Did you know

28 Jun 2021

Did You Know? The Katirci

The village of Atnienou was always associated with muleteers and camel drivers. The village is supposed to have taken its name either from the name Athena or from “stou Etiennou” a corruption of the sentence “to the house of Etienne” (referring to Etienne Lusignan). The Ottomans called the village Kiraci-koy or Kiraji-keuy, a name used till 1974 and meaning, the village of muleteers. Athienou has an interesting story as regards the Latins of Cyprus. It is believed that after the Ottoman conquest the Latins of the eastern part of the island, Venetians who once lived in Famagusta but helpless and without means to return to Venice, gradually gathered in the village of Athienou, about 150 families, and became muleteers, owning and driving mules and camels. These people were of noble ancestry who finally turned to be guides, camel drivers and muleteers to earn a living. Calepio confirms this in his writings just after the conquest in 1572. He writes that: From the capture of Famagusta right up to the harvest of the following year there fell a great death on the realm of Cyprus, and those very few poor gentlemen who remained in the island, having been ransomed together with citizens of Nicosia, struggled to make a living as muleteers and hawkers of wine, cloth and other little things, a very different life from their old one.

The American missionary Lorenzo Warriner Pease noted in his diary in 1838 the functions of the Athienou muleteers: The muleteers of Athienou appoint one of their numbers annually to go to Nicosia to live, where he receives and gets all the letters, especially of the government and is called upon by the demogerondes whenever they need his aid in procuring animals for the case of the government so also whenever the villagers of Athienou wish to make any complaint to the government or procure redress they go through him.

So, the village becomes famous for its guides and muleteers who almost dominate the inter transport on the island and make a good living especially from the visitors to whom they become indispensable. They are known by the Turkish name katirci. But there is one famous katirci from Smyrna who was imprisoned in Famagusta for many years during the middle of the nineteenth century. This was katirci Yianni, a highway robber, the then Robin Hood of the environs of Smyrna. Finally caught, he was transferred to Famagusta where he was chained for life on a pillar. Edmond Duthoit, the archaeologist visited Famagusta in 1862 and came across a chained, skinny man, who stretched out his hand towards him offering a pot of sweet-smelling basil. It was Katirci Yianni, giving him a gift. The katirci spent the last years of his life as a servant in the house of the first District Commissioner of Famagusta. He was seen there and his story was told to Ms Cesnola. When katirci Yianni died he was buried in the Orthodox cemetery of the town. The watercolour, by Keith Henderson, is of a typical camel driver and can be seen on the second floor of the CVAR.

The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus)

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