Thursday, September 30, 2010

Smithsonian Exhibition of Cyprus Archaeology

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC will be hosting an exhibition called “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilization”, which will include over 200 artifacts “coving nearly 11,000 years of history.”

If you happen to be in the DC area before May 1st, I strongly recommend going.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Architecture in Layers

The pictures above are of the ribbed vaulting, decorative capitals, tracery windows, and pointed arches of the St. Sofia cathedral. It was a gothic cathedral built by the Lusignan ruling class in Cyprus in the 14th century.

The following series of pictures are of a minaret and the fountain outside of the Selimiye Mosque. These are distinctive Islamic architectural elements that allow Muslims to carry out their religious traditions in Nicosia.

Would you believe that all of these pictures and both of these names belong to the same building?
Well as you can see below, the Selimiye Mosque (formerly known as St. Sofia Cathedral) is a “Cypriot Gothic Mosque” and it lies directly in the center of the Old City of Nicosia, just north of the Buffer Zone. Following the Ottoman seige of the island from the Venetians in 1570, many of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals throughout the island were modified into mosques. This truly unique monument dominates the skyline of Nicosia with its minarets and buttressing despite its low stature compared to gothic cathedrals elsewhere in the world due to the threat of earthquakes.


KFC, McDonalds, and Starbucks are names I wished to be without for 9 months… These establishments are extremely popular here in Cyprus and are almost always busy when I walk by their locations in the Old City.

I prefer to sit around and socialize, think, or people watch with a more traditional tyropita (flakey cheese pie), souvlaki (pita with pork grilled on a skewer), cypriot coffee, frappe, or Keo (locally brewed beer) at a more local establishment.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trip through Fantasy Land

On Friday evening, I went to the port city of Limassol, where the Cyprus Institute was showing off its archaeological scanning technology to children and families. They played a series of videos in 3D that showed famous archaeological finds in Cyprus from all angles.

The following morning, we toured the medieval tower of Limassol. The Venetians and the Ottomans fortified the tour over what used to be a gothic church built by the Lusignan’s (who ruled Cyprus from 1192-1489). This tower has become the Medieval Museum of Cyprus, which features monuments from other churches and fortifications on the island.

To escape the afternoon heat, which has been in the mid-90’s since I arrived, we sought refuge in the clear water of the Mediterranean Sea. We stayed at an uninhabited beach, only accessible by gravel road, until the sun had fallen below the sandstone cliffs behind us.

We left the pebble-strewn beach for the winding roads and forested peaks of the Troodos Mountains, which lead us to the village of Arakapas.  We arrived to the Byzantine church we had set out for, but had to find the towns key-keeper. Nikos was directed to an old women in the church across the street, who unlocked the door for us with a solid key that is about 9 inches long. Inside the church the original stone floor tile and painted arcade of pointed arches remained. The beautiful church was unusual for the time period because of the Gothic detailing in its wall paintings and the pointed arches.

Finally, we stopped at a village festival in Kornos. A festival was in full swing when we arrived that had a traditional dance performance, ceramic artists (see above), and free village sweets such as Loukoumades (honey soaked doughnut holes).

Thursday, September 23, 2010


This building is called the Stoa and it was finished just before I was here last summer. It was created as an all-in-one hang out, meaning it has a restaurant for dinner, a bar for drinks after dinner, and a club. The area in front of it is used as the fresh food marketplace on Saturdays, but the Stoa has now forced it to end 2+ hours early so that the parking lot is available. Unfortunately, the municipality wasn’t able to stop the construction of this monstrosity in the middle of the historic core of the city.

I understand that development of the area near the buffer zone needs to start somewhere, and private investment is what will help trigger this… But building anything in the old city deserves some character and should at least acknowledge its surroundings. A design review process would be nice at the very least. So much for a harmonious coexistence of past and present.

Grey Day - Grosz

Look at the above painting...

I first saw this in an intro architectural history course three years ago. The painting is called Grey Day by George Grosz and instead of memorizing its name, date (1921) and period (German Expressionism) for the final, I remember the painting to this day. The painting was made as Germany was recovering following WWI and the realities of life at the time are expressed clearly. In the foreground is an architect (distinguished by the T-Square under his arm) with a clean suit and eyes crossed. Directly behind him is a new brick wall being put up in front of the industrialization in the far background, a worker with his shovel, and most obvious, a war vet with a weathered face and a cane who is missing an arm.

I find this painting especially powerful when I consider my future in architecture, planning, preservation, or something of the like. Following my international experiences the past two years, I realized the social, cultural, and historical implications design can have. Last year during architecture studio, I made a point to focus on designing from the existing site conditions (specifically historical). Having a solid foundation to design from allowed me to feel much more comfortable with the final project and helped me explain my process.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Foreign Policy Issues

The other day, I finished the book “Cyprus” by Cristopher Hitchens. He is a British-American writer who is extremely controversial for his portrayal of the untold story of foreign policy, specifically from his countries of citizenship. In the book “Cyprus”, he breaks down the role of each government involved (U.S, England, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus) leading up to and during the 1974 war.

After reading the book I am bothered by the work of the U.S. in the controversy. Because we were so transfixed on ending the spread of communism, we failed to understand what consequence our foreign policy agenda was having on the citizens of each country in which we intervened. With Cyprus as an example, we (Henry Kissinger and his department) played Greece and Turkey (Guarantee powers of the island with Britain) against each other to overthrow the president (Archbishop Makarios). As a result, a Greek military junta sieged the capital of the island in 1974 (which Hitchens argues we knew about) and attempted to assassinate President Makarios, which failed. It failed even further when the Turkish military began to invade the island from its northern coast, while our government pleaded ignorance with ships stationed near Athens.

I understand that this was an attempt to protect our country from the growth of Communism that was moving westward, but was it worth it at the price of the thousands killed or missing and the further hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war? Let me reiterate that we were not the only ones to blame (the British, for instance, allowed the island “sovereignty”, but forced the treaty to be signed to include them as a guarantor power as well as their 100 square miles of army bases that still exist on the island today only to keep out of the issues that developed leading up to and during 1974). However, Instead of open and honest peace talks in a diplomatic environment like the UN, the countries “involved” took it upon themselves to determine the future of Cyprus and divided her beauty into pieces. It was Senator Fulbright who attempted to raise concerns of the crookedness in the Cyprus Problem, but too few listened and the result has subsisted to this day.

Note: I am not turning into an anarchist, this has only strengthened my support of diplomacy in the way it is supposed to be used. See the movie Endgame as an example.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cypriot Identity

A recent article in the Cyprus Mail (the daily newspaper) gave statistics about young Cypriots, including what region they associate themselves with. To summarize, a relatively small percentage of both Turkish- and Greek- speaking Cypriots consider themselves either European or Middle Eastern. However, a strong majority consider themselves to be “Mediterranean”. Cyprus and its people have a unique identity which is hard to define because it has been influenced by the diverse cultures that have ruled it and that surround it today. Despite the fact that there is a buffer zone that physically (and often emotionally) divides the Turkish- and Greek- speaking communities, there are thousands of years of history on this island that unite them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brief Summary

After a long journey across the Atlantic, I arrived in Larnaca and caught my taxi up to Nicosia at about 5:00 pm Cyprus time (9:00 am Central). It was around 85 degrees when we landed, but is now a comfortable 77 with a breeze on Rachel and Nikos’ balcony. Dr. Iannacone and Dr. Bakirtzis (Rachel and Nikos) were the co-leaders of my Greece trip two summers ago and continue to inspire me academically. I owe them so much for their guidance and the letters they wrote for all of my awards. I will be staying at their apartment for a few days in south Nicosia’s Dasoupoli neighborhood until I find a place for my own. Nikos is eagerly waiting for my return to the basketball court (which won’t be pretty).

As I begin to settle in, I thought it might be helpful to explain why I am here. The island of Cyprus is divided a United Nations controlled Buffer Zone that separates Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking regions and runs directly through the capital city, Nicosia (where I am staying). The entire island is considered the Republic of Cyprus (released from British control in 1960), but following an attempted coup by a Greek military junta seeking union with Greece, the Turkish military invaded the island from the north in 1974. The regions remain polarized to this day, and until only a few years ago crossing the buffer zone was not legal.

However, Cyprus lies at the crossroads of East and West, Christianity and Islam, & Europe and Asia and the Middle East. In addition, the island had been used as a main naval base/air craft carrier by many of the Mediterranean’s great powers. Both of these factors have given the island and complex history and identity, and this history is visible in its architecture.

Immediately following the division of the island in 1974, community leaders from both sides recognized the need to preserve the historic monuments in the capital city of Nicosia. For the 35 years since the Nicosia Master Plan has been put into action, over 100 monuments have been restored in an attempt to draw the two sides together by their common heritage. I am here to study this process as a conflict resolution strategy in a divided city through the built environment.

My main project is to document each monuments preserved under the master plan in a database at the Cyprus Institute (my host institution where Nikos works). In addition, I hope to help the NMP teams in any way I can while I am here to encourage and understand their work.

As I communicate with more people in the coming weeks my project will become more clear. For now… I still need to get an apartment, phone, bank account, etc.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Delayed Departure

Although my flight was originally booked to depart on September 10th, some passport control issues experienced by other Fulbrighter's headed to Cyprus pushed back my flight to September 15th. With these extra days at home, I got a chance to spend some bonus time with friends and family before I left them again and ensure that I my bags were packed with everything I needed and nothing more.

You will hear from me next in Cyprus.

A Return to Action

Hello everyone and welcome [back] to my blog. I apologize for its stasis over the past year, but I hope the activity to come will make up for lost time.
Speaking of lost time, here’s a quick rundown of the past couple years of my life that led to where I am today:

September 2006: Began architecture program at the University of Minnesota, thoroughly unprepared for the journey ahead.

May-July 2008: Participated in the program “Tradition in Transition”, an architectural history seminar in Greece led by Professors Rachel Iannacone and Nikolas Bakirtzis. My sponge-like brain was immediately stimulated by the wealth of knowledge these two offered me during our tour of Athens, the Peloponnesos, and a few islands (namely Leros and Rhodes). I continued to travel to Turkey, Britain, Spain, Italy, and France during the following month.

August 2008-May 2009: Began architecture studio courses and worked at the Learning Abroad Center.

June-August 2009: Funded by the Metropolitan Design Center and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, I investigated the island of Cyprus and the urban planning/heritage preservation approach to draw the divided island together in the capital city of Nicosia (called the Nicosia Master Plan, or NMP). In addition, I attended the Mount Menoikeion seminar at a monastery near Serres, Greece and traveled to Bulgaria, Israel, as well as many other cities in Greece that I had not previously been (including Crete, Meteora, and Thessaloniki). Please see all previous posts and my Flickr page for more detail on these travels.

August 2009-May 2010: Finish up school, feverishly apply for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, and add my photos from travels to the Digital Content Library.

May 2010: Graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a minor in Geography.

June-August 2010: Work at Artspace Projects Inc. as a property development intern.

Now: I eagerly await a journey of a lifetime to Nicosia, Cyprus from September 2010-June 2011 to document and look closer at the Nicosia Master Plan as a Fulbright Scholar.

Then: I venture to Belfast, Northern Ireland from September 2011-September 2012 as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar where I will be attending class at Queen’s University pending my acceptance into the Urban & Rural Design or Spatial Regeneration programs.

Thank you to everyone that has helped me achieve these lofty goals, and for your future support during the next two years and beyond. I hope you all will comment on my posts!