Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cyprus: Day 1 -- Girne and Vouni

The two of us at the site of ancient Vouni

Our second fieldtrip with the group from the Research Center was to Northern Cyprus. Originally, the plan had included a day in Greek (Southern) Cyprus. However, despite having an invitation from an academic institution on the Greek side of the island, the Turkish citizens in our group were denied the right to cross the border. Rather than split the group up, we all decided to spend the four-day trip solely in Turkish territory. This was probably the best use of our short amout of available time anyway, as the distances and driving times between the sites we were hoping to see turned out to be significantly greater than originally thought.

Peter's shot of Tsameret's young son Sheker on the bus. You can see in the reflection that he has figured out how to turn on the microphone the bus has for tourguides to use to talk to passengers. span>

We arrived in Cyprus mid-morning on Saturday and checked into our hotel in the northern coastal town of Girne. The hotel was called Club Z (or ClubZ depending on who you ask). That's short for Club Zeus, which is the casino on the hotel grounds. The breakfast they provided was good, but the rooms were shabby. Only later that evening after returning from a long day of touring would we all become acquainted with the new, small friends in our various rooms. Judging solely by the exterior of hotels in the town, this type of lodging is probably par for the course, unless you are willing to shell out big bucks to stay right on the water.

After having breakfast we walked to the harbor area of town. This area is quite pretty, with a nice walkway along the seawall in front of a Crusader fortress.

Peter inspects a Crusader-era defensive tower on the water at Girne.

Remember that young Turkish men like to pose for pictures constantly? Here, our friend Dror does the honors.

A little bit of home in Northern Cyprus. Click on the picture and check out the name on the sign over the snack stand.

A replica ship in front of the real Crusader castle walls.

We milled around a little, had some seriously overpriced tea and coffee (5 lira apiece, even for the single bags of Lipton tea and hot water), then convened at the fortress where we were met by Matthew Harpster from Middle Eastern University. Matthew is a young professor of archaeology, specializing in underwater archaeology, which he studied at Texas A&M (Gig 'Em). He had agreed to give us a guided tour of the important exhibit housed in the Castle -- the famous Kyrenia shipwreck, one of the best-preserved Greek ships ever found, and one of the first to be excavated, in the early 1960s. We were very lucky to have him with us, and the fact that he was there was a result of pure serendipity: a few weeks ago one of the Fellows, Asa, was traveling to the States for a conference and happened to be seated next to Matthew on the plane, and they struck up a conversation. When he found out where Matthew teaches, he told him that we Fellows were planning a trip to Cyprus and asked if he would come lend us his expertise for the day. Such a small world!

The exhibit of the ship is indeed very interesting. Having seen the boats at Yeni Kapı (see earlier post), we knew a bit about the process of bringing up and restoring shipwrecks, but it was quite interesting to hear about the various recovery techniques that had been planned and tried out for the first time there off the coast of Cyprus. One of the (luckily) abandoned ideas had been to lift the boat from the seafloor using a helicopter, an experiment that would definitely have resulted in the disintegration of the fragile wood. Fortunately, they had were not able to find a helicopter large enough on the island so that plan was never carried out.

The Kyrenia shipwreck.

The story of the shipwreck was also the first of many tales we heard on Cyprus in which the unfortunate conflict between Turkey and Greece plays a major role. At the time of the discovery of the shipwreck site, the island was not divided. The Greek government sunk a lot of money into raising the boat (pardon the pun), and into preparing the exhibition area in the castle and preserving all of the finds. They viewed the ship as a window into Greek culture at the height of its power in the fourth century BC. However, by the time the exhibit opened, Northern Cyprus was in Turkish hands, the Greek government was expelled, and suddenly this boat which was supposed to symbolize the essence of Greekness was located in an area occupied by Turkish military. Now it is Northern Cyprus that benefits from the tourism the shipwreck generates, but, interestingly, Greek Cyprus still uses its images on currency and tourism materials.

After seeing the shipwreck, we spent another hour or so wandering around the castle itself. The views from the top of the towers were quite impressive.

The landscape of Cyprus around Girne, from the top of the Castle walls.

Peter atop the castle walls.

Inside some of the towers were some prime examples of displays of mannequins which the Turks so love. These showed the historical usage of some of the rooms in the fortress, although there was very little explanation given about the particular time periods that were being represented. Also, the exhibits had apparently not been so much as dusted in who knows how long, and were getting pretty shabby, which only added to their weirdness. The most disturbing of the exhibits were in the so-called dungeons, where startlingly graphic scenes of nude mannequins being tortured were exhibited. They are probably best not posted here, but if anyone is interested, I can send them.

A Venetian soldier mannequin makes gunpowder.

There was really not much more to Girne than that, at least what we saw. There was one amusing street sign though. "Watch out for old people"(?):

Slow Waaaaaaaaaay down. (Yavaş yavaş!)

After the castle, we all piled into a bus that was WAY too small to accomodate us, and drove to the site of ancient Vouni, which is high in the hills above the coastline. None of us knew much about the site, besides that it was a settlement of the Greeks(?) who were pro-Persian, and that it dates from the 5th century BC. Apparently the palace there was modeled on the Persian palace at Persepolis in Iran, although there was really nothing visible at Vouni that could illustrate that to the casual viewer. And like most archaeological sites there was little to no information given on the signage, so it was not as enjoyable as it could have been if someone had had time to do research and make a presentation as we often do on these trips. We did not spend much time there, as it was already getting dark. In fact, the sunset on top of the mountain was the best part of that visit.

The landscape at the site of ancient Vouni:

Peter's picture.

Candace's picture. Aren't we supposed to be taking photos of the historical stuff?

OK, there's one. Something cult-related at Vouni.

Soooo thrilled to be there!

Sunset over Vouni

We headed back to ClubZ for the dinner they had prepared for us. It seemed alright, especially because we were all hungry since there had been no lunch worked into the schedule for that day! It was not until later days in the trip that the food at the hotel would take a turn for the worse, but when you travel you have to be able to find humor in every situation, which we definitely tried to do. But that is a story for a later post.

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