Cyprus is quite an interesting creature, with its location on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, straddling Europe, Middle East and North Africa underpinning its unique profile.
The genealogy of today’s Cypriots stretches all the way back to time preceding the ancient Egypt, dating as far as tenth millennium BC. This is the earliest known settlement. However there are few archaeological remains from even earlier periods, without indication of the origins. During the later stage, in the second millennium BC, the first settlement of Mycenaean Greeks arrived. They brought a belief that is still alive to today, that Cyprus was the birth place of Aphrodite and Adonis and this belief is still alive here.
Due to its location, Phoenicians used Cyprus on their route to the west of Mediterranean Sea, and there are still remains of their settlements on the south part of the island. During the next centuries, Phoenicians were followed by the Assyrians, briefly Egyptians and Persians.
Of course, we must not forget about Alexander the Great conquering the island from Persians on his move towards the east. Alexander’s empire was divided after his death and in the aftermath, Cyprus became a part of the Ptolemaic Egypt. Interestingly enough, it was only under the Ptolemaic ruling that the island was fully Hellenised. For those curious ones, the term refers to spread of the ancient Greek culture, way of life and religion to the new lands.
Cyprus enjoyed the Hellenic way of life for several centuries, to be finally bought by Romans in 58 BC. Middle Ages marked 800 years of Byzantine Empire rule, which finally came to an end by the conquest of Richard the Lion’s Crusaders. Venetians assumed the control of the island in late 1400s; to finally lose it to Ottoman Empire over hundred years later. The island stayed under control of the Ottoman Empire till Russo-Turkish war. As a result of it, the island was leased to the British Empire. Brits have stayed here till the present day, maintaining two sovereign areas under the British rule and law, but Cyprus reached independence in 1960.
The mixture of various conquering nations who brought their different cultures and rituals has created a unique place that sees a continual formation of its own identity. I moved to this island over 3 years ago, and I have been witnessing this wealth of culture and historical diversity since.
Through the history, due to the local climate, Cyprus had had continues problems with snakes and vermin. To rid this issue during the Byzantine rule, St. Helen brought beautiful and feisty little creatures: Cats! According to the historians, she brought them from Egypt or Palestine in the fourth century. Amazingly, they have adapted to the environment and have become a part of this island’s identity.
Nowadays, they are found literally everywhere, from mountains to the beaches, from villages to the cities. I doubt you can find a house, restaurant or a café without a few cats guarding it and asking for food. Amazingly, in the course of several centuries, the Cypriot cat has become a separate breed; one that is rather athletic, energetic and mostly longhair variety.
Many of them are wild cats, living on the streets and beaches, looking for strangers to help them with the food. While some are living in the overcrowded shelters accompanied by volunteers, the others are welcomed to homes of locals and expatriates. Usually the story begins with tiny kittens found in the bushes, hidden under the cars or simply dropped off by a mother cat by the house. These lucky ones become part of the household, and are given warmth and love. They also appeared in my house and my life, forcing me to adapt to their hectic schedule. Two of them were saved from starvation few years ago, and two younger ones were brought by their mother few days after they had been born. Now I cannot imagine my life without them.
Some historians indicate that around the same time when St. Helen brought the cats, in the 4th century, island was introduced to citrus fruits. Although the exact time is debatable, because more entries show that lemons and oranges were actually brought much later. According to these it was Arabic traders who brought them all the way from China, sometime in 13th or 14th century. Local climate and soil was and still is a perfect combination to grow these fruits, including mandarins, and sour oranges.
Lemons are very special fruits here. They are part of the traditional and new cuisine, and are present at almost every meal and added to many of the dishes. Every housewife knows how to use lemons to marinate the fish or the meat, how much to add to the beans or how to make a lemonade, juice, marmalade and many others foods. They make the food tastier with the addition with their distinctly bitter addition. For those who just arrived to the island, it is surprising to see lemons with any type of dish served in restaurants.
Lemon trees cover almost the entire island; and can be found on the farms, in the gardens and in the wild. One cannot separate Cyprus from lemons, and lemons from Cyprus. It is like a long-term marriage; one cannot exist without the other.
I am lucky to be living in the city of Limassol, because there are plenty of oranges trees growing in the area, stretching its arms by the south cost, all the way to the city of Paphos. Sometime in late October and at the beginning of November, oranges start to peek from underneath the leaves, growing to full fruits in December and January. As a consequence, every street in the city turns orange during this time of the year. This is a peak of the orange season and it means very low prices and boxes of these fruits occupying shelves in the shops. It also means that many of these fruits will drop on to the streets, simply as the falling oranges far exceed the local demand.
There are thousands of recipes for dishes with oranges, from simple fruit salads to finer meat dishes in orange sauce. But the easiest way is to peel and eat it by hands, with orange juice flowing from your fingers to your elbows. If you want to have natural vitamin C injection during winter, simply make a freshly squeezed juice. The glass is filled with thick liquid in a sun set orange colour. Tasty!
It took me some time to adjust to the local way of life, complicated history of this island and “siga, siga” (“slowly, slowly”) as local Cypriots say. After the hectic years in Denmark, Cypriot clear skies and sun available throughout the year, temperatures topping above 40 degrees in August, and richness of citrus fruits all made the transition easier. Not to mention four little creatures waiting by the window to tell you “good morning” while waiting for their breakfast.