By Heidi Trautmann
Wherever there is water there is a human settlement. Water to keep people alive, water for the fields and water for the mills. Around Değirmenlik, old Kythrea and still older Chytroi used to be water, a lot of water, delivered by famous springs from the mountains, the Five-Finger mountains. The proof is still there but the tunnels, channels, pools and aqueducts are dry, today only filling with the winter rains.
The oldest settlement recorded was Chytroi, founded by Chytros, one of the ten city kingdoms of Cyprus reaching right up to the northern coast. In the archaeological museum in Nicosia South we can admire the big bronze statue of Emperor Septimus Severus in room 6; it was found in 1928 at the site of antique Chytroi with Salamis as its neighbour kingdom.
Today Değirmenlik is the district capital including many villages right down to Ercan.
We have friends there, the family of a young artist, Hasan Zeybek, who one day invited us to come and visit his village. In the middle of the flatlands of the Mesaoria, the Değirmenlik district spreads right into the foothills of the Five-Finger mountains, reigning over it with their distinct purple shadows in the folds, a typical feature we often find in paintings and photographs.
It is amidst these colours, amidst the many historic backgrounds that Hasan grew up; touchingly proud to show us around through the streets of the old Değirmenlik district villages. The village life has for many centuries been shared by communities of various descents. They worked together in the fields, they were well off with the many water wellsprings which - after a vicious tongue - stopped flowing after the “Turkish invasion”. The water stopped flowing because reckless people drilled deep wells to get at the ground water and simply exhausted the water resources. It is a sad sight to see all the channels and tunnels bone dry, only partly filling after heavy rains. In the foothills we can still recognise the once fully working water mills milling the wheat crop of the area. The power and the curse of water.
In the streets still many witnesses of different cultures, different architecture, reaching back to times before anno domini, houses, bridges, aqueducts but also remnants of mill accessories, machinery and huge mill stones, once imported from the Greek island Krythea or from Alexandrette (Iskenderun) in the South of Turkey. I could see myself spending weeks here with heavy boots, a rucksack and a small hammer going for cultural finds everywhere. Our curiosity is most alert.
In the Değirmenlik area they have altogether 15 churches still standing, one is used as mosque, some are restored and others are planned to be restored, how Hasan explains. Pictures of normality: a mosque just next to a church. Witnesses of tragic history everywhere, also shown in the faces of people having come to live here after 1974 with their hearts still in their home villages from where they have been driven away. There were others driven from their homes, says Hasan, driven away for their religion, the early Christians who took refuge in these mountains, we would see them, he will show them to us, the underground caves, just wait. And we follow the road up through the valleys of the foothills of the Beşparmak mountain (Five-Finger) where, Hasan explains, live the Turks from Anatolia, with their women wearing scarves, where they tend their sheep and grow olive trees, cut so deeply that they look like gnomes. On top of a hill a small church, the only Catholic church here. We arrive at the other extreme end of the Değirmenlik district at Başpinar, a country restaurant, built over a wellspring, over underground tunnels controlling the once bubbling spring waters and playfully settling in pools, at least I can picture it in my imagination. Hasan leads us into the underground site where side tunnels come together once leading the water from different wellsprings into the main tunnel and from there into the pools around which a picnic place is erected. How beautifully cool it must be to spend a hot summer Sunday here in the shade of one of the big trees.
From here we overlook the soft flow of slopes and valleys, the village district spreading across the endless Mesaoria and then disappearing in the blue mist of the distant Troodos mountain range.
We climb higher up to a platform with cypresses bent from the wind, a stony area covered in bushes of macchia and just above our heads the Five-Finger mountain, the Beşpermak, of which a romantic legend exists about the fight of two boys over a girl when one of them drove his adversary into the swamps where he drowned with his hand risen in despair; over the years the soil had lifted him up for all to see the guilt of the murderer. In this legend loaded landscape we cross the wide stone field and search for the entrance to the early Christian caves; and there we find them, with the roofs fallen in, we can still recognise the arches; if you don’t have a guide as we had, you would never know of the caves’ existence. A weird atmosphere, and now a huge herd of sheep and goats comes over the hills with two shepherds. We talk to them; one of them is a farmer down in Değirmenlik and he invites us to come and visit his farm, he has some horses too. Hasan will take us one day, he says. He looks like a shepherd himself with the leather rucksack, he has inherited from his grandfather.
We drove back, I with a feeling of uncertainty, of standing between the lines, different levels of time spaces, lost between various time frames.
Hasan took us to his mother’s house surrounded by a wild garden and many cats in the backyard. We had Turkish coffee together and a lovely apple cake. There is an oil painting on the wall by Hasan’s mother as I learn from him. A painting in just the same colours of the landscape we have been driving and walking through.
The colours of many centuries, just remember that!