of the advice British Ministry of Defense gives new recruits in its Cyprus Posting, and I quote word for word :
Lots of swimwear - Because of the time spent in the swimming pool and in the sea, swimwear takes a battering and the sun does something to the elastic.
BBQ - Invaluable, but can be bought on the island at reasonable prices .
Bicycles - There are great opportunities for biking, both flat and mountainous terrain.
Skiing clothes - Needed in winter up at Troodos ( normally plenty of snow for skiing ).
Cool box- Ideal for the beach, but can be bought cheaply on the island.
Garden furniture - You will get lots of use out of it. Plastic furniture can be bought cheaply in Cyprus.
The new-comers might well be warned that as of 2012, cyclists are subjected to breath-analyser tests just like motorists, drunken cyclists'll be fined up to 1,700 Euro and/or imprisonment up to two years. Fooling around on a bicycle'll also be banned under the new law as riders're required to keep both hands on the handlebars, except where it's necessary to use hand signals. In addition cyclists'll be barred from carrying a second person on their bike and talking on the phone while cycling. The penalty for violation will be 500 Euro or jail for 15 days.


At least the soldiers're getting their monthly cheque, not so for Mike and the 26,659 ( 2011 census) Brits who were lured to relocate in Cyprus. British nationals are the biggest group of expats living in Cyprus. Since the economic meltdown, unemployment rate in Cyprus rose from 5% to over 20% ( 50% among the young), the number of Cypriots relying on food parcels rose to 40,000, and soup kitchens sprang up in many parishes. All Brits and British businesses in Cyprus had their own tales of financial woe and cash nightmares.
Again it's Chinese to the rescue. The Cyprus Government has liberated the Foreign Direct Investment Policy and simplified administrative procedures, so all foreign ( including non EU) investors can establish business in Cyprus on equal terms with local investors. A" Cyprus-China Business Association" was set up, and Andis Nathanael ( Head of the Association) told the Cyprus News Agency direct investment from China has jumped. By the end of July 2012, China's non-financial investment to Cyprus amounted to US $ 17.4 million, and ; over the same period, the accumulative amount of engineering project contract signed by Chinese companies in Cyprus is US$ 235 million, and the accumulative turnover is US $ 265 million. The purchase of the Hong Kong based ' China Glory National Investment' of the Venus Rock Golf Resort in Pathos has been hailed as an example of what the Chinese officials had applauded as the growing link between China and Cyprus. Of course Cyprus in turn is well placed to bridge the gap between China and Europe. The company has pledged to invest € 1.5 billion in the Golf Resort, and it has already opened an office in Nicosia. Expected Government revenue for the initial state of this investment amounted to € 40 million, and upon completion of the works in the next three years, revenue will reach € 400 million. This project would also create jobs for over a thousand Cypriots, so it came as no surprise the Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis personally received the delegation led by Mr Charles Zhang, President of the Chinese company.
Further a new policy allowing foreign property buyers to obtain Permanent Residence in Cyprus was implemented. With a minimum investment of €300,000 on a property, the applicants must also prove they have no criminal record, in good financial standing and agree to deposit €30,000 for a minimum of three years in a local bank account. The permit normally arrives in about 45 days after completion of the deal. Chinese make up the bulk of all the applicants . The opportunity to secure permanent residency in an EU member state is a huge attraction for China's 1.4 million millionaires because it offers them visa-free travel throughout the Union. Since the announcement in 2011 Chinese visitors to Cyprus increased by 45 % in a year and property prices which have fallen by around 15% since 2007 saw a re-invigoration. An official survey found that there's a 15% increase in property sales in 2012, most occurred after the terms of application was clarified in August - more than 600 properties were sold to Chinese buyers alone between August and October 2012. Ninety % of the property sales were in Paphos . However most properties the Chinese have bought stood empty and locked.

It has been estimated that around US $225bn (£144bn) a year has been pouring out of China since worries spread about slower economic growth and falls in the value of stock and property in China, closely following the US and EU financial crises. Cypriot developers have astutely positioned themselves in the path of this river of cash. One of the first billboards one sees after landing in Larnaca Airport is an advert for a property development company - in Chinese. The Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas said the theme of the coming Paphos Carnival would be on China," Everything will be Chinese "he promised. The China Daily newspaper reported that Cyprus was the most prominent foreign exhibitor in the Beijing International Property Autumn Expo 2012, taking 32 stands ! 

The church Agia Paraskevi (a Christian martyr) is in the village of Geroskipou (meaning sacred garden), 3.5 kilometers east of Paphos, is one of the most significant example of Byzantine churches in Cyprus. It was built in the form of a barrel-vaulted basilica with five cupolas placed in the shape of a cross. It dates back to the 9th century AD and some of its beautiful frescoes are of the oldest in Cyprus.
Geroskipou village still has some pretty garden areas around the main square, it's is quiet and restful, with quaint local shops.


The Folk Art Museum is housed in a traditional 18th century building once belonged to Andreas Zimboulakis, who was appointed British Consular agent by the British Admiral Sir Sydney Smith in 1811 to protect British interests. It was bought by the Department of Antiquities in 1947 and turned into a Folk Art Museum in 1978. The Museum exhibits traditional daily Cypriot life.



Larnaca is the third largest city on the southern coast of Cyprus after Nicosia and Limassol, and has always been a commercial port. In Venetian times, it was the port from which salt made at a nearby salt lake was shipped. It's famous for its picturesque seafront with rows of palm trees.
The two important churches to visit in Larnaca are St Lazarus Church and Panagia tis Aggloktistis
 
St Lazarus Church was named after Lazarus of Bethany, who was raised from the dead by Jesus as recounted in the Gospel of John. I've always wondered what happened to him after that as no more was said of him in the Bible. Now I know, because according to Orthodox tradition, a short time after the resurrection of Jesus, Lazarus fled to Cyprus because his life was threatened in Judea. In Cyprus he was appointed by Paul and Barnabas to be the first Bishop of Kiton ( present day Larnaca). He lived for thirty more years and after his death was buried in Larnaca for the second and last time. St Lazarus Church was built over his tomb.
I always tell patients who's recovered from a serious illness, now that they've been given a second chance, they mustn't blow it. "Do something good, something you can be proud of with this second life !" But too often patients are so preoccupied and anxious of their health the extra years they've been given are spent solely on looking after their body; they remain frightened and inward-looking, there's no personal or spiritual growth. Unfortunately no matter how much care they bestow upon themselves, they'll eventually die anyway just as Lazarus did. The reality is we don't actually own anything in life, everything we have are on loan, even our body, and we have absolutely no control over any of it. The money I've today could all be gone tomorrow, the arm I call mine today could be amputated and in an incinerator tomorrow. A Buddhist teaching I once read explain old age and diseases that wrinkle, wither and mutilate our body are in fact Heavenly Mercies, as all these changes would make it easier for us to relinquish our body when the time comes.
Panagia Aggeloktists ( Our Lady, built by the Angels) is a 11th century church built over the ruins of a 5th century Christian basilica, in the village of Kiti in Larnaca. According to local legend citizens of Kition escaped to Kiti to evade Arab invasion. While in Kito they decided to build a church to honor the Virgin ( Panagia ). While building the church, they found the foundations had moved to a new location overnight, and the building went up faster than they were building it. The mystery was solved when they found an army of Angels descended from Heaven in the night to build the church, hence the name Aggeloktists ( built by Angels). The church is famous for the wall mosaic of Panagia tis Aggeloktists ( Virgin and Child between two Archangels ) and frescoes of the 13th century.
Nefeli was a heavy smoker, but took care never to smoke while she's working. We were given some free time in Panagia Aggeloktists, and I found her taking her break on a bench in the churchyard, puffing at a cigarette. We had a chitchat ." Do many here smoke?" I asked." Yeah, Cyprus has the third highest % of smokers per population in the world" On top there's no minimum age to smoking here and cigarettes are €4 per pack. The average wage was US 1,200."Can you tell just by looking at or talking to a person to know whether he/she's Greek or Cypriot ?" " Sure, easily, there're subtle differences in the style of clothing and the words used that give them away" then she lamented" We used to get a lot of Greek tourists in Cyprus, but since the Greek recession the numbers' dropped drastically" Tourism's Cyprus' biggest industry, the peak season's from March to November. Cyprus is visited by 2.5 million tourists each year, three-times the size of its population. Cyprus also has some light industry in leather and textile, and food production in dairy products, wine, fruit juices and olive oil. I also learnt that at this time (just before the crisis broke) building cost for houses were €900 per meter, most Cypriots own their houses. Rentals for a two bed-room apartment was €600-700 depending on size.
Tony the driver spoke excellent English." Tony, are you British ?"" No, I'm Cypriot !" " But you must have lived in England at one time, that accent's spot on !" Tony had in fact lived more than 30 years in England. His father was a mechanic in the British Army Base in Cyprus, and when his army unit returned to England, he went with them, taking Tony with him. Tony was maybe 6. That makes Tony a British Cypriot, alongside George Michael and Cat Stevens. "Why did you opt to come back after 30 years ?" " Life is good here, look at the sun, the sea , who wouldn't want to live in Cyprus ? " Aha ! I'm familiar with the sales pitch, used frequently by agents promoting ' home in the sun' to Brits :" Cyprus enjoys an idyllic Mediterranean lifestyle, the perfect balance between work and relaxation; 340 days of sunshine a year and some of the most welcoming people in the world........... call Aphrodite now !" At least Tony's set up nicely. He's married 5 years now to an Ukrainian waitress he'd met in a diner, and had a child 8 years old from her previous marriage. 'Judging from your girth you must frequent a lot of diners !' the thought popped into my head before I could stop it. " Wow! You're so lucky Tony, Ukrainian women are very beautiful !" I said, mentally wiping the mean thought from my mind."You know, I wish I'd waited, because later I found out girls from Belarus're even prettier !" Turns out I was right to be mean after all ! 


We visited 3 typical Cypriot villages.
Lefkara the beautiful ( Lefka- white, ori-hill) in the Larnaca district, is named for the white of its silica and limestone, and is famous for its lace and silver handicrafts. Today groups of women still sit in the narrow cobbled streets, working on their embroidery as they have for centuries. The houses're from the late 19th century Ottoman period, with flat rammed- earth roofs, rooms layout around an inner courtyard and bare stone facades with few windows. All the previous Turkish Cypriot occupiers left their properties in 1964 because of sectarian violence, only the houses bear witness to bygone days.


I went into a shop to look at some earrings and there was Dune. Dune's Vietnamese, 22 years old and had been in Cyprus 3 years 10 months. She's one of 7,102 ( 2012 census) migrant workers from Vietnam, but the largest group of migrant workers're from the Philippines and numbered 9,744. Cyprus has the largest number of foreign nationals in all of the EU countries, 24% of the total population (1 in 5) according to census in 2012. Since the economic bankruptcy the number of reports of violence and abuse against migrant workers had risen sharply. At least Dune wouldn't be around to experience any of that, she  just had two more months to go to finish her 4 year contract. "Are you looking forward to going home ?" " Yes "she nodded shyly. " Do you think you'll be coming back to work in Cyprus ?" " I don't know, I'd go back first, take a rest, and see what comes up." For migrant workers the world's a huge job market. I met a Philippine maid who'd worked in H K for a few years but was now working for a Russian family in Moscow. She was hired because she cooked Chinese, a skill she'd picked up in H K.
There're several other Vietnamese girls in the village, all hired to look after old ladies (who seemed to be all the inhabitants there), and to help around the shops. Dune made swans with pieces of folded up paper when the shop's quiet, which would also be put up for sale. " How do you communicate with your employer ? You speak Greek ?"" I learnt enough words to get by " she said. " How do you get on with your employer?"Before she could answer her old lady employer came forward and offered me a small piece of candy-cake. She told Dune to tell me it's a local snack, she's made a box of them herself specially for her daughter who'd be visiting, because it's her favorite; but she'd like me to try one. It was delicious ! The old lady was delighted I liked her cooking so she gave me another one. Pity I didn't get the name of the snack though. We were getting along so well I had to buy a pair of silver earrings from them. The old lady seemed kindly, in 4 years some rapport must have struck up between the unlikely two, as shown in the pictures. 

Omodos Village in the Limassol District is reputed to be the most picturesque village in Cyprus , with its wood crafted verandas, narrow alleys and colored flower pots in every street corner and yard. It is built around the Monastery of the Holy Cross, which dates back to the arrival of St Helena in Cyprus ( 337AD). The Monastery is home to a piece of the Holy Rope with which Christ's hands were tied to the Cross.

The village is in the center of the famous wine making region of Cyprus and visitors are invited to sample local wine and Kelameila ( sweet liquor) for free at many outlets. The medieval " Linos" (wine-press) is one of the oldest in Cyprus and proof that wine production took place in Omodos since ancient times.



In front of the Monastery is a colorful, cobble-stoned square surrounded by souvenir stalls, coffee houses and taverns, the only one of its kind in Cyprus. I followed my nose and found Peter the Russian (guy in the fur hat). He and his friends just started a roaring open-air BBQ cook-out in the square. Peter thrust a glass of beer (after I declined a Vodka) into my hand and invited me to join them. Too bad I was in a hurry to get back to the bus ! 


It's almost impossible not to bump into Russians in Cyprus. There're so many of them there.

Greek Cypriots and the Russians have had a special relationship for centuries. Russians helped the Greeks in their war for independence in the 1800s. Both nations share a rocky history with the Turks, and a common religion. Cyprus was the preferred place of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs to park their cash after the collapse of the Soviet Union because of a favorable tax structure governed by sacrosanct European laws, but also because Cyprus banking sector is notoriously opaque, an invaluable asset for any offshore financial center. Consequently over the past two decades a large amount of Russian money has been invested in this Eurozone's smallest economy. It was estimated in 2013 about one half to a third of all Cyprus bank deposits ( $31 billion) are of Russian origin. A whole industry developed in Cyprus merely to serve the Russian clientele. There're so many Russians in Limassol it was regularly referred to as " Limassigrad".
                                        
There're suspicions that a lot of the Russian money're the proceeds of crime and corruption, and Cyprus' a haven for money launderers and tax dodgers. Cyprus' also famous for the Russian round-trip investment phenomenon : Cyprus accounts for the highest foreign direct investment into Russia (2012) , but actually most of the money were in fact Russian capitals deposited in shell companies in Cyprus, then brought back as foreign investment to Russia.
Cyprus' economic collapse came about as a result of its out-sized banking sector, its exposure to Greek debt and its overgrown public sector. Cypriot banks have relied more on deposits rather than issue debts as the model of their functioning, with the result the banking sector of this small island is eight times its GDP, and overwhelmingly the mainstay of the country's economy. The failure of Greek bonds, in which two of the biggest Cypriot banks, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki Bank, had invested heavily, contributed to their downfall. Total liabilities of banks across Cyprus were as much as five times the country's GDP, and when the economy was unable to make up for the shortfall, Cyprus was forced to seek a bailout to the tune of €17.5 billion.
For the €12 billion loans , EU demanded Cyprus to restructure its financial sector, shut down the Laiki Bank, assert capital control by stopping people moving funds out of the country, setting stringent cash machine withdrawal limits, and most controversially, imposed the unprecedented haircut of bank deposits over €100,000. This was widely criticized for fundamentally going against an unwritten writ that bank savings will always be safe, and the fear that the Cypriot bailout would become a template for any future Eurozone bailouts. The Cypriot bailout reflects nicely the prevailing tension between Russia and the EU. The fact that Russians, despite being the biggest asset holders in Cyprus, was not even consulted on any rescue measure was telling. Germany's unhappy with the heavy Russian influence on the island, and Chancellor Merkel's tough stand on "dirty money" from Russia was the justification EU needed to impose the levies, and for the same reason Cyprus could be explained as a one off case. However, British business owners in Cyprus told Sky News they've consistently heard anecdotal reports (no proof though ) that some Russians were tipped off and massive amounts of money were moved out of Cyprus in the days before the crisis began.
Platres, the last village we visited is a popular hill resort since the British times, it's situated on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains. In bygone days the Forest Park Hotel was the preferred hotel by notables such as  King Farouk of Egypt and Giorgos Seferis, the Nobel Prize winning poet ; it's also where the British writer Daphne du Maurier wrote the novel "Rebecca". The modern day celebrities tend to favor the cities. Before the financial crisis, Columbia Beach Resort just outside Limassol in secluded Pissouri Bay served stars such as Kim Catrall ( Sex and the City), singer Mariah Carey, and Britain's Prince Harry ; Paul McCartney, his girlfriend Nancy Shevell and daughter Beatrice were spotted staying in the Anassa Hotel in Pathos, as was Emma Thompson, Rod Stewart and star chef Gordon Ramsey. Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Elton John and Diana Ross were other big names that vacated there.  
Nicosia is the capital and largest city of Cyprus, and its main international business center. It's the last remaining divided capital in the world. The Green Line ( ceasefire line) which cuts through Ledra Street , separate the northern Turkish controlled part of the island, and the south Cyprus . After multiple failed negotiations for unification, Ledra Street was reopened on 3rd April 2008. To this day some Cypriots still hold Britain and the US responsible for the division of their country, known as the" Cyprus Issue"
In 1878 Cyprus was ceded to Britain after the British assisted the Ottomans to fence off the Russians. According to the Cyprus Convention, Turkey would retain sovereignty, while Britain would shoulder the administration of Cyprus. This was a windfall for Britain for in 1875 Britain purchased a key block of Suez Canal shares, this arrangement would secure the sea-borne route to and from India, and Cyprus as a base for operations in the Middle East and near Asia, greatly enhanced Britain's dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean. Not so much for Cyprus. Britain imposed heavy taxes and exploited the island to cover the Ottoman Tribute for leasing the island, thereby relieving the British tax payers of their obligation. By 1905, the payment had used up nearly 43% of the island's revenue, greatly hindering its development. In 1914 when Turkey sided with Germany in World War I, Britain annexed the island and annulled the Convention of 1878, thereby payment of the Tribute was stopped. Turkey agreed to the annexation in 1923 under the Treaty of Lausanne and Cyprus became a Crown Colony in 1925. but Britain continued to collect the Tribute, though without any legal bases, until 1927. To some historians, this is regarded as one of the major crimes against the Cypriots by the British.
In the nineteenth century the Orthodox and Muslim Cypriots shared a language, folklore, economic and social hardships, and intermarried. There was a common Cypriot identity which Britain destroyed by equating Orthodox Cypriots with European Greeks. This could in part because Greek Cypriots rallied whole- heartedly behind the British in both World Wars, in the First War they fought together against the Ottomans, and in the Second War some 30,000 Islanders volunteered for the British Army when the Italians and Germans overran Greece. For the first three decades Of British Rule not only were Greek nationalism and its political groups tolerated but encouraged in Cyprus : local newspapers were allowed to spread Hellenism and promote the demand for union with Greece, the education system were allowed to disseminate a Greek identity. The case was exactly as in India, a secular system's put in and Christian and Muslim Cypriots were divided along ethnic and religious lines, the communities were polarized with inevitable consequences.  
But British support for the Hellenist backfired. British rule was opening challenged by the Cypriot Greek nationalists, backed by the powerful Orthodox Church. In 1931 pro-enosis riots broke out over the imposition of certain taxes, six civilians died and the British Government House in Nicoxia was burnt down. But the campaign of violence and armed struggle against British Rule only effectively took off after Cypriot Lieutenant Colonel Georgos ' Digenis' Grivas launched the EOKA( National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) in April 1955. Turkish Cypriots responded to enosis by calling for partition( taksim) as a defense. The British declared a State of Emergency in Nov that year. The Suez debacle in 1956 marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire in Africa and the Middle East. The nationalists took heart and increased their demands for independence. Between 1955-1959 Ledra Street was nicknamed The Murder Mile in reference to the frequent targeting of Brits by nationalist fighters along its course. In 1959, with the death toll rising above 500, Britain, Greece and Turkey hammered out the Treaty of Zurich. In 1960 the prime ministers of all three countries together with Archbishop Makarios III (Greek Cypriot, first President of Cyprus) and Dr Fazil Kucuk (Turkish Cypriot, Vice-President ), signed the London Accord, granting Cyprus independence.
                                        
The Constitution granted the Turkish Cypriots 1/3 of the ministerial positions and seats in the House of Representatives, in proportion to their percentage in the population. Because of the Turkish Cypriots' extensive use of their veto rights, the Greek Cypriots proposed constitution amendments which the Turkish Cypriots perceived as threatening to power-sharing. The Turkish Cypriot withdrew from the Government, and sectarian violence broke out in 1963. The UN dispatched a peacekeeping force in 1964 to support British troops manning the 'Green Line', which divided Nicosia into Greek and Turkish Cypriot quarters . Amid all these unrest the Cold War was at its peak, Cyprus' strategic value as a radar listening post to monitor Soviet nuclear- missile testing in Central Asia became vitally important to the US. The Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III was suspected to have communist leanings, so on the 15th July 1974, CIA sponsored the Greek right-wing military junta (who took over power in Greece by a coup in 1967) to instigate a coup in Cyprus with the intention of eliminating Makarios and install a more pro-Western Government. Makarios was ousted, and a former EOKA member, the pro-enosis Nikos Sampson, was proclaimed President of Cyprus. Five days later, ostensibly to protect Turkish Cypriots, Turkish forces landed at Kyrenia. The three guarantor powers, Britain, Greece and Turkey, as required by the Treaty, met for discussion in Geneva, but it proved impossible to halt the Turkish advance until the 16th August, by which time Turkey has taken the northern 37% of the island. The Cypriots negated both "enosis" and Sampson, and the moderate Makarios III returned to power in Dec, but the Turkish Army has remained ever since and the island is still divided.
Cyprus' a harrowing story of how small nations are played as pawns in this game of international politics by the big nations, suffering sorrows and separations not of its own choosing.


The Venetian walls - Nicosia was originally surrounded by walls built by the Venetians to protect the city against Turkish invasion in the 15th century and which are still preserved to this day.
St John's Cathedral was built by Archbishop Nikiforos in 1662 on the site of a 14th  century Benedictine chapel, also dedicated to St John. Although the church is small, it's the official State Church of Cyprus and contains an ornate throne for the Archbishop, also official seats for the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the Greek Ambassador to Cyprus. The coronation of new Archbishop of Cyprus takes place here. In August 1977 after his death the body of Archbishop Makarios was lay in state here for a week. On the day of his funeral there was a sudden downpour of rain , the first August rain in Nicosia since records began. Greek Cypriots recalled an old Greek proverb that when a good man dies, the Heavens shed tears . Turkish Cypriots, however recalled a Turkish proverb that when an evil man dies, the Heavens try to wash away his sins !


The new Archbishop's Palace is the official residence and office of the Archbishop of Cyprus and is a religious, national and political monument. It was built by the Archbishop Makarios III between 1956-1960 in neo-Byzantine architecture style. It's not open to the public. After Makarios died of a heart attack, an autopsy was performed and his heart removed for examination. The heart has since been kept in his former bedroom here.
The old Archbishop's Palace was built in the 17th century, and since the completion of the new Archbishop's Palace, it has housed the Folk Art Museum and the National Struggle Museum, these and the Byzantine Museum, the Library of the Archbishopric which are located on the grounds, are open to the public. 
We only had half a day to visit Kerynia in Northern Cyprus. For this we had to go through three check points. We were warned beforehand we were only allowed to take in the upper limit of  € 260, two packets of cigarettes, and no alcohol of course. Going through the check points we were also warned not to loiter, keep in line, keep all the documents at hand and never to take pictures. The atmosphere suddenly got quite tense. Our guide was a Romanian lady called Daniela ( God is my Judge). In Southern Cyprus Romanians constitute 13.6% of the population( 24,376) but is considerably less in the North. 
We visited the Kyrenia Castle; the Shipwreck Museum; the Ayia Sophia Cathedral  ( Selimiye Mosque) and the Bellapais Abby.



Selimiye Mosque is the main mosque of the Turkish controlled northern part of the walled city of Nicosia . This was originally a Gothic Cathedral, Agia Sofia, built between 1208 and 1326 , it was turned into a mosque with Nicosia's occupation by the Ottomans (1570) and two minarets were added onto the building's west side. Much of the rich sculptural decoration, the frescoes, sculptures and stained glass decoration depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament were destroyed, as were the tombstones of several Lusignan kings and princes . It was renamed Selimiye Mosque in 1954 in honor of Sultan Selim II ( 1566-1574) who ruled Cyprus during the Ottoman occupation.


The old church courtyard has been converted to a small shopping center with some really delightful Ma-and Pa shops selling hand-make handicrafts. I found some earrings made from silk, the shopkeepers actually kept the silkworms in the shop ! 


The Gothic Bellapais Abby ( Abby of Peace) was built between 1198 and 1205 by St Mary of the Mountain, Augustinians fleeing from Jerusalem when the city fell to Saladin in 1187. Thierry the Archbishop of Cyprus, who's also responsible for building Agia Sophia Cathedral, persuaded the Augustinians to affiliate with the Premonstratensians in northern France. The monks adopted the white habits of the order, so the Bellapais Abbey was nick-named the White Abby. The Abby prospered with large donations from pilgrims after the knight Roger the Norman gave them a relic, a supposed fragment of the cross. The riches of the Abby were plundered by the Genoese in 1373,the monks corrupted into promiscuity and  the Abby became a center for experimental polygamy. The Ottoman invasion in 1570 left the Abby in ruins, and the monks were turned out of the Monastery. The village of Bellapais, made famous by Lawrence Durrell in "Bitter Lemons", is said to be populated by descendants of the monks. 



The Kyrenia Castle by the old harbor in Kyrenia was built by the Venetians in the 16th century over a previous crusader fortress. The Castle's main function then was military. During the British times it was used as a police barrack and training school. They also used the Castle as a prison for members of the Greek Cypriot EOKA organisation. Within the Castle're the tomb of the Ottoman Admiral Sadik Pasha ; the 12th century Chapel of St George, and the Shipwreck Museum.

Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 the Kyrenia Department of Antiquities became custodian of the castle.
The Shipwreck Museum houses a 4th century BC Greek merchant ship discovered by Greek Cypriot diving instructor Andreas Cariolou in Nov 1965 during a storm. He lost the exact position of the ship and carried out over 200 dives until he re-discovered it in 1967. The ship was salvaged by a team of marine archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and put on exhibition in the Shipwreck Museum. 75% of the ship's in good condition and it's one of the most remarkable marine archaeological finds in the world. It measured 60 feet by 30 feet, it was already 80 years old when it sank and had been repaired several times, including a skin of lead applied to the outside to keep it watertight. Also discovered were cargo the ship was carrying to Cyprus before it was caught in a storm and sank : over 400 wine jars (amphorae), possibly from the Greek island of Rhodes, and rows of basalt mill stones from the island of Kos. The storage of 9000 almonds were probably part of the rations for the crew. Since nearly all utensils in the ship were in 4s : 4 cups, 4 wooden spoons, 4 oil jugs, there were likely to be 4 men in the crew. They would probably have caught and eaten fish as 300 lead fishing net weights were found in the bow of the ship.

Kyrenia has fine climate, fertile soil and abundance of water, and is famous for its citrous fruits. Before 1974 there was a vibrant mixed population of Greek, Turk,  Maronite, Armenian and British people living cordially together. There were annual traditional and cultural fairs and festivals, flower shows, yachting races, concerts, theater performances and other cultural activities , making Kyrenia a favored vacation spot for many wealthy Nicosia families. Now the ethnic make-up is predominantly Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot. The official language is of course Turkish. Educational system's similar to Turkey, there're 2 universities in Kyrenia, but the degree's only recognized in Turkey.

I really enjoyed strolling along the harbor front, lined by magnificent old buildings and filled with cafes and restaurants. I met 2 French ladies on vacation in Kyrenia and had a conversation of sorts with them, using huge amounts of facial and body language. Many Europeans vacate in Northern Cyprus because it's cheaper, though the majority of tourists are from Turkey because of the casinos. Living standard's lower in Northern Cyprus, the average wage here is around US 800-900 per month.


Nefeli told us to wrap up warm because we'd be going to the Troodos Mountain the next day, and it'd be freezing cold." But the H K guide told me Cyprus'll be hot !" I wailed in dismay. I'd no shoes, not even socks. That evening I went out in search of socks. It was not quite 7 PM but the main street of Limassol was almost deserted. I nearly jumped out of my skin when out of nowhere a man popped up by my side and said with a leer smile," You're very beautiful !" I bolted ! Loitering in the gathering dusk were several groups of men, drinking beer and smoking. I felt physically threatened by the way they looked at me, and twice had to duck into the nearest shop and waited until they passed. These brought back all the bad memories of travelling on my own in Greece some years ago. The most significant shops in Limassol seemed to be topless bars and casinos. The gift shops were filled with sleazy souvenirs with sexual overtone, typical of seaside tourist towns.  


The Monastery of Kykkos, the biggest and most lavish of the monasteries in Cyprus, lies at an altitude of 1318 meters on the northwest face of Troodo Mountains. It was founded around the end of the 11th century. According to legend, the Byzantine Governor doux Manuel Boutoumites got lost in the forest while hunting and met the hermit Esaisa, who ignored his request for help. Boutoumites got angry and abused him. Whereupon on returning to Nicosia Boutoumites fell ill, so he asked Esaisa for forgiveness and a cure. In return Esaisa asked for the icon of the Virgin Mary ( Theotokos) that was painted by the apostle Luke to be brought to Cyprus from the Imperial Palace at Constantinople. The daughter of the Emperor happened to have the same illness as Boutoumites, who then told the Emperor his daughter would be cured if he sent the icon to Cyprus.  It was said during the procession of the icon to the Troodos Mountains, the trees on both sides of the road bent their trunks and branches in worship. A bird with human voice flew over Kykkos and sang :" Kykko, Kykko, Kykkos Hill; A monastery the site shall fill; A golden girl shall enter in; And never shall come out again" Hence a church and monastery was built at Kykkos, where the icon remained for the past 900 years, never to come out again. Many other miracles have been attributed to the icon.




 The first President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III served at the Monastery as a novice in the 1920s and 1930s. He was very fond of the place and returned there many times. In 1974 when he was under pursuit by the military junta in the coup, he sought refuge in the monastery, as a result the building was hit by tank fire and part of it collapsed. At his own request he was buried on the summit of Throni after his death in 1977, 3 kilometers west of the monastery, not far from his native village of Panayia.






Nefeli was right, Troodos Mountains was freezing cold ! All the way up there was thick fog and snow, and fallen rocks strewn all over the road.




We lunched at Maria Cafe, not far from the Troodos Square. It's a small family run diner, friendly and cosy. The owner was pleased we used his service, for we were the only tourists in Troodos that day.






Cyprus' reputed to be the most misgoverned region in Europe. Since the founding of the Cypriot Republic, Cyprus has seen 7 presidents. The present president, Nikos Anastasiadis, is a church candidate. The Cypriot Church has social conservatism leanings and shares some views with the Cyprus National People's Front (ELAM), which has been linked to racist violence in recent years. The previous head of state was the communist Demetris Christofias, who got the full blame of the financial collapse. Before him was the EOKA member Tassos Papadopoulos, a heavy smoker who died of small cell ling carcinoma in 2008. A year after his funeral some thieves dug up his grave and stole the body. Three months later the police got a telephone tip-off and the body was recovered in a cemetery near Nicosia. The family denied ransom had been paid.    




That's all in the past, what's in the future for Cyprus? While the bailout enabled Cyprus to remain in the Eurozone, it leaves the country with enormous debt and years of financial pain ahead. But all is not lost as changes're already put in place.  Overblown banking and public sectors are being cut down to size, and Government bureaucratic procedures streamlined to reduce cost to the private sector ; labor costs have fallen as has the power of the labor unions; closed jobs are being opened up, increasing the flexibility of the labor market. Cyprus boasts of a highly skilled and disciplined work force providing world-class accounting, legal, engineering and other business and technical services, as it has one of the highest percentage of university graduates in the world, all English speaking. Land and real estate prices ( also rental ) have fallen, so has the cost of electricity (previously the highest in Europe), all these make Cyprus an attractive investment destination. The discovery of mammoth gas reserves in the Levant Basin is also a big boost up for this blighted island in the sun, though tangible benefits will take at least a few years to materialize. 


In the meantime, hali tihi Cyprus ! good luck !

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