In 1834 the first American missionary, Lorenzo Warriner Pease landed in Cyprus, at Lefka. Soon his ship sailed on to Larnaca where he disembarked.
“On landing at the custom house near the castle, you see the same difference within the town, which was apparent aboard the vessel. As you pass along down the Turkish quarter, on the seashore, not a waif is to be seen, no shop but a coffee of eating house: all is still, and the inhabitants look upon you as though the visit of Europeans amongst them was rare. After having gone down the seashore to a deserted castle built during the Greek Revolution for the protection of this and of the place, turning now through a grove of prickly pears, for these are here higher than a man’s head, you may return to the place of starting by another street. You are struck by the wretchedness which reigns here. The houses and walls around, as well as throughout Larnaca and Scala, with a very few exceptions, are built of unburned bricks. This is sufficiently gloomy, but when you see even these neglected and crumbling to ruin, and the rooms of the dwellings very generally destitute of plastering or even a coat of whitewash, as well as of the comforts of life in general, their temporal situation is sad indeed. But, even this quarter of the town has one advantage over the Christian, which, while it is in many aspects a convenience, adds also to the discomfort of the passengers, by increasing the mud of the unpaved streets. This is the aqueduct which was built by a pasha (who was banished by the Sultan to this place) in the years 1745 and 1746. He dug a great number of wells, about three miles distant and brought the water, by means of aqueducts, sometimes above and sometimes underground, and distributed to Larnaca and Scala and especially to the Turkish quarters. The only building in this part of the city which has the most distant claims to skill in constructions, is the mosk, built by the late governor on the site of the old one. Many of the stones were brought on asses from the ruins of Salamis, a distance of twentyfour miles, although the mountain of the Cross would furnish abundance of lime stone, and the neighboring hills would afford fine crystallized gypsum and coarse sand stone. This mosk, compared with the other buildings in Scala and Larnaca, may justly lay some claims to neatness. It is also worthy of observation as being the only mosk, which we have known to be built during our residence in Cyprus.
From the mosk, you pass by a very narrow and dark lane into the Christian quarter. In front of the coffee houses, are exposed for sale piles of fruit of various kinds, bread and vegetables. At a butcher’s stall, you will see men killing sheep, goats and lambs, under a piazza by the side of the street not ten feet wide. Here scores of these innocent creatures are daily offered up to satisfy the craving appetite of man. A crowd of wolfish looking dogs stand ready to eat any portion of the entrails which may be thrown to them and to lick up the blood shed so profusely. These are the only scavengers of the butchers’ stalls. If you are not disgusted by the scene, you will stop a moment to notice a singular method of skinning the animals. Immediately upon slaying a sheep, the butcher makes an incision into the skin of one of the hind legs and begins through it to blow up the animal as though it were a bladder. It soon swells up to a great size. He then whips the carcass with a small stick, until the skin is sufficiently loosen from the flesh and then proceeds with his work. At your right hand is a man cutting up tobacco for smoking. Immediately you hear a sound not unlike the blowing of a porpoise or noise of a whale spouting sea water through the orifice in his upper jaw: and you are almost ready to believe that one of those enormous fishes is rolling about on dry land. But you need not be startled. It is no whale, but the tobacconist filling his mouth with water and spouting it upon the tobacco in very fine mist for the purpose of enabling him to cut it better, and perhaps - that it may weigh more. “Guarda, guarda” and pray what is that? Why, the water-man is trying to drive his donkey through the crowd laden with water, and you must step up into the baker’s stall to let him pass by. “Tinkle, tinkle, guarda”, now what? Do you see that sober faced camel walking slowly but majestically through the bazaar, and laden with an immense cotton bale on each side of him? You must have patience, for there are several behind him and your safest course is to remain in the stall. Well, that danger is passed and your head is not broken yet, “guard, guarda,” what another row of camels? Oh, it is nothing but a porter bending and sweating under the weight of a bale of madder roots. What, again? A cart drawn by a yoke of heifers! You observe that there is but little more than the space of a foot on each side of the wagon, so narrow is the street.
It is morning. The servants of the different European families are busy buying bread, vegetables and meat for the day, all which they put into a palm-leaf basket, and sling on their backs and trudge off home. The whole market is alive and the sound of voices in the Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Italian, and occasionally French and even other languages, combined with the yelping of dogs and the sulky groan of the camels tend very strangely to remind you of Babel and its confusion. Ah, another tobacconist? No, it is the Greek tailor sprinkling his cloth by the same means that the tobacconist wets his tobacco. A truly ingenious people this. But their ingenuity does not stop here; for they sometimes turn themselves into water pots, and sprinkle the floors of the church before sweeping. You observe that this bazaar is composed of shops in front of which are platforms, made of mud and stones under a piazza, where many of the foods are exposed, and the mechanics set to work both summer and winter. As they are so near each other, they can easily converse with each other and watch all that goes on in each other’s shop.
You must be careful as you now walk along into the open street, for we are coming to a great pile of mortar made of clay brought from the vicinity, the mud and water in that mudhole, and straw cut up, so that it is like chaff. Let us stop a little and examine the process, for you will be curious to know how they make and repair houses in Cyprus. This mortar has been mixed several days, and as it is in the middle of the street, it has been trodden by all the beasts which have passed along. This has done no harm, but rather benefited it. It has now become more of a homogenous mass, and the builders have come to repair a wall, which has recently tumbled down, after having been saturated by the rain. The mud bricks are about 12 by 20 inches and 21/2 or 3 inches thick. These are laid in mortar and the wall soon goes up. Poles are now laid across from one wall to the other to serve as rafters: on these are laid reeds which are laid together by means of grass; upon them is scattered a quantity of harsh grass and then about six inches of dry earth are deposited on top. The workmen, whom you see filling those little troughs with mud in the street, will carry it to the roof, where a master workman (for not every man has skill in this business) spreads and smooths it out over the whole surface; and then the “Cyprus roof” is finished. If, however, during the summer, this mortar should be rent by the excessive, the people are obliged to fill in the schisms with mortar and to place rows of clay in different parts of the roof, which, upon the first rain, dissolve and fill up all cracks. But the house is not quite finished. The walls also must be plastered over both for greater beauty and for the sake of preserving them. As no scaffolds are used in building, it is necessary to have ladders, by means of which the workman ascends to the spot, which is to be plastered. He stands ready with the face of his trowel up, while one below, who has been making the mud into a large ball, tosses it up to the workman. Immediately, the latter receives it and spreads it out upon the wall. If however the wall be very high, the mud sometimes passes through two hands before it reaches its destination. Ignorance and even laziness itself are sometimes ingenious. But what a sad waste of time is there; and of money too, you may add. For these houses need repair almost every year, and at least once in every three or four years. Such are the houses of Larnaca. And yet, when well built, they last for many years. There are some here, probably not less than a hundred years old. And were the roofs well covered with tiles or the calcareous lime stone, which is easily cloven into lamina of any size, they would be comfortable and lasting as many that wear a better exterior. As the climate is usually even in the winter, far from uncomfortable, the people have no fires in their houses. But the poor, who live upon the ground story and consequently suffer, more or less, from the dampness of the climate, if possible, make their houses facing the south and have a small yard on that side so as to enjoy the warmth of the sun.
But who is that man with a long dark colored robe, large flowing sleeves, a bushy beard, and long hair which is never polluted by shears and a bell-crowned rimless cloth hat? He is a Greek priest. You see that he has a small sprig of some green plant and a brass crucifix in his hand. Behind him is a boy, whose hair is allowed to grow quite long but is twisted up and tucked under his cap. He carries a little copper pail in his hand, which contains from a pint to a quart of water. It is the first day of the month according to the old style of reckoning time, which is still retained in the Greek church, although it is the thirteenth of our month. This priest is paying his regular monthly visit to all the families of his parish. Wherever he goes he sprinkles the floors of the different rooms as well as each member of the family, and at the same time offers the brass crucifix to each person to kiss. This is called sanctification; and in the eyes of the people has great potency in
driving hobgoblins from the house, who are indeed very troublesome to the more ignorant and superstitious.
On passing through the bazaar, the Turkish cemetery appears to your left, in the very center of the place. How sadly neglected! How strikingly does it contrast with those of Smyrna! A low mud wall is built around it. One or two young palm trees have been planted within its precincts; but generally, it is covered with tall dark weeds. Rarely is a stone erected to mark the graves of the different individuals who have come to inhabit this, their long home.”
The 'What I saw...' series is made possible with the support of OPAP Cyprus and Active Citizens Fund.