Facts about Cyprus

Area: 9,251 sq km
Capital: Nicosia
Language: Greek, Turkish
Currency: Euro
  Turkish Lira
Population: 784,301
Coastline: 648 sq km

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Cyprus Traditions and Customs

Like everything else in Cyprus, religion is split along the Green Line. The northerners are mostly Sunni Muslim, the southerners Greek Orthodox. Food, too, reflects the divide: in the North you'll find mostly Turkish cuisine; in the Republic, Greek. But wherever you are in Cyprus , you'll come across kleftiko (oven-baked lamb) and mezedes (dips, salads and other appetizers). Cyprus is also famous for its fruit, which the government protects with a ban on imported products. You'll find strawberries, stone fruit, melons, prickly pear, citrus and grapes.

Cypriots are very proud of their cultural heritage, which stretches back more than 9000 years. However, you'll probably find that Cyprus today is more concerned with the events of the last 20 years than those of a millennium ago. The north of the island is busy re-creating itself in the image of Turkey , changing names to Turkish and embracing the life and culture of its northern neighbour. The Republic is also trying to create an independent identity, and many places in the Republic have recently been renamed as well.

The traditions and customs of a Cyprus culture can best be observed in ceremonies and on special occasions. Between the Turkish Cypriot communities, some of these are wedding ceremonies, feast days (Ramazan), birth, children starting school, etc. Another important characteristic of the Turkish Cypriots is their hospitality. In the past, the importance of the guest was relative to their social status and their age. Serving the guests usually started with coffee or sherbets, especially those of honey, rose and carob. Fruit paste serving was also of importance.

Cyprus culture is also reflected in the rich folk art of the island. Age-old crafts, handed down from one generation to another, are faithfully carried on to this day by skilful hands and nimble fingers, fashioning handicrafts, both decorative and useful, that would grace any home.

It is probably no surprise with a history so long, that Cyprus is remarkably rich in culture. Its importance has been honored by UNESCO which has included nine of the island's Byzantine mountain churches and the entire town of Kato Pafos in its World Cultural Heritage List. Wherever you go in Cyprus you are reminded of a strong Cyprus tradition that is kept alive from generation to generation through the many events which are celebrated.

Many Cyprus folk traditions , such as the Carnival and Kataklysmos (Festival of the Flood) have overtones of ancient themes. Carnival Festivities take place 50 days before Greek Christian Orthodox Easter and is the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting before Easter. The centre of Carnival festivities is Lemesos, but some festivities take place in Larnaka and Pafos also.

The biggest event takes place in Larnaka. At the heart of the festival is a joyful procession to the sea where people sprinkle each other with water. Whether this is in memory of Noah's survival of the flood, the coming ashore of resurrected St. Lazarus - or a celebration of the birth of Aphrodite - is sometimes debated, but in any event Kataklysmos is a spirited and uniquely Cypriot festival.

On June 28 and 29, St. Paul 's Feast is feted in Pafos, where the Apostle journeyed after leaving Jerusalem .

Every September the Wine Festival takes place in Lemesos, a tribute to the fruit of the vine as it grows and thrives in Cyprus . With ten days of free-flowing locally produced wines, Dionysus would surely approve.

Cyprus also has rich musical and dance traditions quite distinctive from those of Greece. Instruments that typically accompany folk dances are the violin and laouto, a lute with four double strings played with the quill of an eagle or vulture. Many Cyprus dances are performed face-to-face and as a suite. Both men and women are very nimble-footed and the dances often allude to village courtship rituals - and are therefore most popular at wedding ceremonies in Cyprus.

Hardly a week goes by in Cyprus without a celebration of some sort, whether it is a colourful festival or homage to a saint on one of the numerous 'name' days. The 'Panigiri', a traditional open-air fete, takes place mainly in the Cyprus villages on the occasion of a saint's name day. Easter, the most important Greek Orthodox religious event, is celebrated with solemnity, joy and hope.

The Greek Orthodox Church has been the main stay of religion in Cyprus since the 1st century A.D., and in a society where the church continues to play an important role, old style values have been maintained and the family unit retains close-knit qualities that keep colourful Cyprus customs alive, and underline the warmhearted character of Cyprus .

Carnival is one of the best known Cypriot celebrations, along with 'Anthestiria', the Spring Flower festival, and 'Kataklysmos' - the festival of the Flood - which coincides with Pentecost. Throughout the year there are also exhibitions, concerts, drama and folk festivals.

Whatever the present-day situation may be, Cyprus is littered with reminders of the island's history. Relics from every era - Greek temples, Roman mosaics and 15th-century frescoes - influence the artists of today. Many Cyprus villages specialize in a particular art form, and as you travel around Cyprus you'll see pottery, silver and copperware, basket weaving, tapestry and Lefkara's famous lacework.

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