Book of the month

21 Μάρ 2024

Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa: part the second: Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land, by Edward Daniel Clarke, 1814, Published by D. Huntington.

Edward Daniel Clarke (1769 – 1822) was an English traveller, mineralogist, clergyman and scholar, whose curiosity led him to explore the far corners of the globe. Clarke, who studied at Cambridge University, set on extensive travels across Europe, Asia, and Africa. His explorations took him to remote and exotic locations, where he collected specimens, conducted scientific research and documented his observations in detailed journals. Clarke's extensive travels are recorded in two volumes: “Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa: Part the First: Russia, Tartary, and Turkey” and “Part the Second: Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land”.

Clarke visited Cyprus aboard the English frigate Ceres from June 6 to 16, 1801. Despite his short visit, he managed to record a significant number of observations and experiences, which he included in a chapter in the second volume of his travelogue, published in 1812. This chapter provides unique insights into the island's charm and character through its landscapes, local inhabitants, customs and traditions. Cyprus emerges as a land of contrasts, where the busy ports of the island stand in stark contrast to the high temperatures that plague the eastern and northeastern coasts. “[…] in the months of June and July, persons fall victims to the afflicting malady called a sun-stroke, or coup de soleil, if they venture out at noon without the precaution of carrying an umbrella.”

One of the most interesting aspects of Clarke's narrative is his exploration of Cyprus's vinicultural heritage. He provides readers with a sensory journey through the vineyards and cellars of the island and describes the Cyprian grape well-known in the Levant for its reputation for rejuvenating and energizing properties “The Juice of the Cyprian grape resembles a concentrated essence. […] it is said to posses the power of restoring youth to age, and animation to those who are at the point of death”.

Furthermore, Clarke explored the farming and cooking practices of Cyprus, “Many different varieties of the gourd, or pumpkin, are used in Cyprus for vegetables at table. The young fruit is boiled, after being stuffed with rice”. He vividly describes the Cypriot dishes and praises the variety of fruits found on the island, noting, “The island produces abundance of delicious apricots. [...] Those of Famagosta are the most celebrated”. Additionally, he highlighted the presence of vegetables, stating, “We noticed also the beetroot, melons, cucumbers, and a very insipid kind of mulberry of a white colour”, as well as the flourishing wheat in the island's fertile land.

Beyond its natural beauty and culinary delights, Clarke also delved into the historical and archaeological significance of Cyprus, noting the presence of ancient Phoenician relics and inscribed marbles that hint at the island's rich past. Despite its desolation and neglect, he suggested that Cyprus's antiquities hold the promise of unlocking a wealth of knowledge for future generations.

In conclusion, "Travels in Various Countries: of Europe, Asia, and Africa" is a captivating tale making it a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of travel, history and culture in the Eastern Mediterranean.

You can find this book, and many more, in the Research Centre of the CVAR.

The 'Book Of The Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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