Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Everywhere I went sightseeing on Cyprus I noticed books about the Cyprus Museum… and guidebooks often listed the Cyprus Museum first for their “things to see and do on Cyprus.”
I told Robin I wanted to visit there. I thought it would be a peak experience in Cyprus.
This museum, also known as the The Cyprus Archaeological Museum, is the oldest and largest archeological museum in the country, housing an expansive and unique collection of antiquities unearthed over centuries of archeological research.
The museum was founded in 1888 at the request of the local population in response to illegal excavations taking place on the island, and in protest of the smuggling of historical valuables out of the country. One such archeologist was American ambassador and scientist Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who smuggled out more than 35,000 artifacts, many of which were lost or damaged during transportation. Those that survived are now part of a collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Robin jumped through many hoops to make this excursion happen, including booking a hotel for overnight, arranging a rental car for the two-hour drive to Nicosia (also known as Lefkosia), and inviting somebody to come look after Max and Lucy while we were away. This is why INTJs are known for their talented “orchestrating.”
First we had to go get another rapid COVID test or they wouldn’t allow us into the museum…
….and off we went!
On our way there, we made a brief detour to view another site that’s been on our list since we arrived, which was to visit the purported birthplace of Aphrodite, “Petra tou Romiou” or “Aphrodite’s Rock.” It’s a geological formation of rocks along the southern coastline of the island. It is said that in certain weather conditions, the waves rise, break, and form a column of water that dissolves into a pillar of foam. With imagination, it momentarily looks like an ephemeral, evanescent human shape.
Stories associated with Aphrodite have inspired artists, poets, and painters since antiquity. The Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli rendered perhaps the best known of these, titled the “Birth of Venus,” a painting exhibited in the museum of Florence (which I briefly saw during a visit there). (See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg)
The site was beautiful! The colors were to die for.
In Hesiod’s Theogony, Aphrodite was born from foam (aphrós) produced by Uranus’s genitals, which his son Cronus severed and threw into the sea. Legend claims that Aphrodite arose from the waves and was escorted on a shell to this particular beach, already a nubile, infinitely desirable adult, having had no childhood. She personifies the forces of love and eternal spring and is also the patron of fertility, marriage, and birth.
Popular myths claim that swimming around the rock three times (preferably at midnight, under a full moon, and in the buff) will evoke various blessings, including eternal youth and beauty, good luck, fertility, and of course true love. (Before you ask—no, we didn’t.)
We continued on, arrived at our hotel, and grabbed a bite before settling in for the night.
The capital of Cyprus has been a divided city (the only divided capital in the world) since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island from the north, claiming that Cyprus was historically part of Turkey. They were stopped about halfway down the island by the intervention of the United Nations, which maintains a peacekeeping force to this day, patrolling a “no-mans land” strip that separates the Republic of Cyprus in the south from the illegally occupied section in the north.
Curious to witness some of this, we wanted to cross into the occupied part of Nicosia and look around first thing the next morning. Everyone said it was easy.
First we had to show our passports—twice, within a few yards of one another—and both checkpoints were strict about proof of vaccination. After that, we were through!
Oddly, it was rather like visiting the garment district in Los Angeles. There were cheap, plentiful goods; eager sellers; booths upon booths, haggling.
As we wandered around, I bought a few trinkets while Robin indulged in Turkish Delight.
We stumbled onto an interesting exhibition titled “The History of Turkish-Islamic Science in 100 Objects,” showcasing the contribution of Turks and Muslims to science between the 9th and 16th centuries, and featuring artifacts that were centuries old. It was a lovely find! Here are some original Islamic alchemical devices that are the precursors to more sophisticated scientific apparatus in modern times.
Robin had a great time geeking out and exploring here—so much so that time got away from us. We retraced our steps through passport control and quickly made our way to our ultimate destination: the Cyprus Museum.
This place was 14 rooms of sheer heaven, with audioguide commentary (too much for only one visit, unfortunately). These quiet halls house the entire history of Cyprus: thousands of years, numerous civilizations that emerged and disappeared, different cultures, epochs, and people who defined the island’s history and traditions.
Just like the Paphos Archeological Museum, it exhibited items chronologically, period by period, starting with the Neolithic era. Auspiciously, the beginning featured more enchanting picrolite cruciform figurines from the Chalcolithic period as had fascinated us previously.
Moving into the pottery section, it was satisfying how many odd and eccentric features were incorporated with the vessels, whether they were amusing animal or human figures. (I am perpetually charmed by eccentric figurals.)
Another room was afloat with statuary, including a headless statue of Aesclepius, the god of medicine and healing arts. Note his snake-entwined staff (or caduceus), which remains a symbol of medicine even in modern times. As a depth psychologist, I like to suppose I’m following his lead in supporting the unfolding of psyche in my clients.
Also amongst the statues were grinning lions and sphinx-like creatures that used to be painted, but the decorations have faded away.
The pièce de résistance of the entire museum was surely this display of votive clay figurines found in situ in the sanctuary of Agia Irini. Dating from the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, the mannequins depict priests with bull-masks, sphinxes, minotaurs, centaurs, bulls, and warriors on chariots. (They reminded me of the “terracotta army” of clay warriors found in that tomb unearthed in China.)
These clay figures were found around a circular altar, and are here arranged in the same positions as they were originally discovered. Shockingly, this only represents one-third of the find. When archeological explorations began in earnest in Cyprus during the 19th century, the government decreed that a third of all items found must be handed over to the state; one third could be taken away by the archeologist who found them; and one third could be retained by the owner of the property where they were found. Some cunning Swedish archeologists bought or leased land where they made initial discoveries, thereby enabling them to retain two-thirds of their haul, which is why an enormous number of Cypriot artifacts can be found in the Museum of Antiquities in Stockholm.
More statuary was encountered in another room, as well as interesting clay theatre masks (former theatre major, remember!).
We lingered right up until closing time, when they finally had to boot us out. We had a great time, and it truly was a fabulous experience.
If this story interests you, you might wish to view this interesting documentary about the museum (it runs 44 minutes): https://paragoges.pi.ac.cy/?video=445
Afterwards, we raced back to Kallepia (partly in a rainstorm) to cuddle the kittehs once more. Max let me know he didn’t want me to leave him overnight like that ever again—I just don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to him.
I’m excited for my presentation at the APTi Conference which is a week from today—I hope to see you there. As a run-up to the conference, I gave a live two-hour video interview with Joyce Meng about type and everything under the sun. You’re welcome to view it at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFSFwdOhLt4
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo
PS: In case you need it, the link to register for the APTi Conference is: https://apti.memberclicks.net/