Sunday 1st October and it was Independence Day for Cyprus (the south that is). I knew that there had to be a parade but nobody seemed to know anything about it, so with the scant ropey information afforded by the tourist office I walked miles in search of it. I passed by the presidential palace en route, out of view within its grounds, but it was too quiet for anything to be happenıng there. The building had been destroyed during the 1974 invasion seemingly but restored in '77. It sat on the appropriately dubbed Hill of Snakes where Richard the Lionheart had camped in the year 1191. I saw a motorcade leave and guessed where the snakes were headed, but that didn't help me find it, the parade passed unnoticed as far as I could see. I did see later in the press that it had indeed happened but you would think it might actually pass through the city centre, for the sake of defying the nearby Turks if nothing else. Baffling.
After a well earned Keo I took another walk through the park and found it mobbed with ethnics, it was obviously their one day off and their way of bringing their own little community together. They were mainly from the Indian subcontinent but there were others I took to be Vietnamese. I had read that until recently Cyprus took more refugees per capita than any other country in the world and it seemed that they were all here today. Makeshift stalls proferred Bangla CDs and peppery snacks, as groups sat under the shade of the trees and negotiated wedding matches and the like. It must be the highlight of their week.
But I had really come out here for the Cyprus Museum, a very small building for a national showcase but as it turned out an excellent one nonetheless. It was set out chronologically and started off by explaining that there was purportedly evidence the aforementioned pygmy hippos and dwarf elephants had indeed been hunted to extinction, burnt bones had been found in neolithic camps. There was also evidence of the domestication of cattle some 10,000 years ago. A boost to the islands development came with the arrival of the Myceanae after the destruction of Knossos around 1400BC and it was subsequently battled over by the Syrian and Egyptian dynasties for centuries. It sat with strategic influence over the whole of the eastern Med and whoever wanted regional power had to control it. Finally the Ptolemies of Egypt gave it a loose self rule under a Strategos (governor). Then Rome seized it in 58BC and Julius Caesar gifted the island to Cleopatra when she retook the Egyptian throne. It reverted to Rome upon her death and subsequently the Eastern Roman Empire under Byzantium in the 4th century AD. Under Rome it had remained peaceful but suffered many devastating earthquakes. Apostles Paul and Barnabas visited in AD45.
The museum had an excellent collection of artifacts from throughout the islands history, much of it in incredibly good condition but a few displays really stood out. Most unexpected was a superb collection of some 2000 figurines almost on a par with the Terracotta Warriors of China. They were discovered in situ in 1929 at Ayia Irini, north west Cyprus and date from the 6th or 7th century BC. Human figures, chariot teams and cattle varied in size from hand held models to life size, but most were warriors in battle dress. Only 2 out of the 2000 were female and they were presumed to be associated with a cult of warrior deity worship. Superb, just the kind of unexpected hidden gem that makes travel rewarding. Elsewhere there was also a lifesize bronze of Emperor Septimius Severus, a work of Da Vinci like quality but 1500 years older. And did you know that the word archaic refers to a specific era, it comes from a reference to the arch-like smiles typical of sculpture from the Egyptian era? Almond eyes are another distinctive feature, so there.