Readers’ wildlife photos

July 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

There isn’t much wildlife in these photos by Athayde Tonhasca Júnior, but a lot of history and travel, so they qualify as “wildlife”. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Cyprus, the island of love (sort of)

Phoenicians, Greeks, and Minoans (Cretans) were very fond of octopuses. This 1500-1450 BC vase is one of many pieces of octopus-themed pottery in the Cyprus Museum (Nicosia) and museums from all over the Aegean region. Scholars have offered countless explanations for this Octopoda-fixation.

Today’s rich and famous stuff their homes with art objects, but the Romans had mosaics as symbols of status. They were created by artisans specialised in assembling tesserae (a tessera is a small tile made of ceramic, stone or glass). The Mosaics of Paphos from 3rd-4th century AD were discovered in 1962 when a farmer accidentally unearthed one of them while ploughing his field. They are part of Paphos archaeological complex, an UNESCO World Heritage site.

This mosaic depicts the duel between Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Crete. Theseus is holding a club and grabbing a horn of the Minotaur, who has fallen to his knees. The scene is framed by successive decorative zones that symbolize the Labyrinth.

Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, is not particularly photogenic. But many houses have lovely, old-fashioned porticos.

This street divides Lefkoşa (North Nicosia, on the left) and Lefkosia (South Nicosia), both surrounded by Venetian walls. Nicosia was the capital of the unified island until 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus. Now Lefkoşa is the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a ‘country’ recognised by nobody except Turkey, and Lefkosia is the capital of the Cyprus republic. The pillboxes on the right side are pocked by bullet marks, reminders of the vicious fighting in 1974.

The United Nations Buffer Zone, known as The Green Line. This 180 km-long no man’s land divides Cyprus from the Turkish occupied area. The Green Line is patrolled by a UN force and an army of mangy cats.

Cyprus version of Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie: you show your passport to a bored Cypriot guard, walk 50 m past dilapidated & empty buildings, show your passport to a bored Turkish guard, and officially leave Europe. The Turkish side is jam-packed with shoppers with an eye for bargain luxury-branded merchandise, possibly genuine handbags, shoes, clothes and assorted tat. There’s no need to change currency: traders are more than happy to take Euros instead of the ailing Turkish Lira.

The Green Line is not a Berlin Wall reincarnation, but it saw its share of activists arrested or shot. Today the Line’s greater danger is being shouted at by a UN soldier for the illegal act of photographing their shabby military installations. Notice the white-and-blue Greek colours, which are meant to rub the Turks the wrong way.

The Liberty Monument to celebrate independence from Britain in 1960. Liberty stands above two members of EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) opening the prison gates to free rebels, civilians and the clergy. Unfortunately there was no room in the monument for remembering the hundreds of Turkish-Cypriots murdered by EOKA, whose war cry was ‘first the British and then the Turks’. About 90 EOKA members were killed during the insurgency (a few were tortured in prison by the British forces), while nearly 500 British & Turkish-Cypriots, including policemen, medics and civilians, were murdered. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

The Liberty monument was erected in 1973, one year before the Turkish invasion. The bullet impressions above the heads of these statues are mementos of those turbulent times. It all started when the right-wing military usurped power in Greece, and the humourless, moustachioed colonels winked the go-ahead to the Greek-Cypriots dreaming of enosis (union with the Greek motherland). Union happened in Crete, but Turkish-Cypriots were not keen on pan-Hellenism. Turkey moved in to defend its brethren, thousands were killed, and many thousands living on the wrong side of the island were displaced.

You see more Greek flags than Cypriot flags in the streets of Nicosia. The enosis aspiration may not have died, which will keep the Turks wary of Cyprus’ reunification.

What did the British ever do for Cyprus? A decent postal service, for one thing. To disguise their colonial past, the traditional red pillar-boxes were painted yellow. But the Royal Cypher (George Rex) was kindly preserved.

Sign in a Nicosia restaurant: One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors—Plato.

A Gothic church from 1360 in Gazimağusa (Famagusta) on the Turkish-occupied northern coast. Converted to a mosque in 1572, the Brits finally put the building to good use by changing it to a wheat warehouse. Famagusta was established during the Byzantine era by refugees from the island of Salamis (in today’s Greece) fleeing Arab raiders. The city prospered under the Lusignans (French crusaders who ruled Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia at various times between 12th and 15th c.), and reached its zenith with the influx of Christian merchants and craftsmen after the fall of Acre to the Saracens in 1291. The Catholic Church ban on economic ties with the infidel was an even better windfall: Famagusta, strategically positioned to face the Middle East, became a major commercial hub for the whole eastern Mediterranean. And you thought modern international relations were complex.

The Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot flags over the Venetian walls surrounding Famagusta. The town was blocked by the Ottomans in 1570, but the vastly outnumbered Venetian defenders held out for ten months. Their commander, Marcantonio Bragadin, agreed to surrender after being promised that civilians could leave the city and his soldiers could sail for Crete. But when the Ottoman commander Mustafa Paşa learned his opponents were so few, he lost his rag. He ordered the killing of several Venetian officers and the remaining Christians. Bragadin had his ears and nose cut off, and after several weeks of’ imprisonment, he was flayed alive. His skin was stuffed with straw and sent to the sultan in Constantinople. The treatment of Bragadin supposedly motivated the Venetians to victory at the Battle of Lepanto, which stopped Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean. Eventually a Venetian pinched Bragadin’s skin and smuggled it to Venice, where it rests in the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo. The tall buildings in the distance are in the ghost town of Varosha. Once the heart of Famagusta’s tourism, the town was evacuated and fenced off after the 1974 Turkish invasion.

Severios Library’s inspiring front (Nicosia).

No boring “High Street” or “Station Road” in Cyprus or Greece.

Another charming portico in Nicosia.

From Jerry:  Since it’s Caturday, I want to add that Cypress may be the site where we have the first evidence of domesticated cats (9,500 years ago).  Here’s the Wikipedia entry:

Historians previously accounted Egypt as the earliest site of cat domestication due to the clear depictions of house cats in ancient Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus that contained skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline-human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats.

Here’s a photo of the site and a reconstruction from National Geographic (captions are theirs). I put the arrow to show the cat skeleton.  Text from Nat. Geo.:

The complete body of the animal was buried in a small pit at about twenty centimeters from the human grave. The tomb, particularly rich in offerings in comparison to other graves known from this period in Cyprus, suggests that the individual had a special social status. Τhis grave certainly bears witness to relationships between humans and cats in the 8th millennium B.C., not restricted to the material benefit of humans but also involved in spiritual links.

The cat is buried together with its “master”, 3D reconstruction of the Early Aceramic Neolithic grave of Shillourokambos.

16 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Wonderful narrative and pictures!
    I’ll add some recent history. There was a referendum on reunification before Cyprus joined the EU (the EU didn’t really want an unresolved frozen conflict on their hands). Part of the deal was that Turkish troops would leave. A large majority of Cypriot Turks voted for reunification and a large majority of Greeks voted against, and the plan was dropped.

  2. That street sign puts me in mind of the world’s greatest classical Greek joke. An ancient Greek walks into his local tailor carrying a torn pair of jeans. The tailor looks at him and says, “Euripides?”. The guy replies, “Eumenides?”…….

  3. And the British haven’t left Cyprus either with about 10% of the island being British Sovereign Base Areas with one in the west where there is (for the British) a very useful airbase (Akrotiri), and one in the east, Dhekelia.

  4. Nice pictures! Brings back good memories of our trip there in 1998. The people in the South told us “you can’t go there” when we asked about visiting N Cyprus but we did anyway. We visited St Hilarion Castle and then blew 2 million Lira on lunch in Kyrenia. (A year later it would have been 30 million – inflation was out of control in Turkey.)

  5. Geologists love Cyprus because it was created by the collision of the African plate with the European plate. The word “Cyprus” actually means copper, which has been mined for the past 7,000 years. Cyprus has been cut over (all the trees have been cut down) many times to produce charcoal for smelting copper.

    The northern part of Cyprus is technically the TNRC, supposedly a separate country. A grand total of one country (Turkey proper) recognizes the TNRC. Europe has tried to resolve this mess more than once. Surprisingly enough, the problem is not Turkish intransigence, but Greek intransigence.

    The TNRC is perhaps the only place you can go to escape the long arm of the law. Because almost all countries don’t recognize the TNRC, no extradition treaties exist either. However, be warned, it won’t work. You will be kidnapped from the TNRC (by the TNRC) and sent to Turkey which does have extradition treaties. For minor crimes, you can hang out in the TNRC forever. For major crimes, not so much.

    1. Yes, Asil Nadir, the CEO of Polly Peck, fled to Northern Cyprus in 1993 to escape justice in the UK after the company collapsed with debts of £1.3 bn.

  6. Thanks! As people who love history and scuba diving, Cypress just moved way up on my bucket list! The UN peacekeepers were, and perhaps still are, largely Canadian forces.

  7. Great travel post, Athayde, much appreciated. I didn’t know what a tumultuous history Cyprus has (I guess that’s true for just about anywhere, right?). I do know nowadays it’s also a tax haven for oligarchs. They also give away that golden passport to foreigners if you invest $2million. Nice! if you can afford it. 😉

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