AS I SAW IT IN 1879
by SIR SAMUEL WHITE BAKER, M.A., F.R.S., F.R.S.A., F.R.G.S., &c.
Author of “Ismailia,” “The Albert N’Yanza,” “The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia,” “Eight Years in Ceylon,” “The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon.”
CHAPTER I. ARRIVAL AT LARNACA
CHAPTER II. THE GIPSY-VANS ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIES CHAPTER III. ROUTE TO NICOSIA
CHAPTER IV. THE MESSARIA
CHAPTER V. START FOR THE CARPAS CHAPTER VI. CAPE ST. ANDREA
CHAPTER VII. KYRENIA AND THE NORTH COAST CHAPTER VIII. ROUTE TO BAFFO
CHAPTER IX. FROM BAFFO TO LIMASOL CHAPTER X. THE WINE DISTRICT OF LIMASOL CHAPTER XI. FROM LIMASOL TO THE MOUNTAINS CHAPTER XII. THE MONASTERY OF TROODITISSA CHAPTER XIII. WOODS AND FORESTS
CHAPTER XIV. REMARKS ON IRRIGATION CHAPTER XV. LIFE AT THE MONASTERY OF TROODITISSA CHAPTER XVI. SOMETHING ABOUT TAXATION CHAPTER XVII. THE DISTRICT OF LIMASOL AND LANDOWNERS CHAPTER XVIII. ON POLICE, WAGES, FOOD, CLIMATE, ETC. CHAPTER XIX. POLITICAL REFLECTIONS
CHAPTER XX. CONCLUSION
I do not intend to write a history of Cyprus, as authorities already exist that are well known, but were generally neglected until the British occupation rescued them from secluded bookshelves. Even had I presumed to write as a historian, the task would have been impossible, as I am at this moment excluded from the world in the precincts of the monastery of Trooditissa among the heights of ancient Olympus or modern Troodos, where books of reference are unknown, and the necessary data would be wanting. I shall recount my personal experience of this island as an independent traveller, unprejudiced by political considerations, and unfettered by the responsible position of an official. Having examined Cyprus in every district, and passed not only a few days, but winter, spring, and summer in testing the climatic and geographical peculiarities of the country, I shall describe “Cyprus as I saw it in 1879,” expressing the opinions which I formed upon the spot with the results of my experience.
Although I have read many works upon this island, I have no books with me except that interesting record of the discovery of antiquities by General di Cesnola, and the invaluable compilation for the Intelligence Branch, Quartermaster-General’s Department, Horse Guards, by Captain Savile, 18th Royal Irish Regiment. It is impossible to praise the latter work too highly, as every authority, whether ancient or modern, has been studied, and the information thus carefully collected has been classed under special headings and offered to the reader in a concise and graphic form which renders it perfect as a book of reference. I must express my deep appreciation of the assistance that I have derived from Captain Savile’s work, as it has directed my attention to many subjects that might have escaped my observation, and it has furnished me with dates, consular reports, and other statistical information that would otherwise have been difficult to obtain. The study of M. Gaudrey’s able report to the French government upon the agricultural resources and the geological features of Cyprus, before I commenced my journey, guided me materially in the interesting observations of the various formations and terrestrial phenomena. The experiences of the late British Consul, Mr. Hamilton Lang, described in his attractive volume, together with those of Von Loher, Doctors Unger and Kotschy, have afforded me an advantage in following upon footsteps through a well-examined field of discovery.
Before I enter upon a description of my personal examination of the island, it will be advisable to trace a brief outline of the geographical position of Cyprus, which caused its early importance in the history of the human race, and which has been accepted by the British government as sufficiently unchanged to warrant a military occupation in 1878, as a strategical point that dominates the eastern portion of the Mediterranean, and supplies the missing link in the chain of fortified ports from England to the shores of Egypt.
In the world’s infancy oceans were unknown seas upon which the vessels of the ancients rarely ventured beyond the sight of land; without the compass the interminable blue water was a terrible wilderness full of awe and wonder. The Phoenicians, who first circumnavigated Africa by passing through the then existing canal between Suez and the Nile, coasted the whole voyage, as did in later years the famous Portuguese, Vasco di Gama, and stations were formed along the shores at convenient intervals. Hanno the Carthaginian coasted to an uncertain and contested point upon the western shores of Africa, but no ocean commercial port was known to have existed in the early days of maritime adventure. The Mediterranean offered peculiar advantages of physical geography; its great length and comparatively narrow width embraced a vast area, at the same time that it afforded special facilities for commerce in the numerous ports and islands that would form a refuge in stress of weather.
The countries which surrounded this great inland sea were rich; the climate throughout its course combined the temperate with almost tropical, according to the changes of seasons; accordingly, the productions of the earth varying upon the northern and southern coasts, were all that could be required for the necessities of the human race. In this happily situated position commerce was first cradled, and by the interchange of ideas and natural productions, artificial wants were mutually created among the various countries around the great sea margin; the supply of these new requirements and exchange of commodities established trade. With the development of commerce, wealth and prosperity increased; nations became important through the possession of superior harbours and geographical positions, and the entire maritime strength and commercial activity of the ancient world was represented by the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon were the English of to-day; the Egyptians and the Greeks were followed as the world grew older by the Venetians and Genoese, and throughout the world’s history no point possessed a more constant and unchangeable attraction from its geographical position and natural advantages than the island of Cyprus, which in turn was occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantine rulers, Saracens, Byzantine rulers again, English, Lusignans, Venetians, Turks, and once more English in 1878.
The advantages which had thus possessed a magnetic influence in attracting towards this island the leading nations of the world were in ancient days undeniable. When vessels directed their course only by well-known landmarks, or by the position of certain stars, it was highly necessary for a maritime power to occupy a continuous chain of stations, where, in case of danger from a superior force, a place of refuge would be near. Cyprus from its peculiar geographical position commanded the eastern portion of the Mediterranean. The harbour of Famagousta was only a few hours’ sail, with a favourable wind, to the coast of Asia Minor. The bays of Larnaca and Limasol were roadsteads with a safe anchorage, and Paphos (Baffo) was a convenient harbour upon the south-western portion of the island, capable of protecting a considerable number of the small vessels of the period. Thus Cyprus possessed two harbours upon the south coast in addition to good roadsteads; while upon the north, Cerinea (Kyrenia) and Soli, although never large, were serviceable ports of refuge, exactly facing the coast of Caramania, plainly visible. The lofty mountains of the Carpas range which overhang these harbours command the sea view at an elevation of between three and four thousand feet, from which the approach of an enemy could be quickly signalled, while the unmistakable peaks of the rugged sky-line formed landmarks by which vessels could steer direct to the desired ports. The same advantage of descrying an enemy at a distance from the shore exists in many parts of Cyprus, owing to the position of the heights; and the rocky nature of the coast (with the exception of a few points such as Limasol, Morphu Bay, &c.), rendered the landing of a large force extremely difficult. As a strategical point, there was no more formidable position than Cyprus; it formed a common centre within immediate reach of Alexandria and all the coasts of Syria and Asia Minor. It was not only a military place d’armes, such as Malta and Gibraltar now are, dependent upon maritime superiority for the necessary provisions, but it was a country of large area, comprising about 3500 square miles, with a soil of unbounded fertility in a high state of cultivation, a population sufficiently numerous for all requirements of the island, and forests of timber that was in great request for the architect and ship-builder. In addition to these natural sources of wealth, the mineral productions were celebrated from the earliest history, and the copper of Cyprus was used by the Phoenicians in the manufacture of their celebrated bronze.
The Chittim wood of Scripture, imported to Syria from Cyprus (the ancient Chittim), was probably a species of cypress at that time composing the forests which ornamented a considerable portion of the surface. There are two varieties of cypress in the island: that which would have been celebrated grows upon the high mountains, and attains a girth of from seven to nine feet, the wood being highly aromatic, emitting a perfume resembling a mixture of sandal-wood and cedar; the other cypress is a dwarf variety that seldom exceeds twenty feet in height, with a maximum circumference of two feet; this is a totally different wood, and is intensely hard, while the former is easily worked, but durable. The derivation of the name Cyprus has been sought for from many sources; and the opinions of the authorities differ. English people may reflect that they alone spell and pronounce the word as “Cyprus.” The name of the cypress-tree, which at one time clothed the mountains of this formerly verdant island, is pronounced by the inhabitants “Kypresses,” which approximates closely to the various appellations of Cyprus in different languages. The Greek name is Kypros, and it is probable that as in ancient days the “chittim-wood” was so called from the fact of its export from Chittim, the same link may remain unbroken between Kypros and the tree Kypresses.
The geographical advantages which I have enumerated are sufficient to explain the series of struggles for possession to which the island has been exposed throughout its history; the tombs that have been examined, have revealed the secrets of the dead, and in the relics of Phoenicians, Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and the long list of foreign victors, we discover proofs of the important past, until we at length tread upon pre-historical vestiges, and become lost in a labyrinth of legends. From the researches of undoubted authorities, we know that Cyprus possessed a written character peculiarly original, and that it was occupied by a people highly civilised according to the standard of the early world at so primitive an era, that all records have disappeared, and we are left in the darkness of conjecture.
The changes in the importance of certain geographical positions, owing to the decline and fall of empires, which at one time governed the destinies of the Eastern world, have been strikingly exhibited on the shores of the Mediterranean; Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Cyprus, had lost their significance upon modern charts, even before the New Worlds appeared, when America, Australia, and the Eastern Archipelago were introduced upon the globe. The progress of Western Europe eclipsed the Oriental Powers which hitherto represented the civilisation of mankind, and two points alone remained, which, shorn of their ancient glory, still maintained their original importance as geographical centres, that will renew those struggles for their possession which fill the bloody pages of their history–Egypt and Constantinople.
No country had been more completely excluded from the beaten paths of British travellers than the island of Cyprus, and England was startled by the sudden revelation of a mystery connected with the Treaty of Berlin, that it was to become a strategical point for a British military occupation!
On the 4th June, 1878, a “Convention of Defensive Alliance between Great Britain and Turkey” was signed, which agreed upon the following articles:-
“If Batoum, Ardahan, Kars, or any of them, shall be retained by Russia, or if any attempt shall be made at any future time by Russia to take possession of any further territories of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan in Asia, as fixed by the definitive treaty of peace, England engages to join His Imperial Majesty the Sultan in defending them by force of Arms.
“In return, His Imperial Majesty the Sultan promises to England to introduce necessary reforms, to be agreed upon later between the two Powers, into the government, and for the protection of the Christian and other subjects of the Porte in those territories; and in order to enable England to make necessary provision for executing her engagement, His Imperial Majesty the Sultan further consents to assign the island of Cyprus to be occupied and administered by England.
“The present Convention shall be ratified, and the ratifications thereof shall be exchanged, within the space of one month, or sooner if possible.
“In witness whereof the respective Plenipotentiaries have signed the same, and have affixed thereto the seal of their arms.
“Done at Constantinople, the fourth day of June, in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-eight.
It was eventually agreed between the contracting Powers:-
“That England will pay to the Porte whatever is the present excess of revenue over expenditure in the island; this excess to be calculated and determined by the average of the last five years.”
“That if Russia restores to Turkey Kars and the other conquests made by her in Armenia during the last war, the island of Cyprus will be evacuated by England, and the Convention of the fourth June, 1878, will be at an end.”
I knew nothing of Cyprus, but I felt sure that the Turks had the best of the bargain, as they would receive the usual surplus revenue from our hands, and be saved the trouble and onus of the collection; they would also be certain of a fixed annual sum, without any of those risks of droughts, famine, and locusts, to which the island is exposed, and which seriously affect the income.
Although there would only be a wildly remote chance of Russia ever relinquishing her Asiatic prey, the bare mention of the words “will be evacuated by England” was a possible contingency and risk, that would effectually exclude all British capital from investment in the island. I could not discover any possible good that could accrue to England by the terms of the Convention. If Cyprus had been presented as a “bonus” by the Porte to counterbalance the risk we should incur in a defensive alliance for the protection of Asia Minor, I could have seen an addition to our Colonial Empire of a valuable island, that would not only have been of strategical value, but such that in a few years, money and British settlers would have entirely changed its present aspect, and have created for it a new era of prosperity.
If England had purchased Cyprus, I could have understood the plain, straightforward, business-like transaction, which would have at once established confidence, both among the inhabitants, who would have become British subjects; and through the outer world, that would have acknowledged the commencement of a great future.
But, if we were actually bound in defensive alliance with Turkey in case of a war with Russia, why should we occupy Cyprus upon such one-sided and anomalous conditions, that would frustrate all hopes of commercial development, for the sake of obtaining a strategical position that would have been opened to our occupation AS AN ALLY at any moment? On the other hand, if we distrusted Turkey, and feared that she might coquet with Russia at some future period, I could see a paramount necessity for the occupation of Cyprus, and even Egypt; but we were supposed to be, and I believe were, acting in absolute and mutual good faith as the protector of Asiatic Turkey, in defensive alliance with the Sultan. In that position, should we have entered into a war with Russia, there was no necessity for the occupation and responsibility of any new position, as every port of the Ottoman dominions, even to the Golden Horn of Constantinople, would have welcomed our troops and boats with enthusiasm.
Turkey is a suspicious Power, and the British government may have had to contend with difficulties that are unknown to the criticising public; it may have been impossible to have obtained her sanction for the occupation under other conditions. The possibility of future complications that might terminate in a close alliance between the conquered and the victor, may have suggested the necessity for securing this most important strategical position without delay, upon first conditions that might subsequently receive modifications. At first sight the political situation appeared vague, but I determined to examine the physical geography of Cyprus, and to form my own opinion of its capabilities.
CYPRUS AS I SAW IT IN 1879.
ARRIVAL AT LARNACA.
On the morning of the 4th January we sighted Cyprus at about fifty miles distance, after a smooth voyage of twenty-six hours from Alexandria. The day was favourable for an arrival, as the atmospherical condition afforded both intense lights and shadows. The sky was a cobalt blue, but upon all points of the compass local rain-clouds hovered in dark patches near the surface, and emptied themselves in heavy showers. The air was extremely clear, and as we steamed at ten knots each hour brought out in prominent relief the mountain peaks of Cyprus; Olympus was capped with clouds. Passing through a rain-cloud which for a time obscured the view, we at length emerged into bright sunshine; the mists had cleared from the mountain range, and Troodos, 6,400 feet above the sea-level, towered above all competitors.
We were now about ten miles from the shore, and the general appearance of the island suggested a recent snowfall. As the sun shone upon a bare white surface, the sterile slopes and mountain sides were utterly devoid of vegetation, and presented a sad aspect of desolation, which reminded me of the barren range on the shores of the Red Sea.
First impressions are seldom correct, but the view of Cyprus on arrival from the south was depressing, and extinguished all hopes that had been formed concerning our newly-acquired possession. This was the treasure acquired by astute diplomacy!
For about twenty miles we skirted this miserable coast, upon which not a green speck relieved the eye; at length we sighted the minaret which marked the position of Larnaca, the port or roadstead to which the mail was bound; and in the town we distinguished three or four green trees. We cast anchor about half a mile from the shore. Nine or ten vessels, including several steamers, were in the roadstead, and a number of lighters were employed in landing cargoes.
Disappointment and disgust were quickly banished by the reflection that at this season (January) there was nothing green in England: the thermometer in that dreary land would be below freezing-point, while on the deck where we stood it was 64 degrees Fahr. We were quickly in a boat steering for the landing-place.
All towns look tolerably well from the sea, especially if situated actually upon the margin of the water. The town represented a front of about a mile, less than five feet above the level of the sea, bordered by a masonry quay perpendicular to the surface, from which several wooden jetties of inferior and very recent construction served as landing-places.
The left flank of Larnaca was bounded by a small Turkish fort, absolutely useless against modern artillery upon the walls the British flag was floating. We landed upon the quay. This formed a street, the sea upon one side, faced by a row of houses. As with all Turkish possessions, decay had stamped the town: the masonry of the quay was in many places broken down, the waves had undermined certain houses, and in the holes thus washed out by the action of water were accumulations of recent filth. Nevertheless, enormous improvements had taken place since the English occupation. An engineer was already employed in repairing the quay, and large blocks of carefully faced stone (a sedimentary limestone rock of very recent formation) were being laid upon a bed of concrete to form a permanent sea-wall. The houses which lined the quay were for the most part stores, warehouses, and liquor-shops. Among these the Custom House, the Club, Post Office, and Chief Commissioner’s were prominent as superior buildings. There was a peculiar character in the interior economy of nearly all houses in Larnaca; it appeared that heavy timber must have been scarce before the town was built, as the upper floor was invariably supported by stone arches of considerable magnitude, which sprang from the ground-floor level. These arches were uniform throughout the town, and the base of the arch was the actual ground, without any pillar or columnar support; so that in the absence of a powerful beam of timber, the top of the one-span arch formed a support for the joists of the floor above. In large houses numerous arches gave an imposing appearance to the architecture of the ground floors, which were generally used as warehouses. Even the wooden joists were imported poles of fir, thus proving the scarcity of natural forests. The roofs of the houses were for the most part flat, and covered with tempered clay and chopped straw for the thickness of about ten inches. Some buildings of greater pretensions were gaudy in bright red tiles, but all were alike in the general waste of rain-water, which was simply allowed to pour into the narrow streets through innumerable wooden shoots projecting about six feet beyond the eaves. These gutters would be a serious obstacle to wheeled conveyances, such as lofty waggons, which would be unable in many cases to pass beneath. The streets are paved, but being devoid of subterranean drains, a heavy shower would convert them into pools. Foot passengers are protected from such accidents by a stone footway about sixteen inches high upon either side of the narrow street. Before the English occupation these hollow lanes were merely heaps of filth, which caused great unhealthiness; they were now tolerably clean; but in most cases the pavement was full of holes that would have tested the springs and wheels of modern vehicles.
I had heard, prior to leaving England, that hotels, inns, &c., were unknown in Larnaca; I was, therefore, agreeably surprised on landing, to find a new hotel (Craddock’s) which was scrupulously clean, the rooms neatly whitewashed, and everything simple and in accordance with the requirements of the country.
The miserable reports in England respecting the want of accommodation, and the unhealthiness of Cyprus, had determined me to render myself independent; I had therefore arranged a gipsy travelling-van while in London, which would, as a hut upon wheels, enable us to select a desirable resting-place in any portion of the island, where the route should be practicable for wheeled conveyances. This van was furnished with a permanent bed; shelves or wardrobe beneath; a chest of drawers; table to fall against the wall when not in use, lockers for glass and crockery, stove and chimney, and in fact it resembled a ship’s cabin, nine feet six inches long, by five feet eight inches wide.
I had another excellent light four-wheeled van constructed by Messrs. Glover Brothers, of Dean Street, Soho: both these vehicles had broad and thick iron tires to the wheels, which projected 5/8 inch upon either side beyond the felloes, in order to afford a wide surface to deep soil or sandy ground without necessitating a too massive wheel.
The vans with all my effects had left London by steamer direct for Cyprus, I therefore found them, upon my arrival from Egypt, in the charge of Mr. Z. Z. Williamson, a most active agent and perfect polyglot; the latter gift being an extreme advantage in this country of Babel-like confusion of tongues.
I was now prepared to investigate Cyprus thoroughly, and to form my own opinion of its present and future value.
The day after my arrival I strolled outside the town and exercised my three spaniels which had come out direct from England. The dogs searched for game which they did not find, while I examined the general features of the country. About three-quarters of a mile from the present town or port are the remains of old Larnaca. This is a mere village, but possesses a large Greek church. The tomb of Lazarus, who is believed to have settled in Cyprus to avoid persecution after his miraculous resurrection from the grave, is to be seen in the church of St. George within the principal town.
From this point an excellent view is obtained of the adjacent country. A plain of most fertile soil extends along the sea-coast towards the east for six miles, and in breadth about four miles. The present town of Larnaca stands on the sea-board of this plain, which to the west of the port continues for about four miles, thus giving an area of some ten miles in length, forming almost a half circle of four miles in its semi-diameter; the whole is circumscribed by hills of low but increasing altitudes, all utterly barren. Through the plain are two unmistakable evidences of river-action which at some remote period had washed down from the higher ground the fertile deposit which has formed the alluvium of the valley. Within this apparently level plain is a vestige of a once higher level, the borders of which have been denuded by the continual action of running water during the rushes from the mountains in the rainy season. This water action has long ceased to exist. There can be little doubt that in the ancient days of forest-covered mountains, the rainfall of Cyprus was far greater than at present, and that important torrents swept down from the hill-sides. We see evidences of this in the rounded blocks, all water-worn, of syenite and gneiss, which are intermingled with the bits of broken pottery in the vale, alike relics of the past and proving the changes both in nature and in man since Cyprus was in the zenith of prosperity.
A level plateau about eighteen feet above the lowest level of the plain shows the original surface. The soil of the entire valley is calcareous, and is eminently adapted for the cultivation of the vine and cereals. As the rain has percolated through the ground, it has become so thoroughly impregnated with sulphate of lime that it has deposited a series of strata some six or seven feet below the surface, which form a flaky subterranean pavement. The ancients selected this shallow soil of a higher level for a burial-ground, and they burrowed beneath the stratum of stony deposit to form their tombs. One of the chief occupations of modern Cypriotes appears to be the despoiling of the dead; thus the entire sides of the plateau-face for a distance of about two miles are burrowed into thousands of holes to a depth of ten and twelve feet in search of hidden treasures. If the same amount of labour had been expended in the tillage of the surface, the result would have been far more profitable. A small proportion of the land upon the outskirts of the town was cultivated, some had been recently ploughed, while in other plots the wheat had appeared above the surface. Water is generally found at eight or nine feet below the level, but this is of an inferior description, and the town and environs are well supplied by an aqueduct which conveys the water from powerful springs about seven miles to the west of Larnaca, near Arpera. This useful work was constructed according to the will of a former pacha, who bequeathed the sum required, for a public benefit.
Large flocks of sheep were grazing in various portions of the uncultivated plain. At first sight they appeared to be only searching for food among the stones and dust, but upon close examination I found a peculiar fleshy herb something like the stone-crop which grows upon the old walls and rocks of England. This plant was exceedingly salt, and the sheep devoured it with avidity, and were in fair condition. The wool was long, but of a coarse wiry texture, and much impaired by the adherence of thistles and other prickly plants. The musical sound of distant bells denoted the arrival of a long string of camels, laden with immense bales of unpressed cotton on their way to the port of Larnaca. Each animal carried two bales, and I observed that the saddles and pads were in excellent order, the camels well fed, and strongly contrasting with the cruel carelessness of the camel owners of Egypt, whose beasts are galled into terrible sores from the want of padding in their packs. The cotton had been cleaned upon the plantation, but it would be subjected to hydraulic pressure and packed in the usual iron-bound bales for shipment, upon arrival in the stores of Larnaca.
It was impossible to resist a feeling of depression upon strolling around the environs of the town and regarding the barren aspect of the distant country. Every inch of this fertile plain should be cultivated, and numerous villages should be dotted upon the extensive surface. “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth” was a curse that appeared to have adhered to Cyprus.
It was unnecessary to seek for the chief cause of unhealthiness; this was at once apparent in the low swamps on the immediate outskirts of the town. In ancient days the shallow harbour of Cittium existed on the east side of modern Larnaca; whether from a silting of the port, or from the gradual alteration in the level of the Mediterranean, the old harbour no longer exists, but is converted into a miserable swamp, bordered by a raised beach of shingles upon the seaboard. The earth has been swept down by the rains, and the sand driven in by the sea, while man stood idly by, allowing Nature to destroy a former industry. All the original harbours of the country have suffered from the same neglect.
There was little to be seen in the neighbourhood. The site was pointed out where the troops were encamped in the tremendous heat of July in the close vicinity of the swampy ground, upon pestiferous soil, and the usual tales of commissariat blunders were recounted. Close to the borders of this unhealthy spot, but about twenty feet above the level of the lowest morass, stands the convent belonging to the Sisters of Charity, which includes a school, in addition to a hospital. Great kindness was shown by these excellent ladies to many English sufferers, and their establishment deserves a liberal support from public contributions.
I walked through the bazaar of Larnaca; this is situated at the west end of the town near the fort, close to which there is a public fountain supplied by the aqueduct to which I have already alluded. Brass taps were arranged around the covered stone reservoir, but I remarked a distressing waste of water, as a continual flow escaped from an uncontrolled shoot which poured in a large volume uselessly into the street. Within a few yards of the reservoir was a solitary old banian tree (ficus religiosa), around which a crowd of donkeys waited, laden with panniers containing large earthen jars, which in their turn were to be filled with the pure water of the Arpera springs.
Although the crowd was large, and all were busied in filling their jars and loading their respective animals, there was no jostling or quarrelling for precedence, but every individual was a pattern of patience and good humour. Mohammedans and Cypriotes thronged together in the same employment, and the orderly behaviour in the absence of police supervision formed a strong contrast to the crowds in England.
The Mosque being within a few feet of them, the Mussulmans could perform their ablutions at the threshold. Around the font, women were intermingled with a crowd of men and boys. The girls and lads were regular in features and good-looking, though dirt and torn clothing of various gaudy colours gave a picturesque, but hardly an attractive, appearance to the group. The bazaar was entered at right angles with the quay; the streets were paved with stones of irregular size, sloping from both sides towards the centre, which formed the gutter. Camels, mules, bullock-carts, and the omnipresent donkeys thronged the narrow streets, either laden with produce for the quay, or returning after having delivered their heavy loads. The donkeys were very large and were mostly dark brown, with considerable length of hair. In like manner with the camels, they were carefully protected by thick and well stuffed packs, or saddles, and were accordingly free from sores. They appeared to be exceedingly docile and intelligent, and did not require the incessant belabouring to which the ass of other countries is the victim. Large droves of these animals, each laden with three heavy squared stones for building, picked their way through the narrow streets, and seemed to know exactly the space required for their panniers, as they never collided with either carts or passengers.
The shops of the bazaar were all open, and contained the supplies usually seen in Turkish markets–vegetables, meat, and a predominance of native sweets and confectionery, in addition to stores of groceries, and of copper and brass utensils. An absence of fish proved the general indolence of the people; there is abundance in the sea, but there are few fishermen.
An hour’s stroll was quite sufficient for one to form an opinion of Larnaca. A good roadstead and safe anchorage offer great advantages, but until some protection shall be afforded that will enable boats to land in all weathers Larnaca can never be accepted as a port. There is shoal water for a distance of about two hundred yards from the shore, which causes a violent surf even in a moderate breeze, and frequently prevents all communication with the shipping. The quay was in many places undermined by the action of the waves, and it would be necessary to create an entirely new front by sinking a foundation for a sea-wall some yards in advance of the present face. There would be no engineering difficulty in the formation of a boat-harbour, to combine by extensive pile-jetties the facility of landing in all weathers. A very cursory view of Larnaca exhibited a true picture of its miserable financial position. The numerous stores kept by Europeans were the result of a spasmodic impulse. There was no wholesome trade; those who represented the commercial element were for the most part unfortunates who had rushed to Cyprus at the first intelligence of the British occupation, strong in expectations of a golden harvest. The sudden withdrawal of the large military force left Larnaca in the condition of streets full of sellers, but denuded of buyers. The stores were supplied with the usual amount of liquors, and tins of preserved provisions; none of the imported articles were adapted for native requirements; an utter stagnation of trade was the consequence, and prices fell below the cost of home production. The preceding year had been exceptionally sickly; many of the storekeepers were suffering from the effects of fever, which, combined with the depression of spirits caused by ruined prospects, produced a condition of total collapse, from which there was only one relief–that of writing to the newspapers and abusing the Government and the island generally.
There must always be martyrs–somebody must be sacrificed–whether burnt at the stake for religious principles, or put in a bell-tent in the sun with the thermometer at 110 degrees Fahr. simply because they are British soldiers–it does not much matter–but the moment your merchants are slain upon the altar, the boiling-point is reached.
The store-keepers sat despondingly behind their counters while the hinges of their doors rusted from the absence of in-comers. It was impossible to rouse them from their state of mercantile coma, except by one word, which had a magnetic effect upon their nervous system—“Custom House.”
“I suppose you have no difficulty at the Custom House, Mr.–in this simple island?” This was invariably the red rag to the bull.
“No difficulty, Sir!–no difficulty?–it is THE difficulty–we are absolutely paralysed by the Custom House. Every box is broken open and the contents strewed upon the ground. The duty is ad valorem upon all articles, and an ignorant Turk is the valuer. This man does not know the difference between a bootjack and a lemon-squeezer: only the other day he valued wire dish-covers as `articles of head-dress,’ (probably he had seen wire fencing-masks). If he is perplexed, he is obliged to refer the questionable article to the Chief Office,–this is two hundred yards from the landing place:–thus he passes half the day in running backwards and forwards with trifles of contested value to his superior, while crowds are kept waiting, and the store is piled with goods most urgently required.” . . .
I immediately went to see this eccentric representative of Anglo-Turkish political-and-mercantile-combination, and found very little exaggeration in the description, except that the distance was 187 paces instead of 200 which he had to perform, whenever the character of the article was beyond the sphere of his experience. As this happened about every quarter of an hour, he could not complain of a sedentary employment. A few days after this, migratory birds arrived in Cyprus upon the inhospitable shore opposite the Custom House in the shape of two Liberal M.P’s. from England,–who visited the island specially to form an honest opinion free from all political bias. Whether these gentlemen were undervalued by the eccentric official to whom I have alluded, or whether he suspected Liberals as opponents to be regarded and treated as spies, we never could determine; but utterly disregarding their innocent exterior, he subjected them to the extreme torture of the Custom House, and dived and plunged into the very bowels and bottoms of their numerous small packages, rumpling clean linen, and producing a toilettic chaos. To the honour of these members of the Opposition they never brought the question before the House upon their return to England, neither did they make it the foundation of an attack upon the Government.
An excess of zeal is not uncommon among ignorant officials newly raised to a position of authority: thus Larnaca was outdone by the Custom House representative at Limasol in vigilance and strict attention to the administrative tortures of his office. I have heard of cases of crockery being unpacked upon the beach and spread out to be counted and valued upon the loose stones of shingle!
The unfortunate European traders of Larnaca were shortly relieved of their Custom House troubles by the total absence of imports. The native Cypriote does not purchase at European shops; his wants are few; the smallest piece of soap will last an indefinite period; he is frugal to an extreme degree; and if he has desires, he curbs such temptations and hoards his coin. Thus, as the natives did not purchase, and all Europeans were sellers without buyers, there was no alternative but to shut the shutters. This was a species of commercial suicide which made Larnaca a place of departed spirits; in which unhappy state it remains to the present hour. Even the club was closed.
THE GIPSY-VANS ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIES.
My gipsy-van was not of doubtful character. I had purchased it direct from the gipsies in England, and it had been specially arranged for the Cyprus journey by Messrs. Glover Bros. of Dean Street, Soho, London. It had been painted and varnished with many coats both inside and out, and nobody, unless an experienced gipsy, would have known that it was not newly born from the maker’s yard. Originally it had been constructed for shafts, as one horse was considered sufficient upon the roads of England, but when it arrived in Cyprus it appeared to have grown during the voyage about two sizes larger than when it was last seen. As the small animals of Larnaca passed by, where my lovely van blocked up the entire street, and forced the little creatures upon the footpath, they looked in comparison as though they had just been disembarked upon Mount Ararat from the original Noah’s ark, represented by the gipsy-van! The Cypriotes are polite, therefore I heard no rude remarks. The Cypriote boys are like all other boys, therefore they climbed to the top of the van, and endeavoured by escalade to enter the windows. On one occasion I captured HALF A BOY (the posterior half) who was hanging with legs dangling out of the window, his “forlorn-hope” or advance half vainly endeavouring to obtain a resting-place upon vacuity within (as the fall slab-table was down). I had no stick; but the toes of his boots had imprinted first impressions upon the faultless varnish. What became of that young Cypriote was never known.
Even in Cyprus there are municipal laws, and now that the English are there they are enforced; therefore my huge van could not remain like a wad in a gun-barrel, and entirely block the street. A London policeman would have desired it to “move on” but–this was the real grievance that I had against Larnaca–the van COULD NOT “MOVE ON,” owing to its extreme height, which interfered with the wooden water-spouts from the low roofs of the flat-topped houses. This was a case of “real distress.” My van represented civilisation: the water-spouts represented barbarism. If a London omnibus crowded with outside passengers had attempted to drive through Larnaca, both driver and passengers would have been swept into I have not the slightest notion where; and my van was two feet higher than an omnibus!
I determined that I would avoid all inferior thoroughfares, and that the van should pass down Wolseley Street, drawn by a number of men who would be superior in intelligence to the Cypriote mules and be careful in turning the corners.
I did not see the start, as a person with an “excess of zeal” had started it with a crowd of madmen without orders, and I was only a late spectator some hours after its arrival opposite Craddock’s Hotel. It rather resembled a ship that had been in bad weather and in collision with a few steamers. How many water-spouts it had carried away I never heard. The fore-axle was broken, as it appeared that in rounding a corner it had been dragged by main force upon the curbstone about sixteen inches high, from which it had bumped violently down. It had then been backed against a water-spout, which had gone completely through what sailors would term the “stern.” One shutter was split in two pieces, and one window smashed. Altogether, what with bruises, scratches, broken axle, and other damages, my van looked ten years older since the morning.
Fortunately among the Europeans who had flocked to Cyprus since the British occupation was a French blacksmith, whose forge was only a few yards from Craddock’s Hotel, where my wrecked vessel blocked the way. I had a new fore axle-tree made, and strengthened the hinder axle. I also fitted a bullock-pole, instead of shafts, for a pair of oxen; the springs I bound up with iron wire shrunk on while red-hot. I took out the stove, as it was not necessary, and its absence increased the space; and I inserted a ventilator in the roof in place of the chimney. When repaired, the van looked as good as new, and was much stronger, and well adapted for rough travel. The only thing it now wanted was a ROAD!
The highways of Cyprus were mere mule-tracks. The only legitimate road in existence was of most recent construction, which represented the new birth of British enterprise, from Larnaca to the capital, Nicosia (or Lefkosia), about twenty-eight miles. The regrettable paucity of stone-hammers rendered it impossible to prepare the metal, therefore huge rounded blocks, bigger than a man’s head, had been thrown down for a foundation, upon which some roughly broken and a quantity of unbroken smaller stones had been spread.
Of course there was only one method of travelling upon this route with the gipsy-van: this was to avoid it altogether, but to keep upon the natural soil on the side of the newly-made level.
My second van was most satisfactory, and was light in proportion to its strength and capacity. This was arranged specially for luggage, and was entirely closed by doors at either end, which were secured by bolts and locks. Above the luggage, and about two feet six inches below the roof, a sliding deck formed of movable planks afforded a comfortable sleeping-berth for a servant. In the front a projecting roof sheltered the driving seat, which was wide enough to accommodate four persons. I had fitted a pole instead of shafts, as public opinion decided against mules, and it was agreed that oxen were steadier and more powerful for draught purposes. After a careful selection, I obtained two pairs of very beautiful animals, quite equal in size to ordinary English oxen, for which I paid twelve shillings per diem, including the drivers and all expenses of fodder. I also engaged the necessary riding mules, as the vans were not intended for personal travelling, but merely for luggage and for a home at night. Our servants consisted of Amarn (my Abyssinian, who had been with me eight years, since he was a a boy of nine years old in Africa), a Greek cook named Christo, who had served in a similar capacity upon numerous steamers, and a young man named Georgi, of about twenty-one, who was to be made into a servant. This young fellow had appeared one day suddenly, and solicited employment, while we were staying at Craddock’s Hotel; he was short, thickset, and possessed a head of hair that would have raised the envy of Absalom: in dense tangle it would have defied a mane-comb. Georgi had a pleasant expression of countenance which did not harmonise with his exterior, as his clothes were in a ragged and filthy condition, his shoes were in tatters, and trodden down at the heel to a degree that resembled boats in the act of capsizing; these exposed the remnants of socks, through the gaps of which the skin of his feet was exhibited in anything but flesh-colour. It is dangerous to pick up a “waif and stray,” as such objects of philanthropy frequently disappear at the same time as the forks and spoons. In reply to my questions, I discovered that Georgi was in fact the “prodigal son;” he had not been leading the fast life of that historical character, but he had left his home in Mersine (on the coast of Asia Minor) owing to an unfortunate disagreement with his father. In such domestic estrangements, rightly or wrongly, the fathers generally have the best of the situation, and Georgi, having left a comfortable home (his father being what is called “well to do”), had taken ship, and, like many others, had steered for Cyprus, where he arrived unknown, and quickly experienced the desolation of an utter stranger in a foreign town. Georgi became hungry; whether he had sold his good clothes to provide for the coats of his stomach I cannot say, but the rags in which he first appeared to me were utterly unsaleable, and few people would have ventured upon an engagement with so disreputable a person. However, I liked his face; he could speak Turkish and Arabic fluently: Greek was his mother-tongue, and he had a smattering of French. I sent for the tailor, and had him measured for a suit of clothes to match those of Amarn–a tunic, waistcoat, knickerbockers, and gaiters of navy-blue serge. In a few days Georgi was transformed into a respectable-looking servant, with his hair cut.
We left Larnaca on the 29th of January. A native two-wheeled cart conveyed the tents and superabundant baggage. The oxen made no difficulty, and the gipsy-van rolled easily along. An enterprising photographer, having posted himself in a certain position near the highway, suddenly stopped our party, and subsequently produced a facsimile, although my dogs, who were in movement, came out with phantom-like shadows. These useful companions were three spaniels –“Merry,” “Wise,” and “Shot;” the latter had a broken foreleg through an accident in the previous year, but he was an excellent retriever, and could work slowly. The others were younger dogs, whose characters were well represented by their names; the first was an untiring, determined animal, and Wise was a steady hunter that would face the worst thorns, and was a good retriever.
This party was now in movement, and I intended to make a preliminary detour from the Nicosia route to visit the springs of Arpera, about eight miles distant, which supply the town of Larnaca.
In every country where I have travelled I have observed a human weakness among the population on the question of “game;” there is a universal tendency to exaggeration; but the locality of superabundance is always distant from the narrator. As you proceed the game recedes; and you are informed that “at about two days’ march you will find even more than you require.” Upon arrival at the wished-for spot you are told that “formerly there was a large quantity, but that times and seasons have changed; that about three marches in your front will bring you to a hunter’s paradise,” &c. As Cyprus was an island of only 140 miles in length, there would be a limit to these boundless descriptions; but I had already heard enough to assure me that the usual want of veracity upon this subject was present in the accounts I had received. The newspaper correspondents had just contributed ridiculous reports to their several employers. Because the market of Larnaca was well supplied with woodcocks, red-legged partridges, and hares, at low prices, these overworked gentlemen of the pen rushed to a conclusion that the island teemed with game: forgetful of the fact that every Cypriote has a gun, and that numbers were shooting for the consumption of the few. Larnaca was the common centre towards which all gravitated. As the rate of wages was only one shilling a day, it may be imagined that sport afforded an equally remunerative employment, and game was forwarded from all distances to be hawked about the public thoroughfares. The fact is, that game is very scarce throughout Cyprus, and the books that have been written upon this country are certainly not the productions of sportsmen.
I had read in no mean authority that “the surface of the ground was covered with heather”–positively there is no such plant in Cyprus as heath or heather. As we passed the outskirts of Larnaca, we were introduced to the misery of the plain of Messaria; the so-called heather is a low thorny bush about twelve inches high, which at a distance has some resemblance to the plant in question. Brown is the prevailing colour in this portion of the island, and the aspect was not cheerful as we slowly marched along the native track or highway towards Arpera, carefully avoiding the new government macadamised road.
It is a melancholy neighbourhood. A few graves that had been robbed were open, forming pitfalls for the unwary; other yawning holes had discovered ancient tombs by the soakage of a recent heavy shower, which had washed in the roof and exposed the cavity. We passed a small mosque where there is the tomb of a saint many feet below the level of the surface, and we shortly came in view of the salt lake about a mile and three-quarters from the town of Larnaca. We halted about two miles from the town upon the high ground to admire the aqueduct which crosses the valley from the village of Cheflik Pacha. This is a very important work. The masonry is about thirty-six feet above the lowest portion of the valley, which it spans in thirty-two arches, covering a distance of about four hundred and twenty yards from height to height. The water flows in an open canal of cement along the surface, but upon the ground level it is protected by a covering of stone and lime, until it reaches the town of Larnaca. A stream of fresh water flows through the valley beneath the arches of the aqueduct, at a right angle, and is artificially separated from the salt lake below by means of a dyke of earth which conducts it direct to the sea. This was rendered necessary by the floods of the rainy seasons, which carried so large a volume of fresh water into the lake as to resist the power of evaporation during the summer months. The salt lakes of Larnaca are several miles in extent, and are computed by the late British consul, Mr. Watkins, to possess a productive power of 20,000,000 okes (2 3/4 lbs.) per annum. M. Gaudry, in his clever work upon Cyprus, attributes the formation of salt to the fact of the sea-water percolating through the sand, and thus filling the lake;–this theory is disputed, and I incline to the native belief, “that the salt lies within the soil, and is taken into solution by the water, which deposits the same amount upon the dry surface when exhausted by evaporation.” In support of this opinion, I adduce a proof in the fact of the small freshwater stream which flows from the higher ground through the arches of the aqueduct, depositing salt as its surface contracts during the dry season.
A strong efflorescence of true chloride of sodium is left upon the sides of its bed and upon the bottom as the water becomes exhausted; this must be the salt which the fresh water has robbed from the soil of the valley through which it flows. In many portions of Cyprus I have observed, a few days after a heavy shower, a considerable amount of salt upon the surface. I know many instances of fresh-water lakes being divided from the sea by only a few yards of sandy beach, and I do not accept as fact that salt water percolates through the sand and forms the salt of Larnaca lake. The salt lakes of Ceylon, in the south district of Hambantotte, are immensely productive, and they have no communication with the sea, but are in a similar position to those of Cyprus at Larnaca and Limasol–near the sea, but depending for their water-supply upon natural springs and rain. There can be no doubt that the springs are salt, and the rain-water dissolves the salt that is naturally contained within the soil. M. Gaudry observed a portion of the plain near Trichomo covered with an efflorescence of soda, which by analysis yielded about two-thirds of sulphate of soda, with a large proportion of sulphate of magnesia and other salts. Many wells in Cyprus are salt, or brackish. The lowest ground of the marshy plain near Famagousta contains salt to a degree sufficient to destroy the young cereals, should rain not be abundant; and during the drought of this year (1879), they were the first to perish, although in a damp locality.
Salt is a government monopoly in Cyprus, and is one of the most important sources of revenue. In the reign of the Lusignan dynasty, and from a much earlier date, the produce of the salt lakes formed one of the chief articles of export, and arrangements were made for regulating the amount of water to ensure the requisite evaporation. At the present time considerable uncertainty attends the collection of salt, as a violent rainfall floods the lakes and weakens the solution. There can be no doubt that a few years’ experience and attention will enable the authorities to improve upon the present arrangement, and that not only will the annual supply be assured, but the foreign demand will be extended.
We passed the valley beyond the aqueduct and, ascending the steep incline upon the opposite side, followed the rutty native track parallel with the water-course; we halted for the first night opposite the village of Cheflik Pacha. This is an unhealthy place, as it lies in a valley where a mill is turned by a stream from the aqueduct and the surplus water forms a marsh after irrigating in a careless manner some fields and gardens. Lemon and orange-trees of the largest size were crowded with fruit, and exhibited in the midst of a treeless and desolate country the great necessity, WATER, and the productive powers of the soil when regularly supplied.
I was careful not to descend into the irrigated bottom, therefore we had halted on the highest point, a quarter of a mile distant. It is impossible to be too careful in the selection of a camping-ground; the effect of fever-germs may be the result of one night’s bivouac in an unhealthy locality; and a new country is frequently stamped as pestilential from the utter carelessness of the traveller or officer in command of troops.
As a general rule the immediate neighbourhood of water should be avoided. A clear stream is a tempting object, and the difficulty of carrying water for the supply of troops is important; but it is less than the necessity of carrying the sick. If once the fever of malaria attacks an individual he becomes unfitted for his work; the blood is poisoned, and he is the victim of renewed attacks which baffle medical skill and lead to other serious complications. Avoid the first attack. This may generally be effected by the careful selection of the camping-ground. Never halt in a bottom, but always on a height. Throughout my journey in Cyprus neither ourselves nor servants suffered from any ailment, although we visited every portion of the country, and I attribute this immunity from fever mainly to the care in our selection of halting-places.
The first necessity in the evening halt was fire. This is one of the troubles of central Cyprus–there is no fuel. The two vans and the native cart were in a line–the bell-tent was quickly pitched for the servants, who now for the first time experienced the comfort of an arrangement I had made when in England. I had seven deal battens, each seven feet long, four inches deep, by two and a half inches broad. These were laid upon the ground twelve inches apart; seven planks, each one foot wide, were placed across the battens to form an impromptu floor. Upon this platform was laid a non-conductor of simply doubled hair-felt, sewed into a thin mattress of light canvas. There was very little trouble in this arrangement; the men were kept well off the ground, and the hair-felt not only preserved their bodily heat from escaping, but it prevented the damp of the earth from ascending. This mattress was ten feet long, therefore it could be rolled up to form a bolster at one end; and, during a hot sun, it was intended for a cover to the roof of the gipsy van.
The first day’s start is always in the afternoon, and the march is short. We had only made three miles, and it was nearly dark when we halted. The absence of fuel necessitates the great trouble of carrying a supply of charcoal, and it destroys the pleasure of the cheerful night-fires that usually enliven the bivouac in wild countries. The plants and herbs that grow in Cyprus are all prickly; thus groping in the dark for the first inflammable material to produce the fire-foundation is unpleasant. There is a highly aromatic but very prickly species of wild thyme: this is always sought for, and at all times responds to the match.
The first night is always novel, in spite of old experiences. We pricked our hands in raking up thorny plants, but a useful implement, which combined the broad hoe on one side with a light pick on the other, lessened our labour, and we produced a blaze; this was bright but transient, as the fuel was unsubstantial. The dinner was quickly warmed, as it consisted of tins of preserved meats; and, climbing up the ladder, the gipsy van presented such a picture of luxury that if the world were girded by a good road instead of a useless equator I should like to be perpetually circum-vanning it.
On the following morning the thermometer marked 40 degrees. The natives were early at work, ploughing land that was to remain fallow until the following season. The oxen were sleek and in good condition, and not inferior in weight to the well-known red animals of North Devon. Although the native plough is of the unchanged and primitive pattern that is illustrated on the walls of Egyptian temples, it is well adapted for the work required in the rough and stony ground of Cyprus. I was surprised to see the depth which these exceedingly light implements attained, with apparent ease to the pair of oxen; this was not less than eight inches, and the furrows were regular, but not turned completely over. The ploughshare is not adapted for cutting the roots of weeds by means of a flat surface and a sharp edge, but the rounded top of the native iron passes beneath the soil and breaks it up like the wave produced by the ram-bow of a vessel. The plough, when complete, does not exceed forty pounds in weight, and it is conveniently carried, together with the labourer, upon the same donkey, when travelling from a distance to the morning’s work. European settlers in Cyprus should be cautious before superseding the native plough by the massive European pattern; there are certain soils where the powerful iron plough, or even the double implement, might be worked with advantage, but as a general rule I should advise an agriculturist to wait patiently at the commencement of his operations, and to gain practical experience of the country before he expends capital in the purchase of European inventions. There can be no doubt that by degrees important improvements may be introduced that will benefit the Cypriote farmer, although it will be long before his primitive method will be abandoned. The great difficulty in Cyprus consists in reducing the soil to a fine surface; huge lumps of tenacious earth are turned up by the plough, which, under the baking influence of the sun, become as hard as sun-dried bricks. The native method of crushing is exceedingly rude and ineffective. A heavy plank about sixteen feet long and three inches thick, furnished with two rings, is dragged by oxen over the surface; which generally remains in so rough a state that walking over the field is most laborious. There are many stone columns lying useless among the heaps of ruins so common in Cyprus, that would form excellent rollers, but the idea of such an implement has never entered the Cypriote head. The plough, smoothing-plank, and the ancient threshing-harrow, composed of two broad planks inlaid with sharp flint stones, are the only farm machinery of the cultivator. As in the days of Abraham the oxen drew this same pattern of harrow over the corn, and reduced the straw to a coarse chaff mingled with the grain, so also the treatment in Cyprus remains to the present day. The result is a mixture of dirt and sand which is only partially rejected by the equally primitive method of winnowing.
Mr. Hamilton Lang gives an amusing description of the strictly conservative principles of the Cyprian oxen, which have always been fed upon the straw broken by the process described in threshing by the harrow of sharp flints. This coarse chaff, mixed with cotton-seed, lentils, or barley, is eaten by all animals with avidity, and the bullocks positively refused Mr. Lang’s new food, which was the same straw passed through an English threshing-machine and cut fine by a modern chaff-cutter. This fact is a warning to those who would introduce too sudden reforms among men and animals in a newly-acquired country; but if Mr. Hamilton Lang had sprinkled salt over his chaff I think the refractory appetites of the oxen might have been overcome. A pair of oxen are supposed to plough one “donum” daily of fifty paces square, or about half an acre.
Having watched the various teams, and conversed with the ploughmen by the medium of the cook Christo, who spoke English and was an intelligent interpreter, I ordered the vans to move on while I walked over the country with the dogs. There was no game except a wild-duck which I shot in the thick weeds of a neighbouring swamp. Larks were in great quantities, and for want of larger birds I shot enough for a pilaff, and secured a breakfast. The route, which could be hardly called a road, had been worn by the wheels of native carts. These were narrower than our vans, and one of our wheels was generally upon a higher level, threatening on some occasions to overturn. The country around us was desolate in its aridity. We passed through the ruins of an ancient city over which the plough had triumphed, and literally not one stone was left upon another. A few stone columns of a rough description, some of which were broken, were lying in various directions, and I noticed a lower millstone formed of an exceedingly hard conglomerate rock; these pieces were too heavy to move without great exertions, therefore they had remained in situ.
After a short march of three miles we arrived at the steep banks of the river a mile above the village of Arpera. The bed of this river was about forty feet below the level of the country, and here our first real difficulty commenced in descending a rugged and precipitous track, which at first sight appeared destructive to any springs. The gipsy-van was conducted by the owner of the fine pair of bullocks; but this fellow (Theodoris) was an obstinate and utterly reckless character, and instead of obeying orders to go steadily with the drag on the wheels, he put his animals into a gallop down the steep descent, with the intention of gaining sufficient momentum to cross the sandy bottom and to ascend the other side. If the original gipsy proprietor could have seen his van leaping and tossing like a ship in a heavy sea, with the frantic driver shouting and yelling at his bullocks while he accelerated their gallop by a sharp application of the needle-pointed driving prick, he would have considered it the last moment of his movable home. I did the same; but, to my astonishment, the vehicle, after bounding madly about, simply turned the insane driver head over heels into the river’s bed, and the bullocks found themselves anchored in the sand on the opposite side. Glover Brothers’ blue van was driven by a fine fellow, Georgi, who was of a steady disposition; and this very handy and well constructed carriage made nothing of the difficulty. Georgi was a handsome and exceedingly powerful man, upwards of six feet high, of a most amiable disposition, who always tried to do his best; but the truth must be told, he was stupid: he became a slave to the superior intellect of the bare-brained rascal of the gipsy-van. Why amiable people should so frequently be stupid I cannot conceive: perhaps a few are sharp; but Georgi, poor fellow, had all in bone and muscle, and not in brain.
There is great advantage in travelling with more than one vehicle, as in any difficulty the numerous animals can be harnessed together and their combined power will drag a single cart or carriage through any obstacle. Thus one by one the vans were tugged up the steep bank on the opposite side, and after a drag across ploughed fields for nearly a mile we halted on the edge of a cliff and camped exactly above the river. Although the bed was dry below this point, we found a faint stream of clear water above our position, which was subsequently absorbed by the sand. The cliffs were not perpendicular, but were broken into steep declivities from successive landslips: the sides were covered with the usual prickly plants, but the edges of the stream were thickly bushed with oleanders which afforded excellent covert for game.
In travelling through Cyprus there is a depressing aspect in the general decay and ruin of former works. I strolled with my dogs for some miles along the river banks, and examined the strong masonry remains of many old water-mills. I found a well-constructed aqueduct of wonderfully hard cement at the bottom of a cliff close to the present bed of the river: this must at a former period have passed below the bed, and the deepening of the stream has exposed and washed away the ancient work. There was no game beyond a few wild red-legged partridges, although the appearance of the country had raised my expectations.
On the following morning I rambled with the dogs for many hours over the range of hills which bounds the plain upon the north, and from which the river issues. These are completely denuded of soil, and present a glaring surface of hardened chalk, in the crevices of which the usual prickly plants can alone exist. Some of the hill-tops exposed a smooth natural pavement where the rain had washed away all soluble portions and left the bare foundation cracked in small divisions as though artificially inlaid. Now and then a wretched specimen of the Pinus Maritima, about six feet high, was to be seen vainly endeavouring to find nourishment in the clefts of the barren rocks. I do not believe the tales of forests having formerly existed upon the greater portion of Cyprus: it would certainly be impossible for any species of tree to thrive upon the extensive range of hills near Arpera, which are absolutely valueless.
In many places the surface glistened with ice-like sheets of gypsum, which cropped out of the cold white marls and produced a wintry appearance that increased the desolation. I walked for some hours over successive ranges of the same hopeless character. Great numbers of hawks and several varieties of eagles were hunting above the hill-tops, and sufficiently explained the scarcity of game. The red-legged partridges found little protection in the scant cover afforded by the withered plants, and I saw one captured and carried off by an eagle, who was immediately chased by two others of the same species, in the vain hope that he would give up his prize; he soared high in air with the partridge hanging from his claws. On the same day I saw another capture, and there can be little doubt that the partridge forms the usual food of these large birds of prey. The British government has already protected the game by establishing a close season and by a tax upon all guns; but there will be little benefit from the new law unless a reward shall be offered for the destruction of the birds of prey which swarm in every portion of the island–eagles, falcons, kites, hawks, ravens, crows, and last, but in cunning and destructive propensity not the least, the “magpies.” These birds exist in such numbers that unless steps are taken to destroy them it will be hopeless to expect any increase of game. When a magpie wakes in the early morning his first thought is mischief, and during the breeding season there is no bird who makes egg-hunting so especially his occupation. Upon the treeless plains of Cyprus every nest is at his mercy.
From the base of the barren hill-range a fertile plain slopes towards the sea for a width of about four miles, having received the soil that has been washed from the denuded heights. This rich surface is cultivated with cereals, but there are considerable portions which are covered with a dense mass of thistles, as the land is allowed to rest for a couple of years after having been exhausted by several crops without manuring. On the lowlands of Cyprus nearly every plant or bush is armed with thorns. I have generally observed that a thorny vegetation is a proof of a burning climate with a slight rainfall. In the scorching districts of the Soudan there is hardly a tree without thorns to the tenth degree of north latitude, at which limit the rainfall is great and the vegetation changes its character. The Cypriotes of both sexes wear high boots to the knees as a protection from the countless thistles, and not as an armour against snakes, as some writers have assumed. These boots are peculiar in their construction; the soles are about an inch in thickness, formed of several layers of leather, which are fastened together by large-headed nails from beneath; these are directed in an oblique line, so as to pass through the edge of the upper leather and secure it to the sole exactly as the shoe of a horse is fitted to the hoof. The nails are long and thin, and are riveted by turning the points round and hammering them like a coil upon the leather; the heads of these nails are nearly as large as a shilling, and the boots are exceedingly clumsy; but they increase the height of the wearer by a full inch.
My amiable driver of the blue van, Georgi, accompanied me in my walk, and fired several useless shots at wild partridges. We now arrived at the spot where the water is led by a subterranean aqueduct to Larnaca. This principle is so original, and has from such remote times been adopted in this arid island, that it merits a detailed description. The ancient vestiges of similar works in every portion of Cyprus prove that in all ages the rainfall must have been uncertain, and that no important change has taken place in the meteorological condition of the country.
In a search for water-springs the Cypriote is most intelligent, and the talent appears to be hereditary. If a well is successful at an elevation that will enable the water to command lower levels at a distance, it may be easily understood that the supply of one well representing a unit must be limited. The Cypriote well-sinker works upon a principle of simple multiplication. If one well produces a certain flow, ten wells will multiply the volume, if connected by a subterranean tunnel, and provided the supply of water in the spring is unlimited.
It appears that Cyprus exhibits an anomaly in the peculiarity of a small rainfall but great subterranean water-power; some stratum that is impervious retains the water at depths varying according to local conditions. The well-sinker commences by boring, or rather digging, a circular hole two feet six inches in diameter. The soil of Cyprus is so tenacious that the walls of the shaft require no artificial support; this much facilitates the work, and the labourer, armed with a very short-handled pick, patiently hacks his vertical way, and sends up the earth by means of a basket and rope, drawn by a primitive but effective windlass above, formed of a cradle of horizontal wooden bars. The man in charge simply turns the windlass without a handle, by clutching each successive bar, which, acting as a revolving lever, winds up the rope with the weight attached.
The rapidity of the well-sinking naturally depends upon the quality of the soil; if rock is to be cut through, it is worked with a mason’s axe and the cold chisel. Fortunately the geological formation is principally sedimentary limestone, which offers no great resistance. At length the water is reached. The well is now left open for a few days that an opinion may be formed of the power; if favourable, another precisely similar well is sunk at a distance of fifteen or sixteen yards in the direction towards the point required by the future aqueduct. The spring being satisfactory, the work proceeds with vigour. We will accept the first well as forty feet in depth; if the surface of the earth were an exact level, the next well would be an equal depth; but as the water retains its natural level, the vertical measurement of each shaft will depend upon the formation of the upper ground. The object of the well-sinker is to create a chain of wells united by a subterranean tunnel, in order to multiply the power of a unit and to obtain the entire supply of water; he therefore sinks perhaps ten or twenty wells to the same level, and he cuts a narrow tunnel from one to the other, thus connecting his shafts at the water-line, so as to form a canal or aqueduct. Precisely as the mole upheaves at certain intervals the earth that it has scraped from its gallery, the well-sinker clears his tunnel by sending up the contents through the vertical shafts fifteen yards apart, around the mouth of which a funnel-shaped mound is formed by the debris.
These preliminary walls being completed and the water-volume tested, the neighbourhood is examined with the hope of discovering other springs that may upon the same principle be conducted towards the main line of the proposed aqueduct. It is not uncommon to find several chains of wells converging from different localities to the desired water-head, and as these are at higher levels, a considerable hydraulic power is obtained, sufficient in many instances not only to fill the tunnels, but to force the water to a greater elevation if required.
The water-head being thoroughly established, the sinking of a chain of wells proceeds, and the tunnels are arranged at a given inclination to conduct the water to the destined spot. This may be many miles distant, necessitating many hundred wells, which may comprise great superficial changes; hills that are bored through necessitate deep shafts, and valleys must be spanned by aqueducts of masonry. In this manner the water is conducted from the springs of Arpera near the spot where the river issues from the narrow valley among the hills, and supplies Larnaca, about eight miles distant from the first head. The British authorities propose to substitute iron pipes for the present aqueduct; but it is to be hoped that the new scheme will be an independent and additional work, that will in no way interfere with the important gift of Cheflik Pacha, which has existed for nearly two centuries, and which, if kept in repair, will supply the necessary volume.
ROUTE TO NICOSIA.
Having proved that any further progress west was quite impracticable by vans, I returned to the new main road from Larnaca, and carefully avoiding it, we kept upon the natural surface by the side drain, and travelled towards Dali, the ancient Idalium.
The thermometer at 8 A.M. showed 37 degrees, and the wind was keen. The road lay through a most desolate country of chalk hills completely barren, diversified occasionally by the ice-like crystals of gypsum cropping out in huge masses. In one of the most dreary spots that can be imagined the eye was relieved by a little flat-topped hut on the right hand, which exhibited a sign, “The Dewdrop Inn.” The name was hardly appropriate, as the earth appeared as though neither dew nor rain had blessed the surface; but I believe that whisky was represented by the “Dewdrop,” and that the word was intended to imply an invitation, “Do-drop-in.” Of course we dropped in, being about an hour in advance of our vans, and I found the landlord most obliging, and a bottle of Bass’s pale ale most refreshing in this horrible-looking desert of chalk and thistles that had become a quasi-British colony. This unfortunate man and one or two partners were among those deluded victims who had sacrificed themselves to the impulse of our first occupation, upon the principle that “the early bird gets the worm.” Instead of getting on, the partners went off, and left the representative of the “Dewdrop” in a physical state of weakness from attacks of fever, and the good industrious man with little hope of a golden future.
Passing on after a conversation with our landlord, which did not cheer me so much as the pale ale, we continued through the same desolate country for about two miles, and then turned off on the left hand towards Dali. We passed through a narrow valley of several hundred acres planted in vineyards, and we counted four olive-trees, the first green objects or signs of trees that we had seen since Larnaca! We then continued through white barren hills for another two miles, and descended a steep hill, halting for the night upon hard flat gypsum rock opposite a village named “Lauranchina,” above the dry bed of a torrent, twelve miles from Larnaca.
On the following morning, after a slight shower, we started for Dali. The narrow valleys were more or less cultivated with vines, and about three miles from the halting-place we entered the fertile plain of Dali. This is about six miles long, by one in width, highly cultivated, with the river flowing through the midst. As far as we could see in a direct line groves of olives, vineyards, and ploughed land, diversified by villages, exhibited the power of water in converting sterility into wealth.
I always make a rule that the halting-place shall be at a considerable distance from a village or town for sanitary reasons, as the environs are generally unclean. All travellers are well aware that their servants and general entourage delight in towns or villages, as they discover friends, or make acquaintances, and relieve the tedium of the journey; therefore an antagonistic influence invariably exists upon the question of a camping-ground. It is accordingly most difficult to believe the statements of your interpreter: he may have old friends in a town to which you believe him to be a stranger; he may have the remains of an old love, and a wish to meet again; or he may have a still more powerful attraction in the remembrance of an agreeable cafe where he can refresh himself with liquor, revel in cigarettes, and play at dominoes. It is therefore necessary to be upon your guard when approaching a town, which should be looked upon as the enemy’s camp.
My amiable bullock-driver, the big Georgi, had always assured me that “game abounded in the immediate neighbourhood of Dali;” of course I knew that the happy hunting-ground contained some special interest for himself. Upon arrival on the outskirts I ordered the vans to pass on the outside of the town, and I would seek a camping-place up-stream. Instead of this I was assured that we should pass through the town, and find a lovely grove of olive-trees by the river-side, the perfection of a halting-place. For the first time I now discovered that Georgi’s wife and family lived in Dali, and that he was not such a fool as he looked.
In a few minutes we were descending a lane so narrow that the gipsy van only cleared the walls of the houses on either side by three or four inches. This lane had been paved centuries ago with stones of all sizes, from a moderate grindstone to that of a football. When people had wished to build a new house, they had taken up a few stones to make a foundation; the street was a series of pitfalls filled with mud and filth, including miniature ponds of manure-coloured water. The surface appeared impassable; the projecting water-spouts from the low roofs stuck out like the gnarled boughs of trees. Here was a pretty mess!–all because Georgi’s wife was in town. It was impossible for anything larger than a perambulator to turn, and as the springs yielded to the uneven ground, the van bumped against the walls of the houses and threatened destruction. “Halt!” was the only word, and as the drag-shoe was on the wheel, we stopped. At this moment of difficulty a priest and some old women appeared with earthen vessels smoking with burning olive leaves; they immediately passed the smoke beneath the nostrils of the oxen, then around the van, and lastly ourselves. At the same time some good young women threw orange-flower water over my wife and myself from pretty glass vases with narrow necks as a sign of welcome. The incense of the priests was supposed to avert the “evil-eye” from the gipsy van and our party. I felt much obliged for the good intention, but I did not mind the “evil eye” so much as the water-spouts. In my experience of travelling I never met with such kind and courteous people as the inhabitants of Cyprus. The Dali population had already blocked the narrow streets from curiosity at our arrival, and soon understanding the cause of our dilemma, they mounted the housetops and tore off the obstructing water-spouts; where these projections were too strong, they sawed them off close to the eaves. A crowd of men pushed the van from behind, and guided the oxen, while others assisted by digging up the large paving-stones that would have tilted it against the house-walls. In this manner we arrived without serious accident upon the bank of the river which ran through the town. There was an open space here which was crowded with women and girls, who, with feminine curiosity, had assembled to see the English lady. Among these was the prettiest young woman I have seen in Cyprus, with a child in her arms. Her large blue eyes and perfect Grecian features were enhanced by a sweet gentle expression of countenance. She seemed more than others delighted at our arrival. This was Georgi’s wife!–and I at once forgave him for deceiving us and yielding to the natural attraction of his home.
We were not quite out of our difficulty. Several hundred people had assembled, and all spoke at once, raising their voices in the hope that we should understand their Greek better than if spoken in a moderate tone: (why people will speak loud if you do not know their language I cannot understand:) but as we were utterly ignorant of their meaning we were not confused by their differences of opinion respecting our direction. It ended in our crossing the stony bed of the river, through which a reduced stream only a few inches deep flowed in the centre, and having with difficulty gained the opposite bank a hundred yards distant, we soon arrived in a sort of natural eel-trap formed by a narrow avenue of gigantic olive-trees, the branches of which effectually barred our progress and prevented the vans from turning.
A temporary loss of temper was a natural consequence, and having ridden in advance for about half a mile, I returned and ordered a retreat. We took the bullocks out, and by hand backed the wheels, until by shovels and picks we could clear a space for turning. We then re-crossed the river, and disregarding all native advice, struck into the country, and halted near a small grove of olives close to the new English road to the military station “Mattiati.”
It was the 4th of February, and the temperature in the morning and evening was too cold (43 degrees) for pleasant camping. In spite of a chilly wind, crowds of women and children surrounded our vans and sat for hours indulging their curiosity, and shivering in light clothes of home-made cotton-stuffs. The children were generally pretty, and some of the younger women were good-looking; but there was a total neglect of personal appearance which is a striking characteristic of the Cypriote females. In most countries, whether savage or civilised, the women yield to a natural instinct, and to a certain extent adorn their persons and endeavour to render themselves attractive; but in Cyprus there is a distressing absence of the wholesome vanity that should induce attention to dress and cleanliness. The inelegance of costume gives an unpleasant peculiarity to their figures–the whole crowd of girls and women looked as though they were about to become mothers. The coarse and roughly-tanned, uncared-for high boots with huge hobnails were overlapped by great baggy trousers. Above these were a considerable number of petticoats loosely hanging and tied carelessly at the waist, which was totally unsupported by any such assistance as stays. A sort of short jacket that was of no particular cut, and possessed the advantage of fitting any variety of size or figure, completed the attire. The buttons that should have confined the dress in front were generally absent, and the ladies were not bashful at their loss, but exposed their bosoms without any consciousness of indelicacy. There was no peculiarity in the arrangement of the hair, but each head was tied up in a cloth, either white or some gaudy colour, which, once gay, had been sobered in its hues by dirt. In spite of this neglected exterior, the women had remarkably good manners; they seldom approached my wife without presenting, with a graceful gesture, some wild flowers, or a little bunch of sweet herbs, which they had purposely gathered, and we were quickly made rich in quantities of double narcissus, marigolds, and rosemary. Upon our arrival at a town or village the girls and boys would frequently run to their gardens and provide themselves with either a single flower, or rosemary, with which they would await us in the street and offer them as we passed by. Throughout Cyprus we have received similar well-meant attention, and the simplicity and delicacy of the offering contrasts in an anomalous manner with the dirty habits and appearance of the people. Even Georgi’s pretty wife was untidy about the hair, although she was in her best attire; and a close inspection of all women and girls showed that their throats and breasts were literally covered with ancient and modern fleabites. Their dwellings are extremely filthy, and swarm with vermin, as the fowls, goats, or even a cow or two, generally increase the domestic party. It is well known that Paphos in Cyprus was the supposed birthplace of Venus, and that the island was at one time celebrated for the beauty of women and immorality: the change has been radical, as I believe no women are more chaste, and at the same time less attractive, than the Cypriotes of the present time. They are generally short and thickset; they are hardly treated by the men, as they perform most of the rough work in cultivation of the ground, and, from the extreme coarseness of their hands, they can seldom be idle; the men, on the contrary, are usually good-looking, and are far more attentive to their personal appearance.
Dali was an interesting spot to any agriculturist. The soil was exceedingly rich, as it had been formed, like all valleys in Cyprus, by the alluvium washed down from the surrounding hills; these were from three to six hundred feet above the level of the plain, and were composed of the usual hard species of chalk and gypsum; thus the deposit from their denudation by rains supplied the chief constituents for the growth of vines and cereals.
There is a depressing absence of all recent improvements in journeying through Cyprus; even at Dali, where the water from the river was used for irrigation, and large farms in the occupation of the wealthy landowner, M. Richard Mattei, were successfully cultivated, I could not help remarking the total neglect of tree-planting. The ancient olive-groves still exist by the river’s side, and, could they speak, those grand old trees would be historians of the glorious days of Cyprus; but there are no recent plantations, and the natives explained the cause in the usual manner by attributing all wretchedness and popular apathy to the oppression of the Turkish rule. This wholesale accusation must be received with caution; there can be no doubt of the pre-existing misrule, but at the same time it is impossible to travel through Cyprus without the painful conviction that the modern Cypriote is a reckless tree-destroyer, and that destruction is more natural to his character than the propagation of timber. There is no reason for the neglect of olive-planting, but I observed an absence of such cultivation which must have prevailed during several centuries, even during the Venetian rule. It is difficult to determine the age of an olive-tree, which is almost imperishable; it is one of those remarkable examples of vegetation that illustrates the eternal, and explains the first instincts of adoration which tree-worship exhibited in the distant past. I spent some hours with the olive trees of Dali; they were grand old specimens of the everlasting. One healthy trunk in full vigour measured twenty-nine feet in circumference; another, twenty-eight feet two inches. Very many were upwards of twenty feet by my measuring-tape; and had I accepted the hollow or split trees, there were some that would have exceeded forty feet. There can be little doubt, that these olives throve at the period when Idalium was the great city in Cyprus; they may have exceeded two thousand years in age, but any surmise would be the wildest conjecture. It may not be generally known that the olive, which is of slow growth and a wood of exceeding hardness, remains always a dwarf tree; a tall olive is unknown, and it somewhat resembles a pollard ilex. When by extreme age the tree has become hollow it possesses the peculiar power of reproduction, not by throwing up root-shoots, but by splitting the old hollowed trunk into separate divisions, which by degrees attain an individuality, and eventually thrive as new and independent trees, forming a group or “family-tree,” nourished by the same root which anchored the original ancestor.
The gnarled, weird appearance of these ancient groves of such gigantic dimensions contrasted sadly with the treeless expanse beyond, and proved that Cyprus had for very many centuries been the victim of neglect. The olive is indigenous to the island, and the low scrub jungles of Baffo, the Carpas district, and other portions abound with the wild species, which can be rendered fruitful by grafting. In selecting trees for the extension of forests, there is a common-sense rule to guide us by observing those varieties which are indigenous to the country; these can be obtained at the lowest cost, and their success is almost assured, as no time need be lost from the day of their removal to the new plantation. Such trees as are rendered fruitful by grafting offer peculiar advantages, as the stocks already exist upon which superior varieties may be connected. The principal food of the Cypriotes consists of olives, beans, bread, and onions; they seldom eat what we should call “cooked food;” whether this is owing to the scarcity of fuel, or whether it is natural in this climate to avoid flesh, I cannot determine: some say the people are too poor, and cannot afford mutton at twopence a pound, while at the same time they will not kill the oxen that are required for purposes of draught; they refuse the milk of cows, and only use that of sheep or goats. The fact remains that the country people seldom eat butcher’s meat, but subsist upon olives, oil, bread, cheese, and vegetables.
Under these circumstances it would be natural to suppose that the accepted articles of consumption would be highly cultivated and superior in quality; but the reverse is the fact. The olive-oil is so inferior that foreign oil is imported from France for the use of the upper classes; the olives are of a poor description, and, as a rule, few vegetables are cultivated except in the immediate vicinity of town markets, the agricultural population or country people being too careless to excel in horticulture, and depending mainly upon the wild vegetables which the soil produces in abundance. If the people are too inert to improve the qualities and to extend the cultivation of vegetables, it is easy to comprehend their neglect of the tree-planting so necessary to the climatic requirements of this island.
The oil-press is similar to the old-fashioned cider-mill of England. The fruit, having been dried in the sun, is placed in a circular trough in which the stone wheel revolves, driven by a mule and pole. When sufficiently crushed, and reduced to a paste, it is divided into basketfuls; these are subjected to pressure by the common vertical screw, and the oil is expressed, but is not clarified. It is generally rancid and unfit for European consumption. In travelling through Cyprus the medicine-chest may dispense with castor-oil, as the olive-oil of the country is a good substitute. By the government report, the yield of oil in 1877 was estimated at 250,000 okes (of 2 3/4 lbs.) valued at about nine piastres per oke, but during the same year foreign olive-oil to the value of 1,706 pounds sterling was imported. There can be little doubt that special attention should be bestowed upon the improvement of the olive cultivation in Cyprus, and grafts of the best varieties should be introduced from France and Spain; in a few years an important improvement would result, and the superabundant oil of a propitious season would form an article of export, instead of (as at present) being converted into soap, as otherwise unsaleable.
Our crowd of female admirers was happily dispersed by a slight shower of rain, and by clouds which threatened a downpour; the men remained, and a swarthy-looking thoroughbred Turk promised to accompany me on the morrow and show me the neighbourhood. I was informed in a mysterious whisper by a Cypriote “that this man was a notorious robber, whose occupation was gone since the arrival of the British;” he had formed one of a gang that had infested the mountains, and his brother had murdered a friend of Georgi (the van-driver), and was now in gaol at Rhodes for the capital offence. The Turk was very intelligent, and thoroughly conversant with the various methods of breech-loading firearms; he examined several rifles and guns belonging to me, and at once comprehended the mechanism, and explained it to the admiring crowd. When this individual left our camp in the evening, the story that I had heard in outline was corroborated by the driver Georgi, who asked me to exert my influence to procure the hanging of the murderer now at Rhodes, as the Turkish authorities would never execute a Turk for the murder of a Greek unless influenced by foreign pressure. It appeared that the Cypriote had informed against one of the gang for cattle-stealing, accordingly several members of the fraternity picked a quarrel with him at a drinking-shop one evening at Dali, and stabbed him fatally. My new acquaintance, the Turk, was not present during the fray, and I could not promise Georgi the intervention he desired.
On the following morning seven natives of Dali appeared–all Greeks–accompanied by the ex-robber, whom I regarded as “a wicked man who had turned away from his wickedness,” with whose antecedents I had no concern. They had brought their guns, which were at once submitted to me for an opinion of their merits, with a vain expectation that I should pronounce them to be “English.” I was to be guided to a spot about an hour’s march distant, where partridges and hares were said to abound, and it appeared that an impromptu shooting-party had been arranged especially for my amusement.
I am not very fond of such sporting meetings, as the common guns of the people, which are constantly missing fire when required to shoot, have an awkward knack of going off when least expected; my mind was somewhat relieved when the tactics were explained, that we (nine guns) were to form a line of skirmishers about two hundred yards apart, commanding a mile of country.
There is a great advantage in sport, as the search for game leads a traveller into all kinds of places which he would otherwise leave unseen. It is a great enjoyment to stroll over a new country accompanied by good dogs, and combine at the same time sport and exploration.
Upon arrival at the summit of the hill range which we had passed on our left when we had arrived at Dali, I was well repaid, and the necessity of judging a country from a hill-top instead of from a highroad was well exemplified. I looked down upon the highly-cultivated and fertile valley of Lymbia, surpassing in extent the plain of Dali, and although the successive ranges of hills and mountains were bleak and barren in their whiteness, the intervening valleys were all occupied either by vineyards or by fields in tillage. Even the ravines upon the steep hill-sides which had been scored out by the rainfall of ages were artificially arranged to catch the melted earth in its descent during heavy storms, and to form terraces of rich alluvium.
A succession of rough walls composed of the large rocks which strewed the surface, were built at convenient intervals across the ravines, forming a series of dams or weirs. The soil of Cyprus is peculiar in dissolving very quickly during a shower, and the water rolls down the steep inclines carrying so much earth in solution, that, should its course be checked, it deposits an important quantity, sufficient in a few seasons to form a surface for a considerable area. The walls of the dams are continually raised as the earth attains a higher level, and the ground thus saved is a complete gain to the proprietor.
The few partridges were very wild, and saved my dogs the trouble of hunting by showing themselves at a couple of hundred yards; the only chance of shooting them depended upon stray birds passing within shot when disturbed by the long line of guns. I only bagged one partridge and a hare, and the rest of the party had the miserable total of two birds. This was a fair example of the sport on the bare hill-sides of Messaria.
The new road to Mattiati was unfit for vans; I therefore rode over to visit the camp of the 20th Regiment, eight miles distant, and after luncheon with the officers of that regiment I accompanied their party to Lithrodondo, the Colonel having kindly lent me a fresh horse. My aneroid showed an increased elevation of 330 feet in the eight miles from Dali to Mattiati. After leaving the Dali plain the road passes through the usual hills of hard chalk, but about two miles from the entrance an important change was exhibited in the geological structure. Eruptive rocks had burst through the chalk, producing interesting metamorphic phenomena. The hills no longer fatigued the eye by the desolate glare, but the earth was a rich brown diversified with patches of bright chocolate colour.
The greenstone cropped out through the surface in large masses, accompanied by a peculiar dun-stone precisely similar to that of Knowles Hill in South Devon. In a cutting through a hill-side by the government new road veins of bright yellow ochre were exposed, also red ochre in considerable quantities. I took samples of the yellow, which appeared to be of a good quality; but I believe the commercial value is too insignificant to support the charges of land-transport and the subsequent freight from Larnaca.
Mattiati is about 1300 feet above the sea-level. The troops were camped in wooden huts on low hills about forty feet above a flat valley, where olive-trees throve in considerable numbers. I should not have selected Mattiati as a sanitary station; the plain showed evident signs of bad drainage, and the rich deep soil would become a swamp after heavy rains. Upon the low hills within a mile of the station were vast quantities of scoriae or slag from ancient smelting-furnaces, and the remains of broken pottery, mingled with stones that had been used in building, proved that important mining operations had been carried on in former ages.
From Mattiati to Lithrodondo the country is broken and little cultivated; there was no longer a sign of cretaceous rock, but the bold range of mountains rose before us crowned by Makheras, 4730 feet, apparently close above us, dark in plutonic rocks and sparsely covered with myrtles and other evergreens. As we neared the base of the mountains, the vegetation increased, and passing the dirty village of Lithrodondo, we entered upon a succession of hills divided by numerous small torrent-beds, the steep banks of which were thickly fringed with oleanders, mastic, myrtles, and other shrubs, which formed an inspiriting change from the weary treeless country we had left behind. Beyond Lithrodondo are extensive vineyards; but it was late, and I was obliged to turn back towards Dali, fifteen miles distant.
Wherever I had been since my departure from Larnaca the natives had complained of the effects of fever to which they are subjected during the summer months; but they were unanimous in declaring that “the general sickness of the last year was exceptional, and that the fevers were not of a dangerous nature.” It is well known that upon our first occupation of the island in July, 1878, all troops, both English and Indian, suffered to a degree that would have rendered them unfit for active service. It is true that the actual mortality was not excessive; but the strength of an army must be reckoned by the EFFECTIVE force, and not by numbers. There can be no doubt that, owing to a season declared by the inhabitants to be exceptionally unhealthy, and the unfortunate necessity for a military occupation during the extreme heat of July and August, the troops being overworked, badly fed, and unprotected from the sun, the newly-acquired island was stamped with a pestilential character, and Cyprus became a byeword as a fever-smitten failure. I shall give my personal experiences, untinged by any prejudice. The natural features of the country produced a sad impression upon my first arrival in a scene where the depressing influence of a barren aspect must to a certain extent affect the nervous system; but a careful examination of the entire surface of the island subsequently modified my first impressions, with results which these pages will describe.
There was no object in prolonging my visit to Dali; the tombs of ancient Idalium had already been ransacked by the consuls of various nations; and had I felt disposed to disturb the repose of the dead, nominally in the interests of science, but at the same time to turn an honest penny by the sale of their remains, I should have been unable to follow the example of the burrowing antiquarians who had preceded me; a prohibition having been placed upon all such enterprises by the English government.
It is supposed that Idalium is one of the largest and richest treasuries of the dead in Cyprus. For several centuries the tombs had been excavated and pillaged in the hopes of discovering objects of value. The first robbers were those who were simply influenced by the gold and other precious ornaments which were accompaniments of the corpse; the modern despoilers were resurrectionists who worked with the object of supplying any museums that would purchase the funeral spoil.
It is a curious contradiction in our ideas of propriety, which are measured apparently by uncertain intervals of time, that we regard as felonious a man who disinters a body and steals a ring from the fingers of the corpse a few days after burial in an English churchyard, but we honour and admire an individual who upon a wholesale scale digs up old cemeteries and scatters the bones of ancient kings and queens, princes, priests, and warriors, and having collected the jewellery, arms, and objects of vanity that were buried with them, neglects the once honoured bones, but sells the gold and pottery to the highest bidder. Sentiment is measured and weighed by periods, and as grief is mitigated by time, so also is our respect for the dead, even until we barter their ashes for gold as an honourable transaction.
The most important object of antiquity that has been recently discovered by excavations at Dali is the statue of Sargon, king of Assyria, 707 B.C., to whom the Cypriote kings paid tribute. This was sent to the Berlin Museum by Mr. Hamilton Lang, and is described in his interesting work upon Cyprus during the term of several years’ consulship.
The ruins of ancient cities offer no attraction to the traveller in this island, as nothing is to be seen upon the surface except disjointed stones and a few fallen columns of the commonest description. The destruction has been complete, and if we wish to make discoveries, it is necessary to excavate to a considerable depth; but as all such explorations are prohibited, the subject remains fruitless. General di Cesnola, whose work upon the antiquities of Cyprus must remain unrivalled, describes the tombs as from forty to fifty-five feet beneath the present surface, and even those great depths had not secured them from disturbance, as many that he opened had already been ransacked by former explorers.
On the 7th of February the thermometer at eight A.M. was only 40 degrees. The oxen were put into their yokes, and after a discussion concerning the best route to Lefkosia, it was agreed that Georgi should be the responsible guide, as he was a native of the country.
When travelling on horseback through the district of Messaria there is no difficulty of roads, provided you know the country thoroughly, as you may canter, in the absence of enclosures, in any direction you may please; but the Cypriotes have an awkward habit of leading their watercourses straight through any route that may exist for wheeled conveyances, and you suddenly arrive at a deep ditch and high bank, which block the thoroughfare. Georgi had assured us that no difficulty would delay us between Dali and the high road from Larnaca to Lefkosia, which we should intersect about half-way between the two termini. Instead of this, after travelling for a couple of miles along a good hardened track, we arrived at a series of trenches which effectually stopped all progress. Each van had a pickaxe and shovel, therefore we all set to work in rapid relief of each other to level the obstructions, and by this hard exercise the thermometer appeared to rise quickly from the low temperature of the morning. The oxen were good, and by dint of our united exertions in heaving the wheels and pushing behind, we dragged the vans through the soft ground that had filled the ditches, and then slowly travelled across ploughed fields and alternate plains of a hard surface covered with abominable thistles.
We passed on our left a large farm that exhibited a wonderful contrast to the general barrenness of the country. The fields were green with young wheat and barley, and numerous sakyeeahs or cattle-wheels for raising water supplied the means of unfailing irrigation. I believe this property belonged to Mr. Mattei, and there could be no stronger example of the power that should be developed throughout this island to render it independent of precarious seasons. It is a simple question of a first outlay that is absolutely necessary to ensure the crops. Throughout the barren plain of Messaria water exists in unfailing quantity within a few yards of the parched surface–thus at the same time that the crops are perishing from the want of rain, the roots are actually within a few feet of the desired supply. The cattle-wheels of Cyprus are very inferior to the sakyeeah of Egypt, but are arranged upon a similar principle, by a chain of earthenware pots or jars upon a rope and wheel, which, revolving above a deep cistern, ascend from the depth below, and deliver the water into a trough or reservoir upon the surface. From the general reservoir small watercourses conduct the stream to any spot desired. This is the most ancient system of artificial irrigation by machinery, and it is better adapted for the requirements of this country than any expensive European inventions. As I shall devote a chapter specially to the all-important question of irrigation, I shall postpone further remarks upon the cattle-wheel; but the farm in question which formed a solitary green oasis in the vast expanse of withered surface was a sufficient example of the necessity, and of the fruitful result of this simple and inexpensive method. It is a mere question of outlay, and the government must assist the cultivators by loans for the special erection of water-wheels. But of this more hereafter.
At about six miles from Dali we struck the road between Larnaca and Lefkosia (or Nicosia). The newly-established mail-coach with four horses passed us, with only one passenger. We met it again on the following day, with a solitary unit; and it appeared that the four horses on many occasions had no other weight behind them than the driver and the letters. With this instance of inertia before their eyes, certain lunatics (or WISE CONTRACTORS) suggested the necessity of a railway for twenty-eight miles to connect the two capitals! The mail had an ephemeral existence, and after running fruitlessly to and fro for a few months, it withdrew altogether, leaving an abundant space in Cyprus for my two vans, without the slightest chance of a collision upon the new highway, as there were no other carriages on the roads, excepting the few native two-wheeled carts.
We halted five miles from Lefkosia, where a new stone bridge was in process of construction and was nearly completed. We had already passed a long and extremely narrow Turkish bridge across the river about four miles in our rear. By pacing I made the new bridge twenty-nine feet, the same width as the road, and I could not help thinking that a much less expensive commencement would have been sufficient to meet the requirements of the country. In Cyprus the rainfall is generally slight and the earth is tenacious, and in dry weather exceedingly hard; if half the width of the road had been carefully metalled in the first instance, a great expense would have been saved at a time when the island was sadly in want of money; the natural surface of the firm soil would have been preferred by all vehicles except during rain, when they would have adopted the metalled parallel way. It is easy to criticise after the event, and there can be no doubt that upon our first occupation of the island a much greater traffic was expected, and the road between the two capitals was arranged accordingly. We halted for the night at the new stone bridge, which, as usual in Cyprus, spanned a channel perfectly devoid of water. On the following morning we marched to Lefkosia, and passing to the left of the walled town, we reached the newly-erected Government House, about a mile and a half distant, where we received a kind and hospitable welcome from the High Commissioner, Sir Garnet, and Lady Wolseley.
The position of the new Government House was well chosen. The character of the dreary plain of Messaria is the same throughout; flat table-topped hills of sedimentary calcareous limestone, abounding with fossil shells, represent the ancient sea-bottom, which has been upheaved. The surface of these table-heights is hard for a depth of about six feet, forming an upper stratum of rock which can be used for building; beneath this are marls and friable cretaceous stone, which during rains are washed away. The continual process of undermining by the decay of the lower strata has caused periodical disruption of the hard upper stratum, which has fallen off in huge blocks and rolled down the rough inclines that form the sides. As the water during heavy rains percolates through the crevices of the upper stratum, it dissolves the softer material beneath, and oozing through the steep inclination, carries large quantities in solution to the lower level and deposits this fertilising marl upon the plain below. In this manner the low ground of the rich but dreary Messaria has been formed through the decay and denudation of the higher levels, and the process will continue until the present table-topped hills shall be entirely washed away. The stone of the upper surface, which forms a hard crust to the friable strata beneath, is in many places merely the roof of caverns which have been hollowed out by the action of water as described.
The Government House was erected upon one of these flat-topped hills in a direct line about 1900 yards from the nearest portion of Lefkosia. It was a wooden construction forming three sides of a quadrangle. The quarters for the military staff were wooden huts, and the line of heights thus occupied could not fail to attract the eye of a soldier as a splendid strategical position, completely commanding Lefkosia and the surrounding country. From this point an admirable view was presented upon all sides. The river Pedias (the largest in Cyprus), when it possessed water, would flow for about 270 degrees of a circle around the base of the position, the sides of the hill rising abruptly from the stream. The dry shingly bed was about 120 yards in width, and although destitute of water at this point, sufficient was obtained some miles higher up the river to irrigate a portion of the magnificent plain which bordered either side. Sir Garnet Wolseley was endeavouring to put a new face on the treeless surface, and had already planted several acres of the Eucalyptus globulus and other varieties on the lower ground, while date-palms of full growth had been conveyed bodily to the natural terrace around the Government House and carefully transplanted into pits. This change was a considerable relief to the eye, and the trees, if well supplied with water, will in a few years create a grove where all was barrenness.
The view from each portion of the terrace is exceedingly interesting, as it commands a panorama for a distance of nearly thirty miles. On the north is the range of mountains, about twelve miles distant, which form the backbone of Cyprus, and run from east to west, attaining the height of 3400 feet. This is a peculiar geological feature in the island, as it is the only instance of compact (or jurassic) limestone. Through my powerful astronomical telescope I could plainly distinguish every rock, and the Castle of Buffavento upon the summit of the perpendicular crags afforded an interesting object, although invisible to the naked eye. The south and east presented a miserable aspect in the brown desert-like plain of Messaria, broken by the numerous flat-topped hills to which I have already alluded. On the west the important mountain-range which includes Troodos bounded the view by the snow-capped heights of the ancient Mount Olympus, between which several chains of lower hills formed a dark base of plutonic rocks, which contrasted with the painful glare of the immediate foreground. The highest points of this range are Troodos, 6590 feet, Adelphe, 5380 feet, Makhera, 4730 feet. These are the measurements as they appear upon the maps; but the recent survey by the Royal Engineers has reduced the height of Troodos by 250 feet. A green patch at the foot of the Carpas range denoted the position of Kythrea, about twelve miles distant east, watered by the extraordinary spring which has rendered it famous both in ancient and modern times; and almost at our feet, or a mile in a direct line, the fortified capital, Lefkosia, presented the usual picturesque appearance of a Turkish town. A combination of date-palms, green orange-gardens, minarets, mosques, houses quaint in their irregularity and colouring, and the grand old Venetian Cathedral, St. Sophia, towering above all other buildings, were enclosed within the high masonry walls and bastions, comprising a circuit of three statute miles.
The position of Lefkosia has been badly chosen, as it lies in the flat, and must always have been exposed to a plunging fire from an enemy posted upon the heights. It was fortified in the time of Constantine the Great, but in 1570 the Venetians demolished the old works and constructed the present elaborate fortifications. Although the walls are in several places crumbling into ruins, they are still imposing in appearance, and present a clean front of masonry flanked by eleven bastions, and entered by three gates, those of Baffo, Famagousta, and Kyrenia. The original ditch can be traced in various places, but the counterscarp and glacis have been destroyed; therefore the soil has washed in during the rainy seasons, and to an unpractised eye has obliterated all traces of the former important work. On the other hand, the disappearance of the glacis renders the height of the walls still more imposing, as they rise for thirty or forty feet abruptly from the level base, and at a distance maintain the appearance of good condition.
It is difficult to imagine the reason which induced the Venetians to reproduce Lefkosia after they had demolished the original fortifications; but it is probable that they had already erected the cathedral before the expected Turkish invasion rendered the improved defences necessary. Although in the early days of artillery shell-fire was unknown, both the Turks and Venetians possessed guns of heavy calibre far exceeding any that were used in Great Britain until recent years. The marble shot which are still to be seen in Famagousta are the same which served in the defence of that fortress in 1571. These are nearly eleven inches in diameter, while in the fort of Kyrenia the stone shot are still existing, nineteen inches in diameter, composed of an exceedingly hard and heavy metamorphic rock. The long bronze guns which threw the smaller stone shot of from six to eleven inches, would command a far more extensive range than the interval of the heights which dominate Lefkosia; and even should battering have been ineffective at that distance against walls of masonry, the plunging fire would have destroyed the town and rendered it untenable.
Traces are still visible of the Turkish approaches when the town was successfully carried by storm on the 9th of September, 1570, after a siege of only forty-five days. The short duration of the attack compared to the length of time required in the siege of Famagousta, which at length succumbed to famine, and not to direct assaults, is a proof of the faulty strategical position of the fortress of Lefkosia.
Most Turkish towns are supplied with water by aqueducts from a considerable distance, which would naturally be cut by an enemy as the first operation. The water is brought to Lefkosia from the hills at some miles’ distance, and is of excellent quality; but the wells of the town must be contaminated by sewage, as there is no means of effective