Cyprus – General – History
Throughout the centuries, Cyprus has forged its multicultural identity amidst difficult historical circumstances and successive conquests. It remained faithful to its traditions whilst assimilating elements from its conquerors. Its location at the crossroads of three continents, coupled with its valuable wealth of copper and timber, made the island an extremely sought-after territory.
It appears that the name Kypros, used by the Greeks in the times of Homer, was later disseminated to the neighbouring peoples. However, it was neither the first nor the only name given to the island. In the Egyptian monuments of Tuthmosis III (1500 B.C.), Cyprus is referred to as Asebi or Jsj. In the resolution of Kanopos (238 B.C.) it is known as Sbjn while the clay tablets of Tel El Amarna propose the name Alasia. But the Greek name Kypros appears both in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Kypris is also another adjective for Goddess Aphrodite. The most ancient inscription bearing the name Kypros dates to 459 B.C. Several ancient first names also seem to be associated with the name Kypros, such as Aristokypros, Aristokypra, Themistokypra, Kypragoras, Kyprothemis, Kyprokranis, Onasikypros, Pasikypros, Stasikypros, Timokypros, Philokypros, etc.
- Neolithic Period (8200-3900 B.C.)
- Chalcolithic Age (3900-2500 B.C.)
- Copper Age (2500-1050 B.C.)
- Geometric Period (1050-750 B.C.)
- Archaic & Classical Period (750-310 B.C.)
- Hellenistic Period (310-30 B.C.)
- Roman Period (30 B.C. – 330 A.D.)
- Byzantine Period (330-1191 A.D.)
- Richard the Lionheart & The Knights Templar (1191-1192)
- Frankish Period (Period of the Lusignan) (1192-1489)
- Venetian Period (1489-1571)
- Ottoman Period(1571-1878)
- British Colonialism (1878-1960)
- Republic of Cyprus (1960 – to date)
The Prehistoric Period in Cyprus begins with the appearance of man on the island, around the 10th millennium B.C. and ends as we move on from the 2nd to the 1st millennium B.C. and the beginnings of the socio-political processes that will lead to the establishment of the Cypriot kingdoms in the Historic Period. The Neolithic Age is considered to be one of the island’s most significant periods, as prehistoric man introduces a series of changes that play a decisive role in improving living conditions. The oldest settlements in Cyprus are situated in Choirokoitia, Troulloi, Erimi and Kalavassos. The only specimens in this period, from 7000 to 5000 B.C., are stone objects, while between 5000-3900 B.C. clay objects have also been found.
In the Hellenistic Period the arts flourish, as witnessed by such diverse specimens as amphorae, sculptures, inscriptions, etc. The Greek religion, namely the worship of the Twelve Olympians also thrives, with the erection of sanctuaries all around the island, the largest ones being those of Goddess Aphrodite in Pafos (Kouklia) and in Amathounta but also of Apollo in Kourion. In the same period, philosopher Zeno of Citium founds the famed Stoic school in Athens. Then follows the Roman Period, from 58 B.C. to 330 A.D. Apostles Paul and Barnabas visit Pafos where they succeed in converting the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity, making Cyprus the first island to come under Christian leadership. In the Byzantine Period, after the division of the Roman Empire, Cyprus becomes a district of the eastern part, Byzantium, whose capital is Constantinople. This period is followed by the Frankish, Venetian, Ottoman and British rule, the liberation struggle of 1955-1959 and the declaration of Independence in 1960. In 1878, the Ottoman Empire abandons the island and cedes its administration to Britain.
European culture and civilization have evidently permeated the various aspects of Cypriot art. Cyprus’ deeply rooted links with Europe, as a result of the presence on the island of European peoples (Venetians, Franks, Normans, British) and the strong influence of European culture, have been depicted in the arts and cultural development in general. “The innate form-shaping skills of Cypriots have been known since antiquity. A remarkable civilisation has flourished on the island since the Neolithic Period, as witnessed by magnificent specimens in all forms of art, in particular architecture, sculpture, pottery, metallurgy and mosaics. This civilisation, which developed in parallel with that of other Greek regions, follows its own distinctive path, forged through ongoing contacts with the art of neighbouring peoples. At the crossroads of peoples and cultures, the art legacy of ancient Cyprus consists of the free and creative composition of elements from both the eastern and western civilisations. According to Art historian and academic, Chrysanthos Christou, Cypriot art combines the transcendentalism, atectonic character, decorative will and external multiplicity of the art of eastern civilisations with the rationalism, organic fullness, logical safety, strict adherence to form, central unity and external simplicity of the ancient Greek world.
The first Achaeans settled in Cypriot ports around the 14th century, mostly in the south and east, taking advantage of the conditions of peace in the region. The island’s inhabitants lived in harmony with them and were largely assimilated. Ancient cities of exceptional importance, whose value remains precious, even to date, reveal the origins of Cyprus and expose historical, cultural and social developments and its identity: Salamina, Amathounta, Kourion and virtually the entire city of Pafos, with its mosaics, Roman mansions, but also the Tombs of the Kings. The monuments of these cities – theatres, gymnasiums, ports, markets, etc. – testify in diverse ways to the cultural development on the island and the early contacts with neighbouring peoples, contributing to the creation of an exquisite multicultural landscape against the backdrop of the sea, where infinite ideas for screenplays can be developed and filmed. Phoenicians appear in the historical developments of Cyprus around the 9th century B.C. They arrive at Kition from where they set out to colonise the island. After gaining political power in this coastal city, they extend their influence over a substantial part of the territory. This is a political development of great significance, which has a profound influence on civilisation and the arts, leading to the emergence of an oriental technique.
Since 1974, Cyprus has been struggling to find a solution to its political problem, the Turkish invasion and occupation. Huge losses were recorded, the economy was essentially destroyed, thousands of people were killed or are missing, and thousands of others have become refugees. Turkey has made deliberate attempts to change the demographic character of the occupied areas, bringing in settlers from Anatolia. The changes have had a negative impact on the living conditions of Turkish Cypriots, many of whom were forced to migrate. The accession of Cyprus to the European family in 2004 is a turning point in the island’s history.
With the early christianisation of the island by Apostles Paul and Barnabas, the artistic creativity of Cypriots is beautifully chanelled into religious Byzantine art, which flourishes on the island and is expressed in architecture, frescoes, portable icons and mosaics. It is important to note that Cyprus was not affected by the iconoclast movement and, as a result, extraordinary specimens of early Byzantine art have been salvaged.
Following the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans in 1571, the new rulers showed no interest in the education of Cypriots, nor have they left – during their three centuries of rule – any artistic or spiritual work. On the contrary, several older monuments of great value were left to ruin due to lack of care. Moreover, the prohibition imposed by the Muslim religion to depict individuals hindered the revival of the human-centered painting tradition of Greek antiquity, in the example of the West, and was yet another drawback for the dissemination of the ideals of Renaissance art on the island.
As far as we are in a position to know, these historical circumstances, together with the isolation of the island, limited artistic expression to the continuation of Byzantine and folklore art, which has portrayed certain common esthetic values, with beautiful specimens in wood-sculpture, weaving, embroidery and pottery. Both of these forms of art are, however, conservative by nature, usually limited to the reproduction of traditional themes and forms.
In 1878, the Ottoman Empire cedes Cyprus to Great Britain. Under British colonial rule, the people of Cyprus held high hopes of improving their living conditions and standard of education. It is a fact that improvement is noted in all areas. The first cultural awakening is observed before and, in particular, immediately after the First World War, although it is rooted in the last two decades of the 19th century. Shortly after the arrival of the British, we have the first newspapers, followed by the first publications of literary books and periodicals.
The introduction of Cyprus Television in 1957 was a turning point in the development of television and cinema. After being renamed as the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, Cyprus television began to rapidly develop. Programmes increased, services were staffed and transmitters and relay stations were renewed. Broadcasting hours continued to increase and in December 1982 black-and-white was replaced by colour broadcasting. After CyBC, new private television stations emerged, promoting artistic creation and healthy competition. The film industry in Cyprus began to develop in the 90s and has since been following its own successful path.
Existing literature and known sources do not offer much assistance in the study of art during the Frankish (1192-1489) and the Venetian (1489-1571) periods. Despite the salvage of certain specimens of architecture and religious iconography, it appears that there are no – or not known – testimonies of the type of secular painting and sculpture that developed on the island. It is a well-known fact that medieval Cyprus knew periods of prosperity, and foreign and local nobles entertained relations with important centres in France and Italy. It would, therefore, be reasonable to assume that both foreigners and locals must have produced painting and sculpture works, used to decorate palaces, public buildings and the houses of wealthy individuals. Unfortunately, these were either destroyed or stolen during the many invasions and lootings of the island. With regards to architecture, it was affected by the Gothic rhythm, from which it adopted certain forms. Constructions in pure Gothic rhythm have also been salvaged.
A new generation of poets, writers, journalists, lawyers, doctors and teachers set the ground for the country’s spiritual life. Amongst these pioneers were Cypriots who spent many years abroad, especially in Egypt, and returned home after the change of rule. Others were Greeks from Constantinople, Asia Minor and other centres of Hellenism, who came to Cyprus for a variety of reasons. These included several teachers, who came to teach in the newly established gymnasiums. At the same time, a growing number of Cypriots leave the island to study abroad, Athens and London being the most popular destinations. Upon the return of the artists to Cyprus and the inevitable influences of foreign trends in their art, the new generation of artists begins the quest for a new identity in a changing social context. Diversity is the main feature in the evolution of Cypriot art, with the appearance of constantly enriched new ideas and trends.”