Cyprus mosaics – the cultural tradition continues…

“ To carry on the cultural heritage of mosaic making in modern materials”, is the vision of Sharen Taylor, mosaic artist in Paphos, Cyprus.

Mosaics, particularly antique mosaics, always fascinate me.

Here are some reasons:

  • The sense of wonder I feel when I look at antique mosaics made in Roman times;  around the 2nd Century AD or about 1,800 years ago, and that they have survived,
  • The artistry in the designs, whether geometric, non figurative or figurative – which still appeal to the modern viewer and are influential in today’s decorative styles,
  • The craftsmanship in making polychromatic illustrations from tiny cubes – 1 cm each side – of natural stone (called tesserae); usually limestone or marble of different colours which remain as vibrant today as the day the stones were laid.   In particular, the skill in applying the stones to the mosaic design in such a way as to provide perspective, texture, and nuance of colour, size and scale,
  • The size of either floor or wall mosaics, which provide the opportunity to tell a story in stone; reflecting contemporary interests in nature, flora and fauna, spectacle, myths, gods and goddesses,
  • The way in which mosaics inform us about the lifestyle, the social and economic standing of the people who lived so long ago  in houses and communities decorated in such beautiful ways; where beauty was a value they appreciated.

In other words, antique mosaics are masterpieces of the ancient world.

In today’s world, Sharen Taylor is inspired to help people appreciate the mosaic art form and also create mosaics with modern materials.   While this is her focus, her creative approach is grounded in the depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience of art history and archeological conservation that she brings to her modern expression of an ancient art.

Sharen graduated from Exeter University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture.   An interest in antiquities and conservation work led her to a job with the British Museum in London.   While working there, she was sponsored for a Diploma in Archeological Conservation at the Institute of Archeology, London University.

Coming to Cyprus in 1987, she worked on the excavation work at Lemba, near Paphos.   She conducted the conservation work on the cult bowl and figurines found at Kissonerga, which are on permanent display at the Archeological Museum in Nicosia.   During a recent visit to that museum, I took this photograph, thinking how fortunate I am to know the person who did the conservation work on these important artifacts dating back over 4,000 years.

Following this exciting work, Sharen stayed on in Cyprus and worked for the Department of Antiquities as a consultant, including with the Leventis Museum, focusing on metal work and mediaeval pottery.   She also worked for various foreign missions coming to Cyprus on archeological expeditions.   Through this work, Sharen joined the Getty Conservation Institute as a Consultant and Coordinator for Site Conservation training, which focused on conservation on site; important for the integrity of archeological expeditions.   Because of Cyprus’s location at the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean with major archeological finds throughout this geographic area, site conservation training was centred in Cyprus.

Sharen’s professional interest shifted to mosaics when she was asked to conduct a historical survey of the wine harvest mosaic in the atrium of the House of Dionysius at the Nea Pafos Archeological Site, a World Heritage Site, adjacent to the Paphos old Port.  She analyzed each stone in that mosaic! In this photo, she shows her detailed mapping and analysis of those mosaics.

Sharen presented her findings at a conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Arles, France in 1999.

She started her mosaic workshop in 2000 and moved to the beautiful, light and airy new building in the Hani Ibrahim Khan Centre near the Municipal Market in Paphos in 2018.   As soon as we entered to workshop to meet with Sharen, I could feel the good energy there.  She focuses on commissions for organizations and private individuals and also teaches children and adults mosaic making, which is how I first became aware of her work.

Coincidentally, in 2013, I wrote about the wine harvest mosaics in a series of 5 posts about Cyprus in which I made the connection between my interest in wine expressed through my wine blog and the wine harvest mosaics!   ( See: Cyprus Wine Making – the ancient world meets the 21st Century: Part One)

https://elizabethsvines.com/2013/01/27/cyprus-wine-making-the-ancient-world-meets-the-21st-century-part-one/

Earlier in this post, I outlined the main reasons that ancient mosaics fascinate me.

A visit to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site illustrates all these aspects.   Each time I visit Cyprus, I take time to enjoy these mosaics, both those in the open air and those in the various excavated houses, including the House of Dionysius, where the wine harvest mosaics pave the atrium.

Imagine welcoming guests to your house if you were the prosperous citizen of Paphos living in this Roman villa.     Your guests would admire these and other mosaic illustrations as they walked across the floor.

Sometimes, I wish I could be a time traveller to quietly observe these scenes!

Any visitor to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site is privileged to be able to see these world heritage mosaics in situ.

Prior to the 1960’s, geometric and non-figurative mosaics were frequently considered of little importance.     Generally, there has been ongoing deterioration and loss of mosaics.   There was a view that there are so many antique mosaics in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are numerous that conservation wasn’t important.

Now there is recognition that cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing physical and geopolitical currents around the world and this emphasizes the need to protect antique sites.

Under the authority of the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus, systematic excavations started at Neo Pafos in 1962.   In 1980, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.  Nea Pafos continues as a centre of excavation and research by many foreign archeological missions from universities and schools.

As mentioned previously, Sharen presented her paper on the Paphos wine harvest mosaics at The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) Conference in 1999, entitled: Mosaics, Conserve to Display.     The ICCM, founded in Rome in 1977, is a voluntary organization registered in Cyprus as a legal entity.   Their role and objectives are, “promoting the broader evolution in the philosophy and practice of heritage conservation in the field of mosaics”.       It is an organization that brings together conservators, archeologists, art historians and architects.       I am grateful to Sharen for making me aware of this organization and its work.

Experiencing antique mosaics connects us to the ancient past at various levels: physical, emotional and at the level of beliefs and values through the stories they tell and the designs they illustrate.

Sharen Taylor, through her knowledge, experience and creativity pays that cultural heritage forward by teaching children to appreciate and create mosaics.     The Hani Ibrahim Khan colourful and imaginative wall mosaic created by children with aged 7 – 11 is a great illustration of this.

Past, present and future:  the cultural tradition of mosaics continues…

References:

Sharen Taylor Mosaics, 15 To Hani Ibraham Khan, 40 Konstantinou Kanari Paphos

Accessible Website via Facebook  Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.

Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus www.mcw.gov.cy see this site for lots of relevant information including the Neo Paphos Archeological Park

International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)

http://www.iccm-mosaics.org

Getty Conservation Institute   http://www.getty.edu

Xynisteri: Cyprus white wine for sunny days

Xynisteri, an indigenous grape in Cyprus makes one of my all time favourite white wines for the summer.    Refreshing, with lemon/lime, grapefruit and apple notes and balanced on the acidic side with flavours of tropical stone fruits; think mango and also apricots and peaches.  On the nose, there are floral and fruity tones.

It’s a great sipping wine for the patio, yet also perfect in food pairings such as fish, white meat and even salads with fruit.

I have my favourite four producers: their wines are similar yet with nuanced, discernable differences.

Here is the line-up of these four producers including the name of their Xynisteri wine,

Vouni Panayia Winery, Alina Xynisteri.   I  have written about Vouni Panayia before.  They were awarded Decanter Platinum Award as best value Cypriot White wine for their Alina Xynisteri 2016.

Vasilikon winery, Xynisteri

Tsangarides Winery, Xynisteri  – I have written about Tsangarides Winery previously as well.

Kolios Winery, Persephone Xynisteri

I should add that there are other producers of Xynisteri wines who I am not yet familiar with.

Xynisteri is a robust grape variety that grows well at high altitudes.  Xynisteri is the main white grape variety grown in Cyprus.  It is one of the two indigenous grape varieties used in the production of Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet Cypriot dessert wine.    Commandaria’s heritage dates back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.  Xynisteri is also used for the production of the local spirit,  Zivania.

If you are in Cyprus as a visitor, or resident, I suggest you look for these Xynisteri wines on restaurant wine lists and try them all over time and see which you prefer.

This seems like a perfect occupation when enjoying sunny days in Cyprus.

 

References:   Vouni Panayia Winery  www.vounipanayiawinery.com

Vasilikon Winery,   http://www.vasilikon.com

Tsangarides Winery, Xnyisteri.   http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

Kolios Winery, Persephone.    www.kolioswinery.com

 

Cyprus: Goats, wine and local history

I’ve decided I like goats.

Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets.   More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago.   Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us.   Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now.   The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.

“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.

The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me.   It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.

Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen.    The  Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.

From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.

We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.

Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes.   Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties.   Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.

Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.

Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains.       Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing.   The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus.   The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate.    Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.

Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977.   The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.

We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life.   Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of  Cyprus.

As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news.   Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.

Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!

We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago.     Its early February, cool yet sunny.   Perfect winter weather.     Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty.   We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…

Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.

At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way.       In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.

 

References:

vounipanayiawinery.com

Map of area:

 

Cyprus: wild flowers and local markets

Enjoying a morning coffee at our regular coffee bar in the Port area of Paphos is one of our favourite Sunday morning pastimes when in Cyprus.

Needless to say, this is after a good walk along the roughly paved sea walk that surrounds the Paphos Archeological Park.

Buying fruit and vegetables from the friendly stall holders at the Saturday morning Paphos market is another pleasure.

We have been shopping here for years now and there is always a sense of mutual satisfaction when we return:  the same warm, comforting smiles and gestures reciprocated as we recognize each other.   “Ah, you are back/ Ah, you are still here”,  we collectively murmur from the heart.

This year during our visit I pay more attention to the wild flowers increasingly in bloom from February on.  The tall, spikey Asphodels that I see everywhere.   The anemone,  a loner elegant in lilac blue.   The mandrake, purple blue amid shiny leaves,  reminiscent of spooky stories.   The stately giant orchid. Perhaps above all I am drawn to the pink or white almond blossom buzzing with all manner of pollinators.  For me, the sweetly scented flowers are the harbinger of spring.

But what about wine?

Next time, I will write about a Cyprus wine we enjoy that I haven’t mentioned before.

Now back in Vancouver, with a rain-filled charcoal grey sky overhead, its good to bring these memories of Cyprus back to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cyprus Wines: Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosios, Limassol. The stars have aligned…!

It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January.    Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.

We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries.   I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently.  My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.

Map of Cyprus

Map of Cyprus

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery.     The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.

Father and son are highly qualified scientists.   Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology.    Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program.  Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus.   He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.

Dr. Akis Zambartas

Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit

After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team.   We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties.  We enjoy them all.    The ones that capture our attention are:

Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine.   It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc.   This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.

Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape.   I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio.    The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.

Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine.     These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers.    There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets.   It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.

In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing.  They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets.   Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.

Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at  No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.

Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.

We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms.   We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.

I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus.   He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos.  This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.

The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns.   The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.

The arrival of Spring - Paphos area

The arrival of Spring – Paphos area

Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.

Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event.  These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern.   Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.

We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis.   Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.

 

References:    www.zambartaswineries.com.,    www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)

http://www.ted.com

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 is reputedly the #1 best selling wine guide and is widely available.

Visitors’ Map of Cyprus courtesy of the Department of Lands and Surveys, Cyprus – Tourist Information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st Century – Part Five

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

The wine is poured and we are ready to taste the Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose.

At the end of our recent visit to the winery, Angelos Tsangarides, Managing Director and Co-Owner asked us to try their latest rose.  We gladly accepted the invitation as this is an interesting wine for two reasons.   It is made with organic wine making processes and is a blend of Maretheftiko, a Cyprus indigenous grape with Shiraz, a well known international variety.    Organic wine making and blending of indigenous and international grape varieties are two particular interests of this winery.

We decide to work our way through a systematic approach to tasting and consider colour, nose and palate.   This rose is a clear, bright red.   It’s clearly a youthful wine with fruit aromas and medium intensity on the nose.   On the palate, this wine is medium dry on the sweetness continuum with low acidity.   It is a balanced, smooth wine with other characteristics of body, intensity, length in the medium range.    Flavours of strawberries and cherries with light vegetal overlays of green pepper are noted.

Our conclusion:  a pleasant, easy to drink,  balanced rose. Ready to enjoy now.   A good accompaniment for appetizers or as an aperitif, served chilled.

Wine experts claim that the black Maretheftiko vine has the greatest potential to produce quality wine among the indigeous varieties on the Island.   They consider that it could produce wines with the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The challenge is that it is a difficult vine to grow commercially since it is one of the few non-hermaphrodite vines in the world and must be planted in vineyards of mixed varieties to ensure good pollination.   At Tsangarides, they are experimenting with how to increase their Maretheftiko yield by trying different approaches to planting.

Angelos mentions to us the growing interest in indigenous grape varieties among wine producers and consumers.    A major project sponsored by one of the large Cyprus wine producers was conducted to research and identify traditional Cyprus varieties.  Much work was conducted by the internationally known expert, French ampelographer, Dr. Pierre Galet from Montpelier.    Ampelography is not a familiar term.   It comes from the Greek ampelos for the vine and graphe for writing.  It is the science of describing and identifying vine varieties using such characteristics as leaf shape and lengths and angles of the leaf veins as well as other elements.    It is a field of botany that requires specialized training.  This important study identified several indigenous Cyprus vine varieties, including Maretheftiko.

Wine writer Oz Clarke mentions Cyprus in his new book and in his summary of European wines writes:  “Even Cyprus is waking up”.    Faint praise yet encouraging recognition for the work and innovative practices of Cyprus wine makers.

References:  Oxford Companion to Wine:  Jancis Robinson MW

My Top Wines 2013:  Oz Clarke

Tsangarides Winery.