Curating Legacy in Paphos, Cyprus

I spent several days with a friend in Paphos, Cyprus last week.  Passionate about people and cultures and how God’s glory is manifest in diverse ways through them, we determined to visit the small Cyprus Ethnographical Museum.  We walked by columned government buildings and museums to the aging facade of a large residence, iron gates open to welcome visitors.  As we stepped over the threshold, an elderly woman no taller than my shoulders slowly raised herself from a chair by a space heater.  “Welcome.  English?  I show the map and you can take a tour.”  She flipped pages in a little booklet, highlighting the floor plan and exhibits.  “This is the collection of my husband and this is our house.”

I was pleasantly taken aback.  I have never visited a museum where the family collection was carefully curated and open to the public in their home, much less greeted by the family matriarch at the entrance.  Her name was Chryso.

P1110136The house was clearly a treasure in Cypriot traditional folk culture and antiquities, with photos of Chryso’s late husband leading the excavations at such notable locations as the House of Dionysis.   This tiny, gentle, elderly woman was humbly carrying on her husband’s life work.  She sat here every day to welcome guests who might want to visit their house of treasured collections.  While she shared these facts with us, another woman walked in from the private kitchen.  “Do you help her?” I asked, relieved the matriarch didn’t tend to the museum alone.  “Yes, I am her daughter.  My mother is the 4th generation to live in this house.  I live close by and come to help.”

We were the only visitors during our off-season visit.  With no other guests vying for our host’s attention, after we toured the home/museum we had time to ask questions and chat.  Chryso Eliades tends to the cultural treasures and antiquities her husband George acquired over a half century as a renowned archeologist.  They transitioned portions of the home into a museum in the 1950s and it continued to grow until the present, where it nearly engulfs the entire house and includes the late doctor’s personal office and the family dining room.

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The rooms such as the one pictured above reminded me of the many village museums spread throughout Romania, highlighting the quickly dying traditional way of life.  In Cyprus I anticipated visits to Roman ruins and other sites of antiquity, but this museum covered the ancient through the present, including fossils and recovered ancient coins to the family’s heirlooms from the last century.   Their family history is integrated into Cypriot history because this is their home, a home whose foundations have stood for hundreds of years.

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This olive press sits in the backyard- a courtyard with a well, a baker’s cave and two burial chambers that date to Alexander the Great.  Layer upon layer of history all in one small space.  Preserving it with no outside funding is truly a labor of resolve and dedication.  Before we left I was glad to see a letter framed in the hallway above a case of hundreds of ancient coins.  The family’s efforts at preservation are praised by the Cyprus tourism organization.

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We left with many wishes of a Merry Christmas and God’s blessings and a handful of candies Chryso insisted we take, just as any dear grandmother would.

I close with this photo of the traditional kitchen because, be it Cyprus, Romania or Mozambique, I can’t resist a traditional kitchen.

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