Limassol
  • Ayia-Napa
  • Larnaca
  • Limassol
  • Nicosia
  • Paphos
  • Polis
oC
Lefkara: traditions steeped in history
Lefkara
traditions steeped in history
2010
Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Author: Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Photo: Daria Saulskaia
29.03.2017

With its embroidery (Lefkara lace), silver work, traditional stone architecture and delicious delights, Lefkara is bound to win your heart. You will keep coming back here over and over again, discovering something new about its residents and their rural lifestyle.

FYI: Lefkara village, which the locals lovingly call «our city», is more than 1000 years old.

Its name comes from the Greek words «lefka ori», which means «white mountains». Lefkara is comprised of two parts: Pano (upper) and Kato (lower) Lefkara — the one we will talk about here. It is true that Leonardo Da Vince once visited this village, which has 18 chapels and architectural monuments. Thanks to its proximity to the Troodos Mountains, local air has unique therapeutic qualities. Hotel prices are significantly lower and the slow pace of village life makes this place one of the most attractive destinations for rural and medical tourism.

We recommend the following route: Main Square (opposite which you will find a public parking lot) together with the old school building, the City Hall and a row of so-called «Italian houses» (Giannou Kranidioti Street) — The recently opened Handicrafts Center (which houses a collection of embroidery, silver and needlework) — Turkish delight factory (a family business operating since 1895 and using centuries-old recipes and traditions) — «Lefkara» and «Agora» Hotel neighborhood (this is a legendary location, which once welcome Da Vinci and is now home to a 1000-year old chapel of St. Mamas) — the Church of the Holy Cross — Local Ethnological Museum («House of Patsalos», which used to belong to a wealthy family, and now houses a collection of household objects, antique costumes and historic furniture) — a rest and lunch stop at one of the local taverns or cafes — we come back to the center of the village and the parking lot through Grigori Agxentiou Street.

The most patient and devoted travelers will receive a present from us — a recipe of traditional lefkara tavas!

We were lucky enough to talk to the mayor of Lefkara, Mr. Savvas Xenofontos. «Back in the day, Lefkara included not only Pano and Kato, but also the nearby villages: Kato Dris, Vavlu, Laiya and others. Lefkara’s current population is around 1000 people. Approximately 70 of these locals work at our Handicrafts Center. When it comes to legacy, unfortunately, our youth is not very interested in their heritage and traditions. Despite this, we have collaborated with the Ministry of Culture and Education to offer summer classes for those interested in lefkaria lace (offered August – September). We have also teamed up with large tourist agencies to try and engage foreign tourists in this craft. All of these efforts, however, have not had much success and received little support from the government. This is strange, since our village is known not only for its crafts, but also for its people. Many famous personalities come from Lefkara: former president Spiros Kyprianou, artist Antis Hadjiadamous, businessman Stagis, Lefkaritis, Zivanaris and others».

We said goodbye to the mayor and went directly to the Handicrafts Center (located on the corner of Athinon and Kosti Palama street). There we were accompanied by one of the seamstresses, Ms. Margarita Rauna. She gave us a tour of the place and showed us the spacious rooms with wide-open windows, where other seamstresses were working hard on their craft. We were shown examples of their work and told about the technology behind lace making. We learned that tablecloths and napkins are only made of Irish and French linen. Also, it turns out that the color of the tread used to be either white or olive, but can now also be beige. Washing linen fabrics makes their color fade, but the color of the embroidery threat doesn’t change. This results in an interesting visual effect.

When local girls turn 8-9 years old, their mothers and grandmothers begin to teach them their skills.

Main patterns: «Leonardo Da Vince» (also called the «zig zag»), and «crosses» (before stitching anything, the seamstress makes a cross-shaped cut in the fabric, which is called «cofti» in Greek, meaning «cut») Stylistic traditions tend to stay the same for centuries. But within the last 40-50 years beige was added as one of the colors used in embroidery.

New things: seamstresses have begun to make oval-shaped tablecloths. 

Every summer Lefkara holds an exhibition of new works. The event attracts many young women who are interested in learning the art of lefkara lace. 

Photo: one of the seamstresses (Ms. Kathy Onisiphorou) is embroidering a tablecloth. She starts working the pattern in the center and moves outward. She then adds small cross-shaped intricate elements between the larger patterns. After that she enlaces the edges using the same color thread as the pattern.

Did you know: in 2009 UNESCO recognized Lefkara lace as intangible heritage.  

The exhibition halls contain window cases featuring samples of lace, antique photographs of first lefkara lace merchants as well as different silver objects (e.g. jewelry, gifts and accessories). It’s hard to believe that despite their modern and edgy design, some of these objects are exact replicas of their antique predecessors.

We were lucky enough to meet one of the masters of silver making, Mr. Georgos Poli. His studio is located across the courtyard from the seamstresses. Georgos shares his studio with his brother, Panaiotis Poli. One of the things you can observe there is the process of creating a traditional wedding gift — a pinecone-shaped incense burner. Georgos showed us the machine used to create the wax mold and the different tools used in maing the intricate pinecone pattern and then minting and polishing them.

For the record: the Handicrafts Center lets you observe the process of making different objects and study them when they are finished. If you want to purchase something, you will have to visit one of the many crafts shops in Lefkara.

Pay attention when shopping for traditional embroidery: authentic lefkara lace is two-sided, has geometric patterns and is either dark olive, white or beige. True lefkara lace will not be cheap!

Having thanked lefkara makers, we moved on to a family factory that makes Cyprus delight «Steliou & Teodoru Kramvidou». For the last 120 years this family-run business, located on Timiou Stavrou Street, has been producing sweets that have won awards in Cyprus, Greece and even Britain. We met with young Stelios, who told us about his family business and the production process of this popular Mediterranean dessert.

«The main ingredients are: water, sugar, starch, flavoring and food coloring. But the recipe is our family secret! (laughs) We produce a wide variety of Cyprus delight that is packaged in two different types of boxes: rectangular (the original type) and octagonal. We received our first award in 1904. We aspire to preserve the quality of our dessert — my father doesn’t have assistants and makes everything himself. Will I carry on his work? I am a trained engineer-mechanic. But the one thing I can say for certain is that we will continue to make high-quality sweets based on ancient recipes!»

For the record: Cyprus has two large centers famous for their delight. The most well-known center is in Paphos (Geroskipou village), the other one is in Lefkara. Residents of Lefkara believe that their sweets are the best. It is up to you to decide whether they are right or not. You can purchase this fine dessert on Timiou Stavrou Street and choose among the many flavors: bergamot, rose, orange, cherry, lemon, almond and many others.

Address: Timiou Stavrou Street 37, (Pano Lefkara). Telephone: 24342525, email: loukoumialefkara@cytanet.com.cy

After we received a generous amount of delicious souvenirs and said our goodbye, we went on to explore the places associated with Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). We should start out by mentioning the few things that are known for certain. The Italian genius visited Lefkara in 1480s, where he had purchased an embroidered tablecloth. Upon his return to Italy, Leonardo gave the tablecloth as a gift to the Milan Cathedral. Finally, it is believed that this Lefkara tablecloth is featured in Leonardo’s «Last Supper» fresco (1495-1498), located at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

Leonardo is thought to have also worked on the Agios Mamas Chapel (more than 1100 years old). His frescoes were allegedly removed after the painter left Lefkara, because they did not conform to the local standards. But the only way to confirm this theory is to perform an x-ray analysis. According to a different legend, Leonardo had also stopped at an inn that is now known as the Agora Hotel. Agora had even created a «Leonardo Room» to commemorate this fact. But the hotel has since gone into decline and we couldn’t get inside to see it.

Meanwhile, «Lefkara» Hotel is still operating and invites visitors to stay at one of its eight cozy, rural-style rooms. «Lefkara» also has a restaurant and a patio located in a beautiful garden. It is conveniently located close to all the major points of interest.

Russian monk, traveler and writer Vasily Grigorovich-Barksy (1734) had also visited Lefkara during his trip to Cyprus. His «Letters by a wanderer named Vasily Grigorovich-Barksy (1723-1746)» contain many colorful references to the residents and the village. 

Now, let’s walk towards Nea Chalkidona Street (which is a continuation of Georgiou Hajiharalampus Street). There we can stop by the Church of the Holy Cross (14th century) — one of the three churches in Cyprus that possess a miracle-working piece of the True Cross (stored inside a silver cross, 13th century), which Empress Helena brought from Palestine at the beginning of the 4th century. The current hegumen is Father Christomarios, who knows a lot about the church’s dramatic history.

This is what he told us during our last visit there: «Welcome to the Church of the Holy Cross! The church is dedicated to the Exultation of the Holy Cross — a holiday that is celebrated on September 14th. Monk Gabriel had miraculously come into possession of the piece of the Cross, which Helena brought to Cyprus in 326. He had a vision of a church in Lefkara, which was built in 1341 under the aegis of Hugo Luisignan, the ruler of Cyprus at the time.

Fragments of this ancient building have been kept as part of the new version of the church and will later be handed over to the Stavrouni Monastery».

The church was under constant reconstruction since the day it was erected and up until 1749. A gold-plated iconostasis was mounted in 1761. In 1850-1860s a chapel was erected and new reparations were completed. And in 1953 the vault and the dome of the church were decorated with frescoes.

The Crucifix is 150cm tall and decorated with reliefs depicting the scenes from the life of St. Constantine and Helena. The Crucifix contains a reliquary with two doors, behind which is the fragment of the True Cross on which Christ was crucified.

Lefkara is the birthplace of two saints that have had a significant impact on the spread of Orthodox Christianity. These saints are Neophytos and Georgios Hozevitis.

After you visit the church, do find the time to walk up to Musiu Street. We continue our tour of Lefkara by stopping by the Local Ethnological Museum, also known as the «House of Patsalos». This impressive building used to once belong to a wealthy family. The courtyard is paved in white stone — the same stone used to build some of the household items and the objects located in the courtyard (e.g. massive stove, weight scale, large oil pitchers). The main house has been painted blue — a common color in Cyprus. The mansion has been acquired and restored by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities. The main house has been filled with authentic objects like traditional ceramics, carved furniture and historic costumes — those worn by the common folk and the wealthy class. Ancient pomegranate and lemon trees grow in the courtyard. In other words: the museum is a must see!

I remember once talking to a local villager, whose name was George Kiryakudis, in 2010. He told me his story: «I was born in Lefkara in 1922 and have spent almost my whole life here. I remember a time when its population was 3,5 thousand people. Now it’s a little more than 900 people. Many of its former residents owned carob tree plantations, olive gardens and vineyards. A lot has changed since then.

This village is very old. The tradition of painting the inner and outer walls of the house in blue dates back to the time when the Venetians ruled the island. It wasn’t so much for aesthetic purposes as to keep the insects away».


Museum working hours: April – September 9:30 – 17:00
Please note that you will have to check all of your bags before entering the museum.
Entrance: 2,5 euros


I think it’s time to take a break. We come across one of the traditional taverns called «Adamos». It is located on the corner of Grigori Afxentiou and Loizou Loizou Street. It’s very popular among both locals and tourists. Here you can enjoy a delicious Cypriot meal, such as traditional tavas, while being surrounded by authentic rural décor. You can also stop by any of the other restaurants and taste rural and Mediterranean cuisine, drink great coffee, grab a sandwich or dessert and enjoy the company of local residents or tourists.

I think we’ve seen plenty for one day. It’s time to go home!

If you still have some energy left, walk down Timiu Stavrou Street and check out its many shops and souvenir kiosk. You’ve learned a lot about Lefkara’s history and traditions and can now buy something as a memory of your experience or as a gift for your friends.

And when you get back home, wouldn’t it be nice to prepare authentic tavas? Here is a recipe used by many generations of Lekarians.

Recipes

Tavas

Tavas — lamb with rice and vegetables, baked in a clay pot («tava» means clay pot). 

Tavas

Ingredients

Leg of lamb: 1 kg

Rice: 2 cups

Chopped tomatoes and tomato paste: 2 cups

Potatoes (thinly sliced): 2-3

Chopped onions: 2-3

Any vegetable oil: ½ cups

Water: 4 cups

Salt and pepper: to taste

Cooking method

1. Chop the lamb and sprinkle it with salt.

2. Put half the lamb into a pot. Then pour half the rice over it and add the tomato paste. Sprinkle some salt over it and add cumin. Add ½ cups of oil.

3. Add the remaining rice and meat. Then cover everything with potato slices, sprinkle with salt and cumin. Then add tomatoes, pour water and the remaining oil.

4. Cover with a lid and put in a preheated stove (175 ºC). Cook for 3 hours.


Enjoy! 

Slow preparation, simplicity and a rich taste — this is the lifestyle of Lefkara — a village that is bound to lure you back for a walk down its scenic cobblestone streets.


To get there: take bus 408 from Larnaca to Kofinou. Transfer to bus 405 going to Lefkara.

Go back: intercity buses traveling to all major cities depart from Larnaca. Visit this website to learn more: www.cyprusbybus.com

If you are driving from Nicosia: take the Nicosia – Limassol route (45 km), then follow the road signs.

If you are driving from Limassol (a little over 30 km): take the Limassol – Larnaca route and follow the road signs.

Read more: www.lefkara.org.cywww.lefkaravillage.com


 

See you soon!    

Written by Evgeniya Kondakova.