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Local History Museum in Athienou
Local History Museum in Athienou
History, Art, People
271
Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Author: Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Translation: Jordan Worsley
17.06.2020

The breath of the Antiquity at every step, folk traditions living on despite all odds, dramatic separation and boundless fields of corn — such a description fits the village of Athienou and its lands to a tee. Please read our article to find out what greeted us, as well as what we saw and learnt when we visited this spot.
But for today, we would like to tell you about a fascinating museum collection. A horde of treasures, not only envied by Cypriot museums for its impressive informativeness and relevance in our day but also by those beyond the island’s borders.

The Kallinikeio Municipal Museum of Athienou was opened in the town hall on the 3rd of July 2003. Its state-of-the-art collection sheds light on the history, culture and originality of this region, spanning from the bronze age (1600-1050 B.C) to the present day. The Museum was named in honour of Kallinikeio Stavrovouniotis (literally “from Stravrouni”), a monk famous in his hometown for being a benefactor, as well as an icon painter and collector.

Having visited more than a few Cypriot museums and collections, we can confidently say that the Municipal Museum of Athienou is one of the best out there!

Take a walk through its halls with us, and you can decide for yourself whether you agree.

Local History Museum in Athienou

Even as you approach it, the modern build of the town hall is already a sight to behold: its contemporary construction makes for a very spacious interior, amicably fitting into the traditional village design, instead of detracting from its appearance. This, in turn, adds a dynamic and thematic feel to the surroundings.

You can examine everything at your own pace thanks to the abundance of light and space, in combination with the exhibition’s neutral design (all “sections” are colour-highlighted). There’s no need to hurry when learning about the history of this region — one loved by its people, who are ready to preserve it. To pass on their knowledge, experience and traditions, to subsequent generations.

Located in an office building, the Museum covers two levels where, besides the open-plan halls, there is also a conference hall, a temporary exhibition room and a souvenir kiosk.

Aside from the display cases and additional information (available in Greek and English), the museum staff will suggest you use the audio-units installed. Set up amidst the symbolic artefacts, they “enliven” the exhibition with voice recordings, plunging you into any given theme or era. At the same time, the display screens allow you to enjoy the footage.

Our meeting with the Athienou of the past begins at some small glass display cases built into the walls — each one symbolises a particular era in the history of ceramics, which began in the late Bronze Age [1] (1600-1050 B.C.). Opposite you can see several displays showing a short documentary film, which speaks about the village, its residents and their traditions.

The first audio unit you encounter has been remarkably installed in a somewhat playful and symbolic manner, next to a composition in the form of two dolls. It is dedicated to the primary keepers of folk and family memories — grandmas. They are the “messengers”, who tell these stories to their grandchildren… Turn on the sound and let their tales pour out… Such a vivid, touching and unexpected invitation into the main exhibit.

Several extensive collections, which follow on from one another, are on display in the halls.

 

Archaeological (historical)

This collection totals hundreds of items uncovered from several archaeological excavations, both in Athienou and its vicinity (mainly from Malloura, as well as the small town of Iorkos a little later). You can see ceramic vessels on display (pottery from the archaic times in Cyprus, small “flacons”); a burial sculpture and a collection of small, stone, terracotta figures (statuettes of the goddesses Pan, Artemis and Aphrodite; male heads, small, female heads, torsos and painted figurines from the archaic and other eras in Cyprus); jewellery, lamps and so on. Their dates of discovery span from the late Bronze Age right through to the late Hellenistic period (310-30 B.C.).

All these items and works of art provide our contemporaries with an eloquent recount of the everyday lives and beliefs of people living in the Antiquity.

In ancient times, as we can deduce from the finds on permanent display, the inhabitants of the Athienou valley were warriors forced to engage in battles. After all, the sculptures, as well as the stone and terracotta statuettes are, by and large, images of warriors, chariots and horsemen (the same archaic era in Cyprus).

Local History Museum in Athienou

In my view, there are also some very unusual, yet symbolic exhibits, which you would rarely come across in another museum: two stone hands — one large and the other small — grasping birds. Their symbolism is directly linked with a cult of afterlife beliefs which once reigned here.

Local History Museum in Athienou

You can also examine a sample of Cypriot-syllabic script (Cretan writing, from Crete), known as “ikretes”. It has been etched with sharp glass onto the mantle of a white clay vessel (a Cypriot classic) discovered in Iorkos.

In fact, all the archaeological exhibits on display at the Municipal Museum of Athienou, are part of a collection belonging to the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus. This has been especially noted in the exhibition plan.

We descend a ramp (another in a line of many convenient additions to the Museum), along which you can see an enlarged photograph of the icon-painter, father Kallinikeio, at work — this means that we’ve now entered another section of the exhibition.

 

Religious (Orthodox) Art

An incredibly impressive part of the Museum: unique, magnificently crafted icons, the works of monk Kallinikeio, along with pieces by other old craftsmen, both Greek and Russian (17th – early 20th century, imported from the Athos Peninsula and gifted to the Museum by Kallinikeio himself [2]).

Moreover, by looking at the icons on display in this hall, we can easily track the evolution of painting styles (which, as we know, strongly influenced the training of the outstanding Greek writer and craftsman, Fotis Kontoglou (1895-1965). From then on, the young icon painter focused exclusively on Byzantine tradition.

Icons are featured here from the end of the 1950s: “the Crucifixion” (1959), “Panagia Galaktrophous” (Virgin Milk-giver, 1956) and others — the painting technique is striking. It has a somewhat “contemporary” aspect while harmonising with the viewer’s perception. The earlier works are very portrait-like and significant in size. The painter creates a smooth piece, using bright colour combinations, for the most part working with oil. The images are in visual contact with us, as though gazing at our faces — such tricks, in comparison to icon painting, can be encountered more often in the grand manner of various periods. These early works by the icon painter are in keeping with the aesthetic of the Renaissance.

By 1960 – 1970, the style has then noticeably changed, and we feel nearer to breathing Byzantine air: with its characteristically flatter canonical imagery, local colour and the use of golden backgrounds, as well as an absence of pictorial transitions and a clear, distinctive portrait. We can see the following works on display: “Agios Afanasios” (1963), “St. Ekaterina” (1976), “St. Christophorous with Baby Jesus” (1978). From then on, the painter shies away from oil, replacing it with an egg tempera: this was the name given to paint created from an egg yolk base. It was then combined with a weak, organically formed acid (beer, a young wine, vinegar solution, or simply, Russian kvas). The latest form of the master’s works on display was the wooden triptych with three icons: “The Most Holy Mother of God with Jesus”, “St. Nicholas” and “John the Baptist” (egg tempera, 2002).

Besides, several frescoes were also formed at his hand: some which were transferred (probably from the churches of the occupied territories) and gifted by Kallinikeio, are also housed here: For instance, a fresco of “Agios Antonios” (1982) and others.

In general, you can find more detailed information on the biography of father Kallinikeio in our article on Athienou.

The uniqueness of this display lies in the fact that Kallinikeio Stavrounis also donated to the Museum his own “collection”, so to speak, of antique icons containing Russian and Greek script. Many have originated from Athos (as a rule, they were crafted and then consecrated in the monastery of St. Elijah the Prophet. A significant number of the icons date back to no later than the early 20th century. This also applies for the icon by father Iorkos, the “Milk-Giver” (1904); or Agios Nikolaios (1916) — both were fashioned in a Renaissance style. The undated “Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God”, as well as “the Assumption of the Virgin Mother” (1915), were also from this period.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that “Agios Nikolaios” was one of the “pearls” of father Kallinikeio’s collection, along with the famous Russian icon of the Mother of God “Iveron” (1678). In 1996, they became images for a set of jubilee stamps [3] (printed in both Russian and Greek. This set was donated to the Museum by Maria Evangelou, a local resident.

Here we can also see a display case featuring the tools, books and personal belongings of both a monk and an outstanding figure in society: a folding icon of “the Legend of Saint George and the Dragon”, two old, portable, Russian hagiographical icons; a set of gold leaf, either acquired by father Kallinikeio or brought to him as a gift from Russia; agate modelling tools, used for smoothing the thin gold layer on the backgrounds of icons and others. The nearby hall has a documentary film playing an interview with the man himself.

Let’s get back to the collection itself, which contains portable and church icons crafted in various styles (according to the traditions of different schools). There is also information on, as well as several works by, some other natives — the brothers George [4] (born in 1956) and Alkis (1957-2014) Kelpolas (both known for creating numerous mosaic icons and frescoes).

In fact, an iconography and mosaics workshop operates today within the Museum’s walls, as well as an education centre for school pupils and adults [5]: for those who desire, you can learn the history and basics of this art, the techniques of painting and gilding icons, as well as other skills and tricks of the trade.

Temporary exhibitions are also held here.

Besides, the museum hosts conferences and seminars on its premises, in addition to collaborating with the administration of Larnaca, organising various fact-finding tours around Athienou and its vicinity.

We then found ourselves in a section dedicated to more contemporary history, and events in which the current residents of Athienou were involved. This includes their daily lives and celebrations, the sports they play and so on.

 

Ethnographic

Although this section encompasses only 20th-century Athienou, the traditional structure of life, which has been preserved for generations, allows us to imagine the lives of villagers in the deep past. The exhibits (clothing, items for everyday use, photographs, etc.) show how people lived and what professions they were engaged in. For instance: “Venetian” lace, as a variation of the more well-known Lefkara form of hand-crafting lace; production of cheeses and baking; as well as sports and participation in local clubs.

A small part has been devoted to the local government, with a section set aside under the exhibit. It is in memory of the locals who sacrificed their lives in to fight for independence from colonial rule and against the Turkish invasion.

Local History Museum in Athienou

Those who wish can also listen to audio-recordings situated at the interactive instalments for each separate theme

Lace-making

Over the centuries, one of the developed forms of folk art in Athienou was lace manufacture (in Greek, “ploumi”; “ploumia” in plural form). It was also nicknamed “Venetian” lace, as it was the Venetians who educated the local needlewomen in this craft (as was the case with lefkaritika, if you recall). However, the lace-embroidery here has its specific traits, so there’s no way you’ll get it mixed up with pieces produced in other regions of Cyprus.

The samples of lace are accompanied by old, archived photographs of female lacemakers at work, as well as others.

The manufacturing principle was the same as in other regions: a piece of fabric (linen) was placed and fixed onto a small pillow, then a pattern was cut out (following the principle of the well-known “Richelieu” technique). The pattern holes were sewn and tied up using needle lace crated from cotton thread.

Ploumia, which was woven by female masters who only used thread, without a woven base, was called “oloplouma”. Local lace came in a variety of patterns and served in the production of tablecloths, decorating bedspreads, and so on.

The work of the local female weavers famously once brought in a substantial level of income: some of the lacemakers’ fellow villagers were enterprising salesmen. They would cart these wares to other settlements over Cyprus or take them abroad.

The most famous and successful of these traders is said to have been Sotiris Stavrou Mestanas (1900-1994), who consequently became the mayor of Athienou.

 

Bread

In her book “Greek Customs and Mores in Cyprus” (a translation from German to English was first published in 1993), Magda Ohnefalsch-Richter, a German researcher, noted that “professional bakers were often located in cities. Along with this, many women, who were, by and large, Greek housewives, preferred to bake their own bread.

This custom is still [practised] in villages, despite the owners of coffee houses and groceries beginning to sell homemade bread to their guests and clients”.

Thus, in 19th-century Athienou, many families already owned their own bakeries, and their bread earned incredible popularity across Cyprus, thanks to the exceptional quality of the wheat grown here.

All the ingredients — wheat flour, water and yeast — were mixed in wooden troughs. The dough yield was placed over a unique board (sanithkia) and used to form Karavas bread. The bread obtained was put into moulds in the form of large round cells, cut by carpenters on a long wooden board, known as a “koupossanido”. Adeptly wielding the peel (fournofkiari), the baker would then place the bake into a round, arched oven constructed of heavy clay blocks (you have seen more than a few of them across Cyprus). The hot and delicious-smelling bread was then pulled from the oven and again placed into the koupossanido cells, where it was left to cool. The final stage was to store it in baskets which were hung, as we know, from the ceiling, or on a side shelf — to ensure the best preservation.

An interesting point: aside from traditional bread, the women of Athienou often baked what were known as poksamatkia, koulourakia and klistarkes. These were small, either dry or soft seeded loaves [6] — they were baked all year round in many regions on the island, most often for the Christmas and Easter holidays. However, as is noted on one of the Museum stands: this was the village where bread was baked in the form of dolls.

Nowadays, you can buy traditional bread, for instance, from Sergiou Bakeries on Morphou street.

 

Cheese-making

A lot of cheese was also produced in the village. In Frau Ohnefalsch-Richter’s research, it is also mentioned that shepherds forever had large jugs at their disposal, which they would use to store sheep and goats milk — a product which quickly spoiled and required immediate treatment. So, in the 20th century, many households in Athienou already possessed well-equipped cheese factories (as we have seen in the courtyard of father Kallinikeio’s house-museum), where the world-renowned halloumi was manufactured.

The process of cheese-making [7] involved putting milk, together with pithkia (a starter culture, necessary for fermentation), into a large tank, known as a “hartzi”, where the liquid would boil until it reached a thick consistency. The substance, while wrapped in a thin fabric called “kouroukla”, was then positioned under a press.

The warm and tender halloumi was chopped into pieces then placed again into a tank (noros), along with the liquid obtained after pressing. At the end of the following stage, the cheese was given a generous sprinkling of salt with dried mint, then sent to be stored in the same liquid where it was produced.

As for “anari” — a different type of cheese, with no less regard (either hard and salted or soft and unsalted, similar to homemade cottage cheese) — it was manufactured based on the same procedure. This was also the case for other, specific types of cheese, which are famous both amongst modern Cypriots and guests to the island: the hard, yellow “kefalotri” and “flaounes” — a unique cheese intended for baking at Easter.

The milk of domestic animals was also widely used (and still is today) to produce delicious yoghurts, or in Greek, galaoxino (literally: “sour milk”).

 

Several exciting facts worth picking up in the Museum about Athienou and its people:

Sport

Over the 20th century, several football clubs were created in the village. The first of them — Othellos Sports Club — formed in 1933, and took part in games until 1968, winning the championship several times. The club, whose players had actively proven their athletic abilities, and even their skills in theatre, became part of the Cyprus Football Federation, after uniting with another team — Apollonas Sports Club.

Later, other sports clubs and unions emerged, which are still active today: AON Sports Club (later known as Orpheas), as well as Golgoi and Proodos.

 

Heroics

The locals of Athienou took part in the national struggle for liberation launched by the EOKA fighters [8] (1955-1959). In the exhibition, this topic is traditionally joined with a later, but no less tragic period in the island’s history: the year 1974. Visitors will be able to find the personal belongings, military uniform and awards of heroes, as well as photographs of them (donated by their relatives).

So, along with the names of many other heroes who fought for freedom, it’s worth giving special mention to this man: Fedoros Stavrou Fottiros, a hero who perished on the 20th July 1974, during the fight to restrain the onslaught of invading Turkish occupant troops. You can find more details on him, in addition to other outstanding figures and locals to the village, in Athienou.

 

Youth Organisation

Five years ago, the local scout organisation marked its 100th anniversary (it has existed since 1913).

On one of the stands, you will see their banner and emblem, as well as an old uniform and photos of young scouts portraying their exciting lives: joining the ranks, treks, parades and even them taking part in amateur shows.

 

Education

Athienou has always concerned itself with the education of its growing generations: today’s gymnasium was opened in 1978 (in its first year, it totalled 15 teachers to 190 pupils), while far earlier — in the mid-19th century — there was already a primary school, but only for boys. Lessons were conducted by priests [9], and it was only many years later (1919) when a school for girls appeared. Both schools then united into a mixed school for both boys and girls.

 

Holidays and Celebrations

As used to be the case, the locals hold massive religious festivals throughout the year:

“Green Monday”, which precedes Lent, is commonly celebrated by having massive picnics in the open air and traditionally launching kites.

Easter folk games and amusements (such as the fun and noisy tug of war, or “shini”, sack races, etc.; read about others here).

The 22nd of September begins the three-day and three-night “Panegiri”, in honour of St. Foki, the patron saint of Athienou.

A bread and cheese Festival is held annually in October. You can take a look at last year’s festival (2017) to find out how what happens there.

 

Cuisine

As one of the spots on the island famous for making traditional Cypriot cuisine by using its own, original method, Athienou is renowned, first and foremost, for its lamb dishes: “kleftiko” and “tavas”. They’re a must-try!

Local History Museum in Athienou

We would like to thank the Museum staff (and of course, our new friend, Christianou), who under the wise guidance and accommodating initiative of Ms Kulla, helped us prepare material for this article and showed us the many remarkable corners and landmarks of Athienou!

We wish the museum team success in their creative endeavours, an undying level of interest from visitors, and all-round support for new museum initiatives.

We encourage you all to visit this fantastic, exciting and rather modern Museum!

 

Address: Archbishop Makarios III Street, 2
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri, 08:00-15:00; weekend visits strictly by prior arrangement only.
The Museum is closed on government holidays.

Contact: +357 24524002, 357 24811370
Email: museum@athienou.org.cy
Website: www.athienoumuseum.org.cy

Entrance fee: 2 Euro; for groups of 10 people or more: 1 Euro per person; free entry for children.

 

Until next time!


[1] The earliest finds in these areas relate to this historical period in particular.

[2] Father Kallinikeio also taught our good friend Konstantinos Christou, a modern icon painter and mosaicist, famous in Cyprus, as well as Russia, USA and Great Britain. You can read our interview with him here.

[3] For more on Cypriot stamps and the Postal Museum, please read here.

[4] For more details on the creative works of mosaicist and icon painter, George Kepolas, please see his website.

[5] Located in the show hall, directly behind the icons exhibition.

[6] Regarding Cypriot bread: to learn about the traditions, specific traits and types of bread made, as well as the rituals linked with them and many more, please read our article about the Bread Museum in Limassol.

[7] As you already know, we love to give advice :) Here, you’ll find several international recipes for making various cheeses by hand. Have a look here.

[8] A rather large exhibit, at the Museum of National Struggle in Nicosia, has been dedicated to this subject and the dramatic events of that period.

[9] The exhibit at Nicosia’s Pancyprian Gymnasium Museum will help you to learn more about the education system in Cyprus during the rule of the Ottoman Turks, followed by the colonial administration of Great Britain.