Book of the month

20 Jun 2024

Historic Cyprus: A Guide to its Towns and Villages, Monasteries and Castles by Rupert Gunnis

Historic Cyprus: A Guide to its Towns and Villages, Monasteries and Castles by Rupert Gunnis, K. Rustem & Bro, 1973.

Cyprus, a little world in itself…no wild beasts or reptiles disturb the solitude. The water is sweet and cool, the wine is nectar, and the food plain but good.

Les Îles Méditerranéennes

Rupert Gunnis (1899-1965), a distinguished historian and antiquarian, was born in London in 1899 and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1923, he joined the Colonial Service, starting as the private secretary to the Governor of Uganda, a position he held until 1926. He then served as private secretary to the Governor of Cyprus, Sir Ronald Storrs, from November 1926 to June 1932. Following this, Gunnis worked as the Inspector of Antiquities for the Cyprus Museum from 1932 to 1935. This role allowed him to deeply immerse himself in the island's history, culminating in his important work “Historic Cyprus: A Guide to its Towns and Villages, Monasteries and Castles”, the fruit of his extensive research into the history and archaeology of the island, has become a classic of its kind. He had also been drawn to the study of church monuments from an early age, with notable contributions such as the “Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851”. His passion is evident through his detailed descriptions of Cyprus’s rich religious architecture.

Gunnis sets the stage with a comprehensive overview of Cyprus’s rich and varied past serving as one of the founding fathers of Cypriot historiography. “The singular interest of the history of Cyprus is primarily due to its geographical position.” From its ancient civilizations to the Byzantine, Medieval and Ottoman periods, he presents a detailed yet accessible narrative. “There is no country whose fortunes have been more varied, or which has reflected more faithfully the ebb and flow of races. It has been the meeting-place of Aryan and Semite, of West and East, of Egypt and Asia, of Christian and Moslem”.

His engaging style makes complex historical events easy to follow, guiding readers through centuries and highlighting the island's significance and the countless influences that have shaped it. “Possessed in turn by great monarchies of the East, by Greeks, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, and Christians, it has been in the fore- front of every racial and religious struggle […]”

The island itself emerges as a character in Gunnis’s narrative, with its cities and ruins described in detail. “The Castle of Kyrenia is one of the most ancient buildings in Cyprus, and played a large part in the history of the mediaeval kingdom. It was never taken by Turkish assault, though besieged many times, but only surrendered through starvation or change of policy” and the bustling medieval towns transports readers to another time, where every stone tells a tale. “The Ammochostos of the Greeks (from the two Greek words Ammos-sand: chono-to hide) is one of the finest examples of mediaeval architecture still left and is worthy of comparison with Carcassonne or Ragusa”.

Gunnis strikes a delicate balance between depth and accessibility. While he explores the complexities of Cypriot history, he does so in a way that remains approachable for readers who may not have a background in the subject. His analysis is thorough yet never overwhelming, ensuring that the book is both informative and enjoyable. He has given us a gift - a window into the past that allows us to appreciate the rich tapestry of history that has shaped the Cyprus we know today. This balance makes Historic Cyprus suitable for both serious historians and casual readers with an interest in the past.

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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