Friday, April 3, 2009

The aqueduct and the water wisdom of the ancient town of Kition, in Larnaca-Cyprus

Cyprus is very well known for its periodic droughts and low waterfall winters causing severe scarcity of water. This characteristic has been the rule through its long history until today. The city of Larnaca at the south coasts of Cyprus was born at the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. as the island’s major port, due to the need of exporting the copper richness of the island, wood, salt from the nearby salt-lake and the other rich products of the island. Imports included food items, handcraft items, jewelry, olive oil and many other products from the nearby civilizations. The choice of the site was due to the excellent natural port facilities and not due to the availability of water, which is the rule for the majority of prehistoric and early settlements. 

Contacts and trade exchanges during this period were archaeologically proven with the civilizations of Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Crete and the Aegean. The city was originally known as Alasia (the place of the salt), but after the first millennium B.C. was known as Kition (Grail – Kivotos). The geographical position of the city, opposite the great civilizations and powers of the World soon made it a strategic navigation point in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its fiord-like natural ports hosted the ships, the wisdom and frictions of all above mentioned civilizations. 

The first settlements in the area of Larnaca in the second millennium B.C., soon became the first urban centers of Cyprus. Population increased and the water availability for the local population and for the visiting ships was a subject, which caused a little problem. Due to the absence of any major stream around the port facilities of the first settlements, especially during the long hot summers, the early population of Larnaca made their own wells. At the beginning, the water supply from these wells was sufficient and the water always cool and pleasant. Storing water in the locally made clay water jugs, left in the shade and in the constant Cyprus summer breeze, produced cool and pleasant drinking water. If this valuable forgotten wisdom is reapplied, it is possible to save energy even today.  

In both early settlements of the Larnaca area, archaeologists found extensive and stone protected wells, dating in the beginning of the second millennium B.C. They were extensively found in almost all houses and public buildings. Some of these fine stone protected and build wells is thought to be the work of the religious authority of the city, which at the time was also the political authority of the city. Around these wells, archaeologists found holy gardens and intensive plant growing. The city underground water is now at the face of being used in organized agriculture. There is now an overdue use and deeper excavations for more water quantities started to affect the quality of the water, as the sea is very near.

The city became noticeably bigger towards the end of the second millennium. The conflicts with the surrounding powers and civilizations obliged the local authorities to built a mad-straw and stone city walls, around the 13th century B.C. At the end of the 13th century the Mycenaean Greeks controlled the city and they constructed cyclopean walls. But, the population within the city walls since Archaic Times (700-480 BC) increased tremendously. A new method for extensive underground depositing in clay – argil cisterns have been discovered by the archaeologists dating in this period. Depositing water underground is a very wise method, as it is always cooler and safer for drinking, especially in hot climates like Cyprus. The combination of low temperature and darkness makes the possibility of developing bacteria or other dangerous microorganism in water almost impossible. This is a piece of mind of the ancient populations, which modern man forgot to a great extend.  

A tomb inscription of the archaic period in Cyprus (700-480 B.C.), found in the Kition cemetery of this period, refer to the “Minister” of the king responsible for the water supply of the kingdom, an officialdom held by his family, as the inscription mentions, for six generations before him! Therefore, organized, wise, efficient and official administration of the water needs of the town can be traced even before the Archaic Period (700-480 BC). Good planning for sufficient quantities of water was in the minds of ancient civilizations to a much greater degree than we think or do today. 

The greater needs for good drinking water for the constantly increasing population living within the city walls obliged the Kingdom of Kition authorities and the Minister for the water supply of the city, to import the wisdom and experience of other nearby civilizations. During the Persian overrule of Cyprus (546-335 B.C.), the technology of “Persian Quanats” has been imported by the city. This technology seemed to be known even before the Persian presence on the Island, as the Assyrians, who ruled the island for about 50 years in the beginning of the 7th century, new this technology and applied it for their own cities. 

The last part of a long “Persian Quanats” underground channel-system has been discovered in the early 1990’s in recently in the ancient port of the Classical times of Larnaca (480-300 BC.). This sophisticated water supply system was obviously bringing sufficient quantities of water from appropriate sites outside the city walls. The size of this channel in the site of the ancient port is quite large and must have satisfied the needs of a populous city and of a busy military and commercial port. The building technology of the “Persian Quanats” was so wise, that remained in use for more than 2000 years later. These underground channels were bringing with the flow of water large quantities of cool air, therefore supplying the community with freshness in the hot months of the summer.  

In the summer of 45 AD, Saint Barnabas and Evangelist Marcus passed by Roman period Kition. In the book “Secret Acts of Saint Barnabas” written by Saint Marcus, a detailed account of their visit in Larnaca is mentioned. A long stay for refreshing at the public aqueduct of Kition is well described. The city was then at its most populous face and the operation of public aqueducts was a mere necessity, which the Roman and later the Byzantine State policies are known to have financed and encouraged in great devotion. Archeological findings of this period in Larnaca show extensive distribution networks with clay pipes, which seem to carry water through small valleys and hills despite the general unscientific view of the Romans that such thing could not happen. At least one such aqueduct was found to operate in Larnaca. Hydraulic wisdom in Larnaca pre-existed Pascal?

In Medieval times, in the book of the chronicle of “Leontios Machairas” written in the 14th century A.D., we find the information that grain mills operated in Larnaca, and that Luzinian King Peter I supplied his army and fleet with flour for people and for the horses of his cavalry from Larnaca. This information is given in relation to the preparation of the military expedition of King Peter against Alexandria-Egypt. Without being able to prove it archaeologically as yet, we assume with a great degree of certainty that these gain mils worked on the main Persian Quanat system of Larnaca, still being repaired and used since Classical, Roman and Byzantine times. The use of hydraulic power in Cyprus for the operation of grain mills was a real achievement for the medieval engineers of the island. The Venetians (1486-1570 A.D.) de-routed the stream of this Persian Quanat system, so it would not pour in the salt lake, when there was a year of plentiful rainfall. This was very necessary as the production of salt, which was a great source of income for the Luzinians and Venetians, was negatively affected when there was too much water in the lake, which would not dry on time to allow the collection of salt.  

At the time that Larnaca became once again the main port and populous center of Cyprus, in the Ottoman times, but especially between the years 1746-1878 AD, the Ottoman Governor of Larnaca “Bekir Pashia” (1746-1748) claimed that he constructed a new Aqueduct for Larnaca. A 15 kilometers long aqueduct, with 7 kilometers long underground Persian Quanats channel system initiating at river Tremithos, and with an 8 kilometer long over ground channel passing through 3 different small valleys over arched beautiful constructions, all in excellent condition until today. All these together with the 2 surviving grain mills on the channel, comprise a great monument of the water wisdom of the area. The administration document of the quanat water of the Bekir Pashia aqueduct is surviving too. However, a closer look at the above mentioned archaeological and literal evidence, indicate that the Bekir Pashia aqueduct was an extensive reparation and renovation of pre-existing installations of the ancient aqueducts of the city.  

The Bekir Pashia aqueduct system, with all the condensed wisdom of antiquity in relation to the administration of public water-supply, was in full operation until the 1950’s. Its operation was destroyed, not because of less amount of waterfall on the island, but because of the unwise actions of our generation. Over pumping in the water bed of the sourcing of the aqueduct became so great that gradually lowered the underwater level of the whole area. A natural source for the water supply of Larnaca ceased to operate! Modern Technology, used in an unsustainable manner brought its end after perhaps more than 2.5 thousand years. 

Larnaca 21.03.2009

Alexis Michaelides
Deputy Mayor.
Writer and independent researcher 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Environmental Activities of the Larnaka Municipality

The municipality of Larnaca is involved in many areas of environmental protection:-

By law it is directly is responsible for:-
• Household garbage collection.
• Hygienic disposal of town waste.
• Hygiene of food, restaurants, shops, tank water etc.
• Road and open space cleaning.
• Development of parks, green areas and town ecology.
• New responsibilities after accession in the E.U.

Takes care of ecological domains as partner in other organizations:-
• The Larnaca Sewerage Board.
• The Committee for the Protection of the Larnaka Salt Lakes.
• The Larnaca Board for the Recycling of Household Waste (still not ready under law)
• The Larnaca Lab for Pollution Watch.
• The Blue Flag program for the cleanliness of seawater.

Plans for better urban environment through municipal decisions for:-
• Traffic control.
• Town mobility
• Public Transport.
• Pedestrian streets and areas.

Uses its authority and influence to control polluters such as:-
• Larnaca International Airport.
• Petroleum Refinery
• Petrol depositing.
• Power plant of Dekelia.
• Local Industry
• Local work shops

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The new Mecca for Civil Ceremonies

It is not only Aphrodite with the myth of Eros that inspires magic to couples all over the world for civil marriages in Larnaca. It is much more. The short flights from Middle Eastern Airports and the availability of direct flights to Larnaca from many European Centers is one good reason to start with. Another is the fact that such easy solution for young couples in love is largely unavailable in Israel and in most Moslem countries. The good sunshine and the extreme hospitality of the people in a town resort for all seasons, seems to be another good reason why Larnaca attract so many other couples internationally.

To satisfy the growing demand for the victims of the arrows of Eros on the Island of the Goddess of Love, the Municipality of Larnaca has recently acquired a beautiful building near the Municipality, off Athens Avenue near the beautiful seafront palm trees road. Restored and renovated, this 19th century aristocratic urban mansion is to serve from now on the mission of civil ceremonies in Larnaca (Photos). The civil marriage department of the Municipality has its base there and can provide to the interested parties a fantastic lounge for the ceremony, ample space inside or outside the building for celebrating receptions and the photos of the newly married.

Last but most important is that the rest of the rooms of the Larnaca new Municipal building for Civil Ceremonies will be the only Museum in Cyprus featuring rare Cypriot collections of ancient jewels, silver and golden micro-items related to marriages and found in the city of Larnaca reflecting its 4000 years of continuous history.

Kamares, the Old Aqueduct of Larnaka

At the exit from Larnaka towards the Limassol highway you see the most grandiose arches (kamares) of the 16 kilometers long, 18th century aqueduct of Larnaka. For the adventurer the old aqueduct of Larnaka offers a tremendous challenge. Walking straight line from these 1st arches at about 2-3 kilometers you arrive at the 2nd arches and after a walk of almost the same distance, but having to pass the airport “by-pass highway” you arrive at the 3rd and lower in height arches. At this point you have to look for the old mill, which was working with the aqueduct’s water, and then for almost 9 kilometers up to the river, the water-channel becomes underground, but every 30 meters you can see the “visiting wells” of this unbelievable project, which channeled the water of river Tremithos to Larnaka till the 1930’s. Many researchers and historians believe that this tremendous public work existed since Roman times and that the Ottoman Bekir Pashia reconstructed the whole project in 1745 on the basis of the surviving facilities. This argument is supported by the fact that a similar in construction and materials water channel exist in the archaeological site of the ancient port at Kilkis Street and at many other spots in the city and these water channels remind Roman masonry as does at several points the main aqueduct line underground or over the ground.

Kimon Square and Seafront Stage

Kimon Square is in the middle of Athens Avenue, and was named in the 1920’s to honor Athenian General Kimon, who in the 5th century BC arrived here with 200 triremes to free Cyprus from Persian rule. He besieged Kition (Larnaka), which was the stronghold of the Persians and he defeated the Persian fleet in the nearby open sea. He died here before final victory and his army, according to ancient historians, buried him in Larnaka and the people of Kition honored him since. General Kimon’s bust is an artwork of an Athenian sculptor and was placed here in the 1920’s. Next to the bust the municipality of Larnaka constructed the open air “Seafront Stage” where all free of charge summer festivities of the town are taking place. Of special interest are the Cataclysm’s festivities of the Pentecost in early June, where the Square is visited by thousands of people from all over Cyprus.

Larnaka Marina and the Colonial Pier

Opposite the colonial buildings of Europe Square is the entrance of the Larnaka Marina, which was built in the early 1970’s all around the Colonial Pier, which was constructed by the British in 1879 to develop the facilities of the Larnaka port at that time. The walk on the Pier is a traditional social activity of the people of Larnaka and it is strongly recommended because it is the only place you can have a look at the Larnaka seafront from the side of the sea and at the same time enjoy the feeling of a real sea-town where activities are extended in the open sea. All organized mini cruises in the Larnaka Bay and to Ayia Napa and Protaras areas start from here and you can even choose a glass bottom boat to enjoy the deep, or you can chart your own yacht for a day cruise of your choice. Also, you can enjoy a submarine underwater mini cruise in the Larnaka Bay, which is full of smaller and bigger wrecks, the most famous being the Zenovia.

Europe Square

It is at the beginning of Athens Avenue and it is decorated with the first colonial buildings the British Administration built in Cyprus in 1879. It was the first year the British occupied the island and Larnaka was the biggest port and urban center of the island, so the housing of British colonial administration had to get started from here. The Colony’s Governor building, the chief Port Master house and office, the Chief Customs Officer residence and office, the colonial port warehouses are some of these old buildings now restored to accommodate the Paleontology museum, the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, the City-Museum and Archives and the District Administration of Larnaka. The restoration of the old colonial warehouses won the “Europa Nostra” award in 1996. The artistic composition “seagulls in flight” of sculptor Papagiannis was also placed in 1996, updating the area, and ‘Europe Square’ name was given by the Municipal Council to honor the European Union.