Our guests for today come from a family of Cypriot jewelers. Please meet Kypros Olympiou and his daughter Marilia. We met to talk about the art of jewelry making in Cyprus: its past and present.
Country of origin: Cyprus
I was born and raised here in Nicosia. I come from a family of jewelers. But it was my mother Despina Olympiou, not my father, who founded this family business. It is possible that she was also the first female jeweler here in Cyprus. Our life in the jewelry business started in 1969.
When I think about my childhood I realize that it was a wonderful time: carefree and safe. My friends and I would spend a lot of time playing outside in the Strovolos neighborhood or hanging out at each other’s houses. I would also spend a lot of time in the Old town quarter — here at my parents’ shop. It was a time when children could freely run outside. We may be in the same country now, but a lot has changed since then.
I wish that modern children could have a taste of the same freedom that we enjoyed back then.
I studied art history and gemmology in France. My key sources of inspiration are history, nature, geology and gemmology. I enjoy searching for minerals and using them to create new jewelry. And Troodos is the best place to do that. It is the most inspiring place in Cyprus.
My favorite is going to the top of the Troodos Mountains, which resembles a journey into the core of our planet. There are only two or three places like that in the world. The Troodos Mountains have volcanic origins. The first eruption took place underwater approximately 90 million years ago and was the reason why Cyprus was formed. An incredible fact: the island kept turning in the process. The eruption gave rise to the foundation of the island. It is a unique phenomenon, though I doubt that there are many people who can explain what really happened, especially because there were no witnesses. It’s possible that it happened in stages, since geologists today insist that the kind of rocks, minerals and fossils, which appear in the Troodos can only be found deep underwater.
We have always been able to find many minerals in the mountainous area of the Troodos. The place is also home to old copper mines.
It is widely known that the name Cyprus (Kypros) comes from the word “cuprum” (Cu) or “copper” in Latin and refers to its rich copper deposits.
This is one of the reasons why ancient Greeks associated the island with Aphrodite — the goddess of procreation (among other things). The Greeks had seen the amount of copper that the island was exporting to other countries and concluded that the process of cleaning the ore must really take a toll on the island’s forrest. So much so that a complete forest regeneration would be required a few centuries later. Modern archeologists and geologists have corroborated this theory as the most probable one. In addition to this, according to the legend, Aphrodite’s birthplace was Petra Tou Romiou — a sea stack on the coast of Cyprus that contains all the rock formations known to shape the foundation of Cyprus.
This reveals the fact that our Greek ancestors were not only skilled in medicine, philosophy and math, but also geology. So, for example, the antique ship discovered underwater near Kyrenia [you can learn more about it by visiting the Thalassa Municipal Museum — ed.] was a cargo ship that carried among other things copper ingots weighing between 25-40 kilograms each. The ship traveled between Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia.
It is a historical fact that humanity entered the stage of civilization only during the Bronze age, which saw the emergence of states, creation of artwork and practice of new professions — essentially everything that we have today.
The first jewelry was possibly also made here. Museums worldwide contain ancient jewelry that is thousands of years old and I never cease to be amazed by the beauty of those pieces that come from Cyprus. And back in the ancient days jewelry was one of the most prosperous industries on the island.
I remember going to the Archeological Museum in Nicosia and meeting a Canadian professor of gemology there. He told me that he visited Cyprus just to show his family this exhibition of what he believed were the origins of jewelry-making in the world.
I couldn’t help myself and asked Kypros a few “professional questions”. For example, how is the industry doing now? What possible obstacles are jewelers running into?
Kypros: the art of jewelry making is still thriving here in Cyprus. We have a lot of high-level shops and salons and our jewelers are extremely high-skilled. However, because of the economic crisis there is a smaller demand for jewelry itself. But I am hoping that this might change soon and luckily we have a great foundation and opportunities to keep growing in this direction. And despite the economic crisis tourists continue to come here from Europe, the US and other countries. And they continue to support our industry by purchasing local jewelry. This, I hope, will never change.
What do tourists prefer the most? I would say they like pomegranates, the so-called Idol of Pomos [read more about it here — ed.] — as a form of standalone jewelry and obviously the traditional Greek design.
I have discovered two main directions in jewelry making (not only in Cyprus, but practically everywhere). One is a traditional form that observes authentic standards and rules and the other is a modern form, which is usually more original and international.
Kypros: Yes, we too have what you just mentioned: a modern and a traditional form of jewelry making (which usually includes pieces with diamonds and other precious stones). But there is also another trend, where jewelers turn to antiquity and incorporate elements of filigree and martele.
I am particularly touched by moments when customers come back to our shop and say that they have purchased something that they have grown close to and are back for something else. Some of them have even bought something from my father (he passed away a few years ago) and remember him as a very kind man.
Leaving a good name and warm memories after you are gone — that’s worth living for.
I think that Cyprus is a great place to spend your life — it is quiet, has great nature and the people are very kind here.
Our nature is unique. You can easily travel to the sea (Protaras and the surrounding area or Paphos) and then can go up to the Troodos Mountains, which are known for their beauty.
The island is rich with archeological sites that are open to the public. And our cities and village are something to marvel! And don’t forget about our high standard of living. This is why I recommend seeing the entire country.
Where would I recommend going to specifically?
If you are in Nicosia, then definitely visit the Archeological Museum. See the historical center (the area that is inside the Venetian Walls), which like I mentioned before is full of various museums, historical sites and ancient architecture (magnificent examples of Byzantine art, wonderful old churches, such as the Church of St. Michael — possibly the oldest church in Nicosia that is more than 1000 years old — which houses rare works of art).
In other countries you will only be able to see this kind of art if you go to major museums. But here we are immediately surrounded by it.
I would also recommend visiting some of the local villages, especially those in the Troodos region, which are particularly charming. You are bound to experience traditional Cypriot hospitality there and enjoy local cuisine. Cypriot mediterranean cuisine is truly delicious.
We were joined by Kypros’ daughter Marilia (14 years old). She likes to spend time at the jewelry shop together with her father and exhibits considerable talent in drawing. She is also interested in jewelry design and is already making attempts at creating new styles.
Kypros told me that Marilia helps him in his shop during the summer months. "She inherited her grandmother’s passion for jewelry-making. I guess our family is pretty creative. My sister, for example, is a professional artist. He name is Marina Olympiou. You may have heard of her", Kypros says.
Marilia: anyone who comes to Cyprus should definitely try our traditional cuisine. To other teenagers like myself I would recommend visiting Cypriot cities: there are many interesting shops here and generally a lot to see. I like the cities that are by the sea, where you can go for a swim in crystal clear water whenever you want.
Kypros: I spend almost all of my time at the shop. So whenever I have free time I like to spend it with my family, especially by going to the sea. You can tell that we really like the sea [laughs].
My daughter and I like to go snorkeling and enjoy the underwater marine world as well as explore its fossils, most of which can be found near Protaras, which was a large port in antiquity. You should be able to spot rare rocks and fragments of antique ceramics there.
We are also avid travelers. But because we have little free time, we tend to spend it exploring our neighboring countries. We had visited so many museums during our time in Athens. It was wonderful, especially the Benaki Museum, which houses a great collection of antique jewelry including that from Cyprus. Many of the pieces on display date back to 500 BC. Can you imagine that? We spend last November in London, visiting the Natural History Museum, among other places. It was incredible.
Marilia: I would really like to visit France. Unfortunately, I recently heard about terrorists attacks that happened there.
As far as sightseeing goes, I get bored visiting historical places. I would much rather spend time at the beach.
Kypros: Cyprus is a great place. We wish your readers a great time here. Enjoy the year-round sun, great weather, warm beaches and most importantly the people, whose warm-heartedness and hospitality has no limits. You will be able to experience all this in full measure when you visit Cyprus.
Marilia too would like to recommend something to fellow adolescents.
Marilia: there are many great places to shop when you travel to other countries, but Cyprus has the kind of shops that sell something absolutely unique. You are sure to have special moments and experiences here [Kypros nods].
See you soon!