An Album of Stories From Larnaka

Cyprus unlocked
A WALK AROUND LARNAKA WITH VISUAL ARTIST EVROS EVRIVIADES FEELS LIKE TURNING THE PAGES OF A PHOTO ALBUM FILLED WITH PRINTS THAT CAPTURE THE AURA, MAJESTY, AND HISTORY OF THIS CITY IN STARK BLACK AND WHITE.

We meet at Evros’ house on a street that happens to share his surname. “It is strange to live on a street that shares your name,” I say. Evros smiles and tells me that the street was named in-honour of his grandfather, the great benefactor of Evriviadio High School. He then says that, “There were times when I had to give my details to a public office, and when I told them my name, Evros Evriviades, and that I lived on Evriviades Street and attended Evriviadio High School, they thought I was joking with them.” We laugh. He offers me an espresso. Evros’ cat, Kotzelo peers at me from the living room with big green eyes. His house resembles a museum of modern art. It’s a breath away from Finikoudes beach, near the spot where the family hotel, Tessera Fanaria (Four Lanterns), used to be. Evros is a dedicated artist and educator, but deep down he is an authentic Larnacean who can recall memories and stories from every street in the city’s historic centre. “Where do you want to start?” he asks. I say that I’m ready to follow him in any direction. I feel that a walk with Evros Evriviades will be a journey across time...

 

The old neighbourhood

 We descend the stairs from his house onto Evriviades Street. To our right is Finikoudes beach. The day is glorious. Evros snaps several shots of the clouds, greets one or two passers-by, then we turn down a street on our left. He explains that everything used to happen in the city centre. Everything was so close that you didn’t need a car – post office, police station, theatres, cinemas, schools and consulates.  That’s why he never learned to drive, and prefers to walk. I ask him about Tessera Fanaria, the legendary-family hotel with a legacy of hosting orchestras and exhibitions of great painters. “This was a different era,” Evros says without a hint of nostalgia. He’s already had his share of experiences. “I grew up there. My mother never had to cook a meal, as we always ate at the hotel. My father used to invite orchestras from abroad, such as a five-member orchestra with two pianos from Poland during the 1960s. They played every night. The place was full of art and had finesse,” he recalls. I wager that the hotel was probably a source for Evros’ first creative stimuli. Our talk gets interrupted as we enter the area Zinonos Kitieos and find ourselves in front of a landmark 18th-century building. It was once an inn to accommodate travelers arriving from abroad with exotic animals in tow! Later, it was transformed into the Larnaka Club (English Club) during the British occupation. “Its large courtyard became the first tennis court in Cyprus,” he tells me, “one of the first sports introduced by the British to the city.” Evros goes on to say that the building is under current renovation and will become a venue for cultural events, civil weddings, and will include a small museum of folk art. Opposite this, the Pierides Museum, the oldest private museum in Cyprus, resides in a colonial mansion built in 1815. The objects on exhibition date from 4000 BC until the 15th century.

 

Old warehouses and the Ottoman Bank

 We take a right turn towards Vasileos Pavlou Street, he leads as I follow and try to take notes. “This is the building of the former Ottoman Bank,” he tells me. During the British occupation, it was the official bank of the colonial government that also included a maximum security treasury. I turn my head towards an imposing monument, one that is transformed by the municipality into a centre for culture. Inside are the House of Arts and Literature and the Phivos Stavrides Foundation. The Stavrides Foundation retains a rich collection of invaluable documents and heirlooms. These are rare editions of travel books, letters by historical figures, newspapers from the 19th to 20th centuries covering about the history of Larnaka and Cyprus, all valuable material for foreign and local scholars. We make our way, to the Municipal History Museum. “It was the house of the first colonial harbour master,” he informs me, “built in 1881.” Directing my attention to the architecture, Evros scans his mobile for black and white photos of Larnaka from the same era. Original photographs can be found inside the museum where one can learn the entire history of the city. Further down in Plateia Evropis, five colonial-era warehouses once utilized by customs are now restored into venues for contemporary art exhibits and cultural events, all part of the Municipal Gallery.

Mansions, nuns and graffiti

 On Grigoris Afxentiou Avenue, we encounter the central Police Department building, one more remnant of colonial architecture dominating the street corner. Evros quickens his pace past modern buildings that, according to him, have no aesthetic value. Instead, he takes me to two mansions belonging to families with a long history in Larnaka. They are the only surviving examples of their architectural type in the area. “Imagine this entire street lined with such mansions,” he observes, and I picture beautiful gardens filled with bougainvillea, jasmine, and women sitting casually on their balconies.

We turn towards Kimonos Street and reach the Saint Joseph Convent. Evros chimes in with, “around 1844, four nuns of the Order of St. Joseph arrived in Cyprus to offer help to the poor, and to introduce the French system of education to female students.” Upon hearing this, I imagine this story in the context of a period film. My eyes are drawn onto an inscription on an imposing archway that is dedicated to the memory of Sophie Chambon, the nun who founded the monastery and cared for thousands of people.

Across the street is the Archaeological Museum. Exhibits from the Neolithic settlements of Kalavasos and Choirokoitia are kept alongside findings from the ancient city of Kition. Ivory and alabaster items are evidence of Cyprus’ trade relations with the eastern Mediterranean. “In this area”, Evros points out, “the remains of the ancient city and port dating from the Kition Kingdom were found.” Also, detailed engravings of sea-going vessels were discovered in sections of the remaining walls.

We return to Grigoris Afxentiou Street and pass the Evriviadio High School. “Back in the day, it was the great benefactors who built the schools,” Evros explains. He then tells me that his grandfather lived in Alexandria for years, and when he returned, he built a high school for his city. We enter Ermou, one of the most commercial streets in Larnaka. We walk to a paved square and pass a small patisserie named Fairy Cakes. “They make the best cupcakes in town,” says Evros, and I duly make a note of it. From Ermou, we make a turn towards Karaoli and Dimitriou. Suddenly all we see is graffiti. “This street belongs to these artists,” he informs me. I tell him that I enjoy these visual contrasts. Within a few steps, one can skip across time from ancient Kition, then to the nunnery, and finish on the graffitied streets of today.

The renovation of the mosque

 We reach Ayiou Lazarou Street, where several old mansions have been turned into boutique hotels. Lokàl Hotel is one of Evros’ favourites due to its beautiful balconies and well-planned aesthetics. A little further on is Warehouse 79. An inn in 1880, it has been transformed into a multi-purpose space where Cypriot artworks from the Karagiannis Collection are exhibited. We walk along Ayiou Lazarou Street to the 19th-century Zuhuri Mosque, one of the city’s most important monuments. I’m urged by Evros to photograph an inscription above an imposing door. “It won’t be here much longer,” he says, telling me that the renovation of the mosque is already underway to include the large courtyard that stretches to the old Turkish market. Soon it will be paved into a square lined with shops, restaurants, and a hostel for young artists. It is one of the most modernizing renovations to impact the heart of the historic centre.


Epilogue with traditional bites

 After admiring some old mansions on Lazarou Street, we decide that it’s high time for lunch. “I’ve already booked us at the tavern Tou Roushia,” he tells me. I’m very pleased; the amazing walk we’ve had is deserving of a fine meal of delicious, local cuisine. After ordering beers, I turn to Evros with a question I’ve been itching to ask for quite a while. “What is it that gives you so much energy?” I ask in a whisper. He answers, “It is imperative that you maintain your playful attitude towards life, no matter what happens.” I think to myself, what a wonderful piece of advice as we raise our glasses together. Cheers!

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