In 1765 the Tuscan merchant Antonio Mondaini ventured into Kyrenia and there, while conversing with the local Ottoman dignitaries he learnt about “kebi”, the Ottoman tradition of marriage by contract.
"I saw in the vicinity of Cerines a lot of caves which served as sepulchres, dug into the stone by the bows of a chisel. We penetrated them through a narrow entrance and inside were about four to six partitions for the dead… Advancing towards Cerines, I crossed its plains spread with carob trees, extraordinary big in shape. Their huge production is exported yearly to Alexandria. I finally arrived at Cerines; during the Lusignan times this town had an Episcopal seat, now under the Turks, it has been reduced to a small town, where the bishop of Cerines stays and where his Cathedral exists. The Turks have a mosque and the administrative government is represented by a Digdaban or commissioner and a Cadi, or judge; it was a respectable city already mentioned by Ptolemy and Diodorus as Ceraunia, or Ceronia and the former acknowledges it among the northern cities of the island. Pliny and Dionysios, named it Cinyra, from Cinyro- ancient king of Cyprus- to whom the founding of the town is attributed.
Lusignan states in all honesty that it was called Cirines from Cirus, king of Persia and attributes the foundations to him based only on the link which exists between the word Cirus and Cerines or Cinyra. After having consulted all historians, we still do not know who really founded this city… Once in Cerines, I went to see the Digdaban, and after him the Cadi; I offered to each one two bottles of syrup and two boxes of sweets and they were very pleased. They offered me coffee accompanied by a pipe. I had many conversations with the Digdaban and he was very polite. As I was leaving, I received the usual perfume. I then went to the Cadi and I received the same honours; he was a very jovial person and I found much pleasure in speaking with him…I then witnessed a marriage contract exchanged between two Moslems and sanctioned by the Cadi. A Turk was asking permission to marry a Turkish woman for four years undertaking the obligation to dress and feed her, to recognize any children that may be born and at the end of four years to give her as a pension 100 piasters. The Cadi believed the tradition of Kebi to be fairer than ordinary marriage. A man of poor means was not obliged to fend forever for a woman but at the same time, he was not deprived of female companionship, while the children were secured. According to the Cadi, the Christians, having to fend for their wife to the end, often sacrificed their children when they could not support them and abandoned them at the stairs of a church hoping that God would look after them. I could not explain the ethical and spiritual essence of “till death do us part” to my down-to-earth, practical opponent. The small town of Cerines was in a great state of decline, its population reduced to a small number of Greeks and Turks; the Cadi proposed to me a visit to the castle. I followed him and I saw it from a short distance. According to the Cadi it was built on a rock facing the sea by the Portuguese; -Being Franc, you are not allowed to enter it, but if you want to take possession of the castle and its garrison, we can do it very easily without gun or swords but with our pipes, since it is only defended by an old man who eats opium and sleeps three-quarters of the day. You see in what position we are abandoned after all. If a ship equipped with 20 men comes, they can take the fortress and the city without encountering any resistance.
So, it was up to me if I wanted to visit it, but my hunger gave me the excuse to refuse. However, the Cadi, after having accompanied me around its walls, left me with the usual polite and friendly compliments. The castle looked like a long square and was considered by many impregnable, but today, considering the military art of war, it would be one of the less resistant. At a few steps, there is a small harbour, where three or four ships can take shelter. The big ships are compelled to anchor in the roadstead of Cerines, but in winter the Tramontane blows strongly and all the ships suffer a lot of damage. "
Photo (pht_01568) © Costas and Rita Severis Foundation
The 'What I Saw...' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and the Active Citizens Fund.