At the same time that the produce of Cyprus is now a unsuitable to the English market, there is no reason why it should be excluded at a future time, when scientific culture shall have enhanced the quality. It should be remembered that the poorer classes of Great Britain would be immensely benefited by a beverage that should be within their reach in price, and at the same time be sufficiently invigorating without the direct intoxicating properties of spirits or the sleepy, heavy, and thirst-increasing qualities of beer. If Cyprus is at some future time to become a British colony, the wine trade will be the principal source of industry, and should be developed by the government with every possible encouragement to the proprietors of vineyards. An improved quality of wine will not necessitate an additional price, but, on the contrary, the wine-growing resources of the island are so irrepressible that they have withstood the oppression of the past and present, and when relieved of this incubus, not only should the quality improve, but the price should be reduced. In this case, should the Cyprian produce be favoured by a nominal import duty in England, the wine will be within the reach of the poorer classes, and may ameliorate that crying evil of our country, "intoxication," by weaning the spirit-drinker to a more wholesome drink.
It must never be supposed by the most sanguine that Cyprian wines will be fashionable among the upper classes in England. I do not think they will ever surpass Marsala or many of the Cape wines. English people, as a rule, object to cheap wines, or at least they are reserved concerning the price, should cheap wine be upon their table. It is a dangerous thing to mention the cost of any wine, even to your nearest friend; although he might have enjoyed it when he thought it must have cost you 72 shillings the dozen, he will detect some unpleasant peculiarity when you may foolishly have confided to him that it only cost you 36 shillings, or, worse still, 24 shillings. He will possibly suggest to you on the following morning that "something disagreed with him during the night, but he does NOT think it was the 24 shilling wine." Here is the fault of HALF-EDUCATED palates; they expect too much, and are guided by fancies. The same person might be beguiled into the belief that the 24 shilling wine was very superior if he had been deceived by an assurance that it cost 72 shillings. There are really very few amateurs who could value unknown wines by the test of their own palates; but the chilly climate of England is adverse to light wines, and necessitates a full body, with considerable strength.
The sherries are always fortified by an addition of between 30 to 40 per cent. of alcohol before they are shipped to England, without which they would be unsaleable; as to our taste, they would be empty and vapid. We must therefore make a considerable allowance when judging of Cyprus wines in their present extremely rude and uncultivated position.
Nothing is added, and the following concise description will account for their disagreeable peculiarities.
There are no roads in Cyprus in the mountainous wine-producing districts, therefore all agricultural products must be conveyed upon the backs of mules up and down the steepest and most dangerous rocky tracks, apparently more fitted for goats than other animals. A mule will travel in this rough country with a load of 250 lbs. This serious difficulty of transport will account for the rude and ancient method of conveying wine in goat-skins. "No man will put new wine into old bottles," referred to this system of employing skins instead of casks, or other receptacles that could be cleaned and rendered tasteless. The goat-skin would quickly rot, unless it was prepared by a species of tar; thus not only is the naturally unpleasant flavour of the skin imparted to the wine, but the mixture of tar renders it completely abominable to any palate that has not been educated to receive it. Let any person conceive the result of pouring ten or twelve gallons of Chateau Lafitte into an old and dirty goat-skin thoroughly impregnated with tar, and carrying this burden upon one side of a mule, balanced by a similar skin on the other side filled with the choicest Johannisberger. This load, worth at least 70 or 80 pounds at starting, would travel for two days exposed to a broiling sun, and would lie for several days before it would be turned into the vat of the merchant at Limasol. By that time, according to civilised taste, it would be perfectly valueless and undrinkable; if the best wines in the world can be thus destroyed by a savage means of transport, what must the effect be upon such inferior qualities as the crude produce of Cyprus? Common sense will suggest that the first step towards improvement will be the completion of roads throughout the wine districts, that will enable the two-wheeled native carts to convey the wine in barrels direct from the growers to the merchants' stores at Limasol.
We will now commence at the beginning, "the cultivation of the vine," and trace its progress until the wine is ready for the consumer.
As I have already described, the commanderia and the black wines are produced by the two different qualities of soils, but there is no difference in the altitudes. The new British road from Limasol to Platraes, thirty miles, cuts directly through the principal vine districts of the country. From the deep valley and roaring torrent, up to the mountain-tops exceeding 4000 feet above the sea-level, the country is green with vineyards in the middle or latter end of May; not a yard of available land is lost. When the shoots are about three feet long and have shown the embryo bunches, a number of men enter the vineyard with switches and knock off the tender ends of the runners, which in a gentler method of cultivation would be picked off with the finger and thumb-nail. Sometimes goats are turned in to nibble off the shoots in order to save labour, and at the same time to feed the animals; they of course damage the vines, but the Cypriote thinks the system pays. The young vines are never staked and tied as in Europe, but are allowed to take their chance, and the heavy bunches in many instances rest upon the dusty ground.
There is seldom rain after May, but a few showers are favourable at this particular season when the young bunches are in blossom. In the best vineyards attention is given to clearing away the weeds after rain, but usually the vines are left to nature after the grapes have formed, as the hot sun and drying wind are sufficient to keep down adverse vegetation.
The grapes ripen towards the middle or end of August. The commanderia grapes are collected and spread upon the flat mud-plastered roofs of the native houses, and are exposed for several days, until they show symptoms of shrivelling in the skin, and the stalks have partially dried: they are then pressed. By this time many of the grapes that have been bruised by this rough treatment have fermented, and the dust and dirt of the house-top, together with flies and other insects, have adhered to the impure heap. It has been imagined by some travellers that the grapes are purposely dried before pressing; on the other hand, I have been assured by the inhabitants that their only reason for heaping and exposing their crop upon the house-tops is the danger of leaving it to ripen in the vineyard. None of the plots are fenced, and before the grapes are sufficiently ripe for pressing they are stolen in large quantities, or destroyed by cattle, goats, mules, and every stray animal that is attracted to the fields. The owner of the vineyard accordingly gathers his crop by degrees, a little before the proper time, and the grapes are exposed upon the house-tops to ripen artificially in the sun. In this manner the quality is seriously damaged; but the natives will not acknowledge it any more than the Devonshire farmers, who leave their apples in heaps upon the ground for many weeks, rotting and wasp-eaten, before they are carried to the pound for the grinding of cider. The grapes, having been trodden by men with large boots, are pressed, and the juice of the commanderia is placed in jars capable of holding from seventy to one hundred gallons. The refuse of skins and stalks is laid upon one side to ferment for the manufacture of raki, or spirit, by distillation. The fermentation of the juice proceeds in the earthen jars, and is guided according to the ideas of the proprietor; when he considers that it has continued to a degree sufficient for the strength and quality of the wine, it is checked by the addition of powdered gypsum. Here is one of the patent errors of the manufacture of commanderia as a wine suitable to English tastes. The grape-juice is naturally so rich in saccharine, that it is luscious and vapid to an excess; this superabundant amount of sugar would be converted into alcohol in the natural process of fermentation if unchecked, and by the chemical change the wine would gain in strength and lose in sweetness. Should this process be adopted, the result would no longer represent the wine now accepted as commanderia, which finds a ready market in the Levant, owing to its peculiar sweetness and rich flavour, although disagreeable to Europeans; there would accordingly be a risk attending such experiments, which the grower would consider unnecessary, as he already commands the sale.
The large jars in which the wine ferments are porous and unglazed; the usual waterproofing is adopted, in the shape of tar, with which the inside is thickly coated. There are many jars of a century old, which have lost the flavour by extreme age, and have become liquid-proof by the choking of the pores with the crust deposited by the wine; these are highly prized, and the wine after fermentation is left upon its own lees to ripen; or, according to our ideas, it is entirely neglected. It is never racked into other vessels.
There is an unusual peculiarity in commanderia; instead of the colour becoming paler by great age, it deepens to an extraordinary degree. The new wine is the ordinary tint of sherry, but it gradually becomes darker, until after forty or fifty years it is almost black, with the syrup-like consistence of new honey. Wine of this age and quality is much esteemed, and is worth a fancy price. I was presented with several bottles of the famous old Cyprus growths of commanderia, morocanella, and muscadine, by the kindness of Mr. Lanites, who is largely interested in the trade at Limasol. The old commanderia was sufficiently sweet to occasion a roughness in the throat, and each quality was far too luscious for English taste, but might have been agreeable to sip like Tokay, by soaking a sponge biscuit. The utterly rude method of producing native wines, which can scarcely be dignified by the term "manufacture," is a sufficient explanation of their inferior quality, but at the same time it is a proof of the great wine-producing power of Cyprus, where, in spite of ignorance and neglect, an extensive commerce has been established, which adds materially to the revenue of the island. If these badly-made wines have founded an important trade, there is every reason to expect a corresponding extension when scientific principles shall have resulted in a superior quality.
The black wines receive even less care than the commanderia; the grapes are trodden, and are thrown into receptacles to ferment, together with the skins and stalks. This bruised mass, after lying a certain time exposed to fermentation, is pressed, and the muddy juice is stowed in the large tarred jars to ripen for a few months, which, according to Cyprian taste, are sufficient to prepare it for consumption. The stalks and black skins, being extremely rich in tannin, have imparted to the wine a powerful astringency and the exceedingly dark colour which so disagreeably distinguish this common quality. The growers imagine that the extra amount of tannin is preservative, without which, their wine might deteriorate during the rough treatment to which it is subjected by transport and exposure; and to their specially-educated palates this astringency is agreeable, combined with the strong flavour of tar, which completely excludes it from the consumption of Englishmen. Neither the commanderia nor any other quality of wine is subjected to the process of "fining;" when issued from the stores of the merchant, therefore, a really bright clear wine is never met with. The black wines could be considerably improved by allowing them to settle in large vats, and by a series of rackings into other vessels, as they become clearer by depositing their impurities. I have tried this experiment upon a small scale with success, and there can be no doubt that the simple manual labour of drawing off the clear wine to enable it to fine itself by precipitating the albuminous matter that has been fixed by the superabundant tannin, would render the "mavro," or black wine, drinkable; always excepting the presence of tar, which can at once be avoided by the substitution of casks for the earthen jars and goat-skins.
At the expiration of the vintage the vines remain uncared-for throughout the autumn and winter, cattle and goats invade them ad libitum so long as their leaves are attractive, and no operation is performed until the month of March. At this time they are pruned close to the stocks, which are generally about one foot above the ground, and two eyes are supposed to be left upon each spur. But I have watched the cultivators during the process, and observed the usual neglect; sometimes the spurs were shaved off completely, without a bud for next year's shoot, and at others too many buds were left, that would weaken and disfigure the parent stem. The instrument for pruning was similar to a very small reaping-hook, with a handle about a foot in length, and the delicate operation was conducted with a rapidity that rendered the necessary care impossible. After the clearing of the refuse the land is carefully ploughed and cleaned.
I visited some large wine-stores in Larnaca, where casks of about 300 gallons each were arranged in long parallel rows, all filled with commanderia of various ages and corresponding prices.
Having now traced the liquor from the original vineyard into the merchant's store, it will be interesting to examine the network of obstructions and extortions to which the unfortunate wine-grower is exposed before he can deliver his produce into the hands of the merchant, either at Limasol or elsewhere.
Consul Riddell reported officially in 1875 as follows:—
"The wine trade of Cyprus was last year exceptionally large, owing to the abundant produce of the vineyards in 1874. The outcome of grapes and wines in 1875 did not exceed an ordinary average, and growers still complain loudly that the imposts upon wines, reckoning from the grape to the vat, are so heavy—amounting to about 35 or 40 per cent.—and their imposition and collection so very arbitrary and unequal, that many vineyards are being abandoned.
"The government, it is said, have under consideration the anomalous state of the wine trade in Cyprus, with a view to relieve and redress the many grievances of which consumers complain, and in the meanwhile the collection of the imposts is suspended. Should the result prove to be the elaboration of a fair, reasonable, and consistent scale of duties, the revival of the wine trade may be reasonably looked forward to, and under sound regulations and intelligent fostering the trade would undoubtedly become a large and profitable one to this island."
In 1876, the year following the promised reform, Consul Pierides reports:—
"The quantity of all sorts of wine produced was much below that of 1875. The principal shipments were made to Trieste and Venice. The collection of the imposts, which was for a short time suspended, has recommenced, and the manner in which it is conducted is still arbitrary and vexatious, while remonstrances have hitherto been of no avail. It is time for the government to put an end to these grievances, which indeed threaten to destroy one of the best resources of the island."
In 1877 Consul Watkins reports:—
"The manufacture of wine here is greatly on the decrease; for, owing to all sorts of unreasonable regulations, and to the vexatious mode of their application, cultivators now prefer making their grapes into raisins."
Here we have consecutive official reports from three different British consuls during 1875-1877. The British occupation took place in 1878—I am writing in 1879—and although the grievances of the Cyprian wine-growers were sufficiently aggravated to call for the vigorous reports and protests of three different British consuls during the Turkish administration, no amelioration of their condition has been effected during twelve months of British rule.
Captain Savile, in his excellent digest of all that concerns this island, writes:—
"The grievances connected with the culture of the vines and the manufacture of wine which are alluded to in the consular reports, existed as long ago as 1863, and were then mentioned by Consul White, who says that the peasants were even then beginning to find it more profitable to sell their grapes, or to make them into raisins, rather than, by turning them into wine, to subject themselves to the duty lately imposed over and above the tithe and export duties, which were collected in a very harassing manner. The growers have had to pay, under the tax called 'dimes,' an eighth part of the produce of grapes to the treasury; but this could not be taken in kind, so a money value was fixed yearly by the local medjlis, or fixed tribunal; but as the assessment was based on the market-price at the chief town of the district, instead of the value at the place of growth, this tax, instead of being about 12.5 per cent., in reality amounted to over 20 per cent. Then again when the wine was made, an excise duty of 10 per cent. was levied, and on export, a tax of 8 per cent. had to be paid. The natural consequence of these excessive impositions has been the diminution of a culture for which the island is particularly adapted. Consul Lang suggests that it might be wise to free this production from all tax, except a proper export duty."
How easy it is to be generous at the expense of others!—here are (including Consuls White and Lang) no less than five British consuls who have been protesting against this instance of oppression and injustice since the year 1862, and it would naturally have been expected that one of our first acts upon assuming the government of Cyprus would have been to abolish an abuse that had excited the remonstrances of our own representatives. The fact is that we were reduced to a financial ebb of the gravest character by the absorption at Constantinople of an unfair proportion of the revenue, and our government was not in a position to risk a reduction of income by such an important change in the system of taxation. The Cypriotes have nevertheless derived a collateral advantage from the change of rulers, as the extreme grievances to which the consular reports allude were aggravated by the farmers of taxes, who no longer exist. These people were extortioners of the worst description, and the bribes and extra payments extracted from the vine-growers are represented in the gross sum mentioned as amounting to 40 per cent. upon the general produce of the vineyard. The reforms already established by the abolition of the nefarious system of tax-farming have relieved the vine-growers from the most serious oppression, but sufficient abuses remain to demand a radical change, if the industry for which Cyprus is specially adapted by nature is to be encouraged.
As I have described in outline the rude method of cultivation and the manufacture of wine from the first bursting of the young vines, I will now examine the system of arbitrary interference to which the vine- grower is exposed through the successive stages of his employment.
The first tax is perfectly fair, as it is calculated according to the rateable value of the land, which is divided into three classes. These qualities of soil vary in the valuation from
No. 1 = 500 piastres the donum (about half an acre) to No. 3 = 100 piastres the donum
The malliea, or annual tax upon these valuations per donum, is 2 per cent.
When the grapes are nearly ripe, they must be valued before the proprietor has a right to gather his crop. He is obliged to present himself at the government office at Limasol, many miles from his estate, to petition for the attendance of the official valuer, called the "mahmoor," upon a certain day. This may or may not be granted, but at all events one or two days have been expended in the journey.
Should the mahmoor arrive, which he frequently does not, at the appointed time, the medjlis, or council of the villages, appoints a special arbitrator to represent their (the vine-growers) interests, and he accompanies the government official during his examination of the vineyards. After a certain amount of haggling and discussion, an approximate weight of grapes is agreed upon, the mahmoor declaring the ultimate amount far above the actual crop per donum: and the tax is determined according to their quality, resolved into two classes:—
No. 1, the commanderia, and other superior varieties, pay 25 paras the oke. No. 2, all other grapes pay 16 paras the oke.
But these taxes. are modified according to the abundance and quality of the grapes in each successive season, being sometimes more or less than the figures given. The crop is generally ripe towards the end of August, and the tax, having been determined, may be paid during the following January, March, or May.
The grapes having been officially valued, and the rate of taxation established, the proprietor may gather his crop, and press it for wine. The rows of enormous jars are at length filled: eventually the wine is ready for sale.
Now comes the necessity for a second journey to Limasol, perhaps thirty or forty miles distant, to petition for the government official to measure the contents of the jars; without such an examination, no wine can be removed from the stores.
This is another loss of time to the grower, and occasions an expense for himself and mule for the journey.
The jars are at length measured; but before any wine can be removed a general examination of the quality of the district produce must be completed, and, an average value having been determined, the tax of 10 per cent. must be paid ad valorem.
After these necessary forms have been gone through, with the attendant vexatious delays and expensive journeys, entailing loss of time for men and mules, the vine-grower wishes to carry his wine to market.
Before a drop can be removed he must present himself at the official quarters, either at Kilani or one other village, to obtain a teskeri, or permit, for the quantity that he wishes to convey. After this trouble and delay he returns to his home with the official permit to remove to a specified place (generally Limasol) a fixed quantity of wine, which is calculated by the load; one load equals 128 okes of 2.75 lbs. avoirdupois, and, packed in goat-skins, is carried by two mules.
The vine-grower himself weighs his wine when the skins are filled, and he starts upon his long journey over steep mountain rocky paths to Limasol, where he will sell his load to the wine-merchant, who subsequently will ship it to the various ports of the Mediteranean.
The sun is burning; and the wine, contained in tarry goat-skins, is, after a few hours' exposure to the heat, about the temperature of the hottest bath; thus absorbing the vile smells of the primitive but secure package. The owner is well aware that the value of his wine will depend upon the flavour, therefore he hurries his mules forward, in order to deliver it as quickly as possible to the merchant, before it shall be contaminated by the skins.
Upon arrival at Limasol it may be late, and nothing can be done. His wine must be weighed by the government official at the public weighing-place, specially assigned for the wine trade; and he drives his laden and tired mules to the yard. Here he finds some hundreds of mules and their proprietors in a similar position to himself; however, there is no help for it, and they must be patient through the night while their wine is imbibing the hateful flavour of the goat-skins. In the meantime they must purchase food for their mules and seek quarters for themselves.
When the morning appears the government official has enough to do, and as a certain time must be occupied in weighing a given quantity, the day wears away. Every man has to present his teskeri, or permit, for removal from his village to Limasol of a specified quantity of wine, and his load must weigh that prescribed weight upon delivery. His scales may not have been exactly in harmony with those of the government official; but should the quantity exceed the teskeri, the owner must pay DOUBLE THE AMOUNT OF TAXATION.
In the meantime, during the wrangles concerning discrepancies in weight, mules are arriving with their loads, their owners all desirous of despatch, and the hours fast wearing away. The next day is probably a Greek holiday, and all the merchants' stores are shut (there is a Greek holiday at least once a week,—generally twice). The unfortunate vine-grower, after waiting patiently in despair, discovers that he must wait still longer. At length, after vexations and delays, he draws a sample of wine into a gourd-shell from his skins, and hands it to the merchant; who, having made a wry face and spat it out, advises him to "throw his wine into the sea, as it is undrinkable," having remained too long in the goat-skins exposed to the sun. A most respectable informant related to me the total loss of a large quantity of first-class wine from the delay thus occasioned at Limasol. . . .
The refuse, after pressing the grapes, is calculated to yield upon distillation a proportion of 100 okes of spirit for every ten loads (1280 okes) of wine. This pays a tax of eight paras the oke, which, added to the 10 per cent. upon the wine, makes a total of 15 per cent. upon wine and spirit included.
The vine-grower, irrespective of the size of his vineyard, is allowed 200 okes duty free for his own consumption; and when his jars are measured to determine the contents for taxation an allowance is deducted for the muddy deposit at the bottom.
It will at once be seen by this enumeration of the delays and vexations occasioned by this arbitrary system, that it is barely possible for the vine-grower to calculate the actual cost of his wine, as the loss of time, expense of journeys, and uncertainty of the amount of delays are entirely beyond his control. It is therefore extremely difficult to discover the exact financial position of the cultivator, but from the data in my possession it is nearly as follows:—
One donum of land, which is supposed to measure a square of fifty yards, would be about half an English acre; and this area is calculated to yield an average of one load and a half of wine = 192 okes = 528 lbs.
The value of the ordinary wine of the country will average about 90 piastres the load, wholesale price; therefore one donum will represent a gross value of I.5 load at 90 .. = 135 piastres (Cr.)
Against this annual produce the natives calculate as follows:—
Piastres. Per donum—Expenses of cultivating the land, i.e. ploughing, weeding, &c. . . . . . . 25 Pruning vines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Gathering crop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Feeding labourers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Carriage of wine to market . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 TOTAL government dues, including malliea . . . . . . . 25 (Dr.) 105 135 (Cr.)
This leaves a balance in favour of the producer of only 30 piastres, about 5 shillings per donum.
But it must be remembered that in the above calculation his own personal labour has not been considered; neither the wear and tear of implements, jars, loss by accidents of seasons, when the wine turns sour, neither is any margin allowed for extraneous casualties.
At first sight the position appears impossible, as a stranger would ask the pertinent question, "Why, if vineyards do not pay, does the owner continue the occupation? Why does he not substitute some other form of cultivation?" The answer is simple. Wherever the conditions of the locality permitted, they have already done so; but vineyards are cultivated where no other crops could grow; upon the sides of inclines so steep that it is even difficult to stand; and these positions, although peculiarly adapted for the cultivation of the vine by reason of the soil, would be absolutely worthless for other uses. The vine requires little water after the young grapes have formed, and the burning sun-light which is favourable for their development would destroy all cereals upon those steep inclinations, where a casual shower, instead of soaking into the earth and nourishing the crops, rushes quickly over the surface and drains superficially into the deep vale below. The land of the vineyards is WINE land, and adapted specially by the quality of the soil and the peculiarity of climate for the production of grapes. In addition to the impossibility of converting this land to other purposes of cultivation would be the loss to the proprietor of all his plant, buildings, jars, &c., &c., which would become valueless.
This is, as well as I can describe the grievances, the real position of the vine-grower. Although since the British occupation he has escaped the extra extortion of the tax-farmer, he is still the slave of petty vexations and delays, which strangle him in red-tape and render his avocation a misery; without profit, leaving only a bare subsistence. What is to be done?
The first necessary change is a system of roads, only sufficiently wide to admit of the native two-wheeled carts, with sidings every half mile to enable them to pass when meeting. Our usual English mistake has been made, in the only two metalled highways that the engineers have constructed in Cyprus, "that everything must be English;" thus we have two costly roads of great width from Larnaca to Lefkosia, and from Limasol to Platraes, which are entirely unsuitable to the requirements of the country; and as there are no branch roads in communication, the people are hardly benefited, as they cannot reach the main artery with wheeled conveyances. The military road from Limasol might as well be a railway without any branch traffic, as it is entirely independent of other roads: thus, should carts be established to convey the wine of the district to Limasol, they must be loaded by mules that will bring the produce from the roadless vineyards in the usual manner by goat-skins, and the wine will be tainted as before. A network of cheap useful cart-tracks can be easily made throughout the wine districts, and they MUST be made before any improvement in the quality of the wines can take place. The goat-skins and the tarred jars must be thrown aside before any change can be expected: these cannot become obsolete until the necessary roads for the conveyance of casks shall be completed.
If we regard the present position of the vine-grower, we must advise him thus:—"The first necessity is to improve your QUALITY, and thus ensure a higher price. It costs no more either in labour or in plant to produce a good wine than to continue your present rude method of production. You may double the value of your wine by an improved system, without adding materially to your expenses; you will then have a large margin for profit, which will increase in the same ratio as the quality of your wine."
The grower will reply, "We must have roads for carts if we are to substitute barrels for goat-skins. So long as the mule-paths are our only routes we must adhere to the skins, which we acknowledge are destructive to the quality of the wine and reduce our profits. Give us roads."
This is a first necessity, and it is simply ridiculous to preach reforms of quality to the cultivators so long as the present savage country remains roadless. It is the first duty of the government to open the entire wine district by a carefully devised system of communication: for which a highway rate could be established for repairs.
If this simple work shall be accomplished the goat-skins will disappear; or should some cultivators cling to the ancient nuisance, a tax could be levied specially upon wine skins, which would ensure their immediate abolition. A new trade would at once be introduced to Cyprus in the importation of staves for casks, and the necessary coopers. The huge jars that are only suggestive of the "Forty Thieves" would be used as water-tanks, and the wine would ripen in casks of several hundred gallons, and be racked off by taps at successive intervals when clear. The first deposit of tannin and fixed albumen would remain at the bottom of No. 1 vat, the second deposit after racking in No. 2; and the wine which is now an astringent, cloudy, and muddy mixture of impurities, would leave the vine-grower's store bright, and fit for the merchant's vats in Limasol, and command a more than double price. This is a matter of certainty and not conjecture. Should the black wines be carefully manufactured, they will be extensively used for mixing with thin French wines, as they generally possess strength and body in large proportion to their price.
It will be universally agreed that the making of the roads is the first necessity; but if the island is in such financial misery that so important a step must be deferred, the grievances of the vine-growers should be immediately considered. The first question to the cultivator would be, "What reforms do you yourself suggest?" He replies, "Fix an annual rate per donum, and leave us free to send our wine wherever we choose, without the abominable vexations and delays caused by the present arbitrary system; let the tax per donum include every charge for which we shall be liable: we shall then know at once the limit of our liability." I cannot see any practical difficulty in such an arrangement; a highway rate might be an extra when the roads should be completed. A small export duty at the various ports would become a material source of increase to the revenue when the wine trade became invigorated and extended by government encouragement, and although such a duty would indirectly affect the grower in the price which the merchant would pay for the new wine, it would be a collateral tax that would not be felt individually.
Unless the present oppressive system shall be abolished the wine trade of Cyprus will languish, and an industry that may be profitably extended to an important degree will share the fate of a commercial and agricultural depression which has resulted from the vague conditions of the British occupation, and from which no recovery can be expected until confidence in the future prospects of the island shall be established.
FROM LIMASOL TO THE MOUNTAINS.
The barley harvest was in active operation, and the fields around our camp were crowded with men, women, and children, all hard at work, but producing small results compared with an equal expenditure of European labour. Their sickles were large and good, but a great proportion of the crops were either broken off by hand or were dragged out by the roots, and the earth that adhered was carelessly dusted off by a blow against the reaper's boots. In this dry climate there was no necessity for piling the sheaves, but the small bundles were at once laden upon donkeys and also conveyed in the two-wheeled carts to the threshing- ground, upon which it would remain until valued for taxation by the government official. In the dry atmosphere of Cyprus, Syria, Egypt, &c., the straw breaks easily, and beneath the sharp flints of the ancient threshing-harrow in present use is quickly reduced to the coarse chaff known as "tibbin," which forms the staple article of food for horses and all cattle. Taking advantage of the numbers of people congregated in the fields, some itinerant gipsies with a monkey and performing bears were camped beneath the caroub-trees, about half a mile from our position. The bears were the Syrian variety. Throughout Cyprus the gipsies are known as tinners of pots and makers of wooden spoons, which seems to be the normal occupation of their tribe throughout the world; they have also a character for a peculiar attachment to fowls and any other small matters that belong to private individuals which may be met with during their wanderings.
The beans of the caroub-trees were already large, and promised a good crop in spite of the dry weather. The roots of these evergreens penetrate to a great depth, and obtain nourishment from beneath when the surface soil is perished by drought. I have never seen a caroub overthrown by the wind, although the extremely large head that is at all seasons covered with leaves must offer a great resistance. The fruit of this tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is already an important export from Cyprus, and if the cultivation is encouraged there can be no doubt of an enormous extension of the trade. The tree is indigenous to the island, but in its wild state is unproductive; it simply requires grafting to ensure a crop. The wild young trees are generally transplanted into the desired positions, and then grafted from the cultivated species, but there is no reason why they should not be grafted in situ. The olives, which are also indigenous, might be treated in a similar manner to render the crown-lands productive, which are now mere jungles of shrubs and trees in their natural state. I shall reserve further remarks upon this subject for a chapter specially devoted to "Woods and Forests."
The caroub at present commands an extensive market. The fruit is usually known commercially as the "locust-bean;" the taste is a compound of treacle and Spanish liquorice, and would generally be appreciated by children, monkeys, pigs, and cattle. The Cassia fistula of Ceylon resembles it somewhat in flavour, but the Ceratonia siliqua is free from the medicinal properties of the former tree. Since the government monopoly was abolished in 1827 the trade has received an impetus, and this extension due to freedom is an example to our present government in their relations to the oppressive system connected with the wine trade.
According to the consular reports the crop of 1872 was about 10,000 tons, which sold free on board at 4 pounds 10 shillings per ton. At that time the chief purchaser was Russia, and the locust-beans were exported to various positions upon the Black Sea. In 1875 England became a large consumer, and I believe the well-known "Thorley's Patent Food for Cattle" contains a considerable amount of this nutritive substance. The influence upon the market of a demand from England raised the exports in 1875 to 18,000 tons. A fluctuation took place in 1876, and although the crop was deficient, the prices fell to 2 pounds 13 shillings 6 pence per ton free on board. This reaction was probably due to the large stocks on hand in England, purchased at a high rate, from 4 pounds 10 shillings to 5 pounds per ton, which had driven Russian competition out of the market; therefore the 1876 gathering found but few purchasers. In 1877 the yield was 13,500 tons, and the price rose from 2 pounds 13 shillings 6 pence to 3 pounds 5 shillings and at length to 4 pounds per ton, free on board.
The average produce of a tree, taking the mean of all sizes, would be about 84 lbs. or three-quarters of a hundredweight; allowing the mean crop of five years to be 13,000 tons, this would give the number of productive trees in Cyprus as 346,666, or in round numbers 350,000, which, at eight trees to the acre = 43,750 acres of caroub-trees. I do not think as a rule that a larger number than eight trees are to be found upon an acre, as it is the custom to cultivate cereals upon the same ground, therefore the caroubs are thinly planted. This calculation cannot be accepted as exhibiting the actual position of the trees, as a very large proportion are not planted in order, but grow independently and promiscuously, and are productive simply as originally wild trees that have been grafted. Should Cyprus belong bona-fide to England, machinery for crushing and pressing the locust-beans will be established on the spot, which, by compressing the bulk, will reduce the freight and materially lessen the price when delivered in England. In travelling through Cyprus nothing strikes the observation of the traveller more forcibly than the neglect of tree-planting. The caroub is an indigenous production volunteering its services to man, and producing an important revenue; there are immense tracts of land which by their rocky nature are unfit for the general purposes of husbandry, at the same time the rich soil in the interstices is eminently adapted for the cultivation of the caroub. Such lands are at the present moment abandoned to a growth of jungle, among which this irrepressible tree dominates all other vegetation, but in its wild state remains unproductive. The neighbourhood of Limasol is for many miles richly ornamented by these welcome shade-producers, and presents an example of what other portions of the island might become.
During my stay at Limasol I was several times invaded by a crowd of people from a neighbouring village, with complaints upon an assumed injustice connected with their water-supply. It was in vain that I assured them of my unofficial capacity; they were determined to have their say, and, according to their threat, to "TELEGRAPH TO VICTORIA," unless they could obtain redress. I referred them to Colonel Warren, R.A., the chief commissioner of their district, who had already been sufficiently perplexed with their case. It appeared that a stream flowing from the mountains had nearly two centuries ago been diverted into an artificial channel by the inhabitants of Kolossi and others for the purpose of irrigating the various lands in succession, according to the gradations of their levels. This water had become a right, and the value of all lands thus irrigated had been appraised in proportion. According to their story, some years ago a Greek who commanded capital purchased an estate at Kolossi; and having made a journey to Constantinople, where he remained for some years, he took the opportunity of bribing some high officials to obtain for him an irade from the Sultan, giving him the entire right to the water-supply, which had for so great a length of time been the acknowledged property of the neighbouring landholders. This irade was issued upon the plea that all natural waters (i.e. streams) belong to the Sultan. A wide field for litigation was thus opened, and the Greek, having more than the usual allowance of "the wisdom of the serpent," lost no time in investing large sums in the corruption of all those who would be summoned as local witnesses whenever the case should be brought before the ordinary tribunals. The result was that after great expense in the costs of litigation, an appeal to the superior court during the British administration had been favourable to the plaintiffs, and the Greek proprietor was held to be legally in possession of all water-rights, to the exclusion of the original owners. He, however offered to supply them with water for their farms at a fixed rate; whereas they had hitherto enjoyed that free right for upwards of a century. This loss, or abstraction, of so important a supply, upon which the actual existence of the farms depended in seasons of drought, not only impoverished the cultivators during the present year of famine, but reduced the value of their land to an enormous extent, as farms with a water-supply are worth more than quadruple the price of those which are dependent upon the seasons. Of course I could not help the poor people; it appeared to my uneducated sense of equity to be the maximum of injustice. The question hung upon the Sultan's right to the natural water-supply, which I believe has been officially declared invalid; by what other right the monopoly of the water had been conveyed away from the original proprietors I could not understand. The Greek was not enjoying his victory in absolute peace of mind, as the neighbouring farmers avenged their legal defeat by cutting holes in the embankments of his watercourses, and thereby nightly flooding their own fields, which, as the channels extended for many miles, would have required the presence of more than all the police of the district to discover the offenders. Upon one occasion upwards of forty of these people appeared mounted upon mules around my camp, to urge my intercession on their behalf, declaring their perfect faith in the honour and good intentions of the English authorities, but at the same time lamenting their ignorance of the native language, which threw the entire power into the hands of the dragomans (interpreters), of whose character they spoke in terms which it is to be hoped were highly exaggerated. The people begged me to ride over to the locality, to see with my own eyes the position of affairs; which I arranged to do sine die, and after advising them to exercise a temporary patience, I got rid of the deputation without suggesting "that under the existing agrarian dispute they should let their farms to some enterprising Irish tenants from Tipperary."
I mention this incident, which is one of many others upon the same subject, to exhibit the complications that have always arisen from the contention upon water-rights, that will require some special legislation. . . .
The weather was becoming warm at Limasol, the thermometer ranging from 70 degrees at 7 A.M. to 83 degrees at 3 P.M. There was a trouble in the water-supply, as that for drinking purposes had to be conveyed by donkeys from a distance of three or four miles. The market in the town, although well arranged externally, was governed by peculiarly restrictive municipal regulations; the price of meat and several other articles being fixed at a common standard! According to this absurd rule inferior mutton would fetch an equal price with the best quality: the natural consequence ensued, that only inferior meat was introduced, to the exclusion of all other. The supply of fish was extremely irregular, and they were generally small and dear. Upon some occasions we purchased good red mullet, also a larger fish of the bass species; but there were only a few fishermen, who required an opposition to induce activity and moderate prices. Their nets were made of exceedingly fine twine, and the smallness of the mesh denoted a scarcity of the larger species of fish.
A number of Maltese settlers were arriving, to whom lands had been granted by the government in the neighbourhood of Limasol; this excellent arrangement will have the effect of infusing a new spirit among the people by the introduction of fresh blood, and the well-known fishermen of Malta will of themselves be a boon to the large towns, where a regular demand may be depended upon at a reasonable price.
There was nothing to induce a longer stay at Limasol, and I resolved upon Trooditissa monastery as the position for a mountain residence during the summer months. Upon Kiepert's map, which is the best I have seen of Cyprus, this point was placed among the angles in the various crests and ridges of the Troodos mountain, and was marked by measurement as 4340 feet above the sea-level. The new government road extended from Limasol to Platraes, from which a good mule-path led to the camp prepared for the 20th Regiment and the Royal Engineers at an altitude of 5740 feet. It appeared to me that in north latitude 35 degrees this was an unnecessary elevation. My old residence at Newera Ellia in Ceylon was 6210 feet above the sea in north latitude 6 degrees 30', and in that low latitude we had sharp frosts at night. Any heights approaching 6000 feet in north latitude 35 degrees would, I imagined, become disagreeably chilly in the morning and evening, at seasons when in the low country the heat would still be too oppressive for a return from the mountain sanatorium.
The mean temperature at Limasol from 1st May to 18th had been at 7 A.M. 65 degrees, at 3 P.M. 78.6 degrees, during which interval there had been sudden variations of temperature, ranging from a minimum of 56 degrees to 84 degrees. On the 11th May, having engaged twenty-three mules for our tents, baggage, and party, we started from Limasol for Trooditissa. The dog Merry, that had been bitten by the snake, had lain for days in a state of stupor, black and swollen; I had poured quantities of olive-oil down his throat, as he could not eat, and at length I gave him a dose of two grains of calomel, with three grains of emetic tartar. After this he slowly recovered; the ear that was bitten mortified, and was cut off, but the dog was sufficiently restored to accompany us upon the march, together with his companion Wise. We were now about to enter the great vine-growing district of Cyprus, which produces the large exportations that form the chief industry of Limasol.
At a distance of a mile from our camp we entered the new government road which connected Limasol with Platraes, thirty miles distant. The country quickly assumed an agreeable character; undulations and watercourses were more or less covered with trees, and the road scarped out of the steep sides exhibited the cretaceous formation similar to that between Larnaca and Lefkosia. Wild lavender was just blooming upon many portions of the way, while along the rocky courses of ravines the oleanders were in the richest blossom. The road was furnished with mile-posts, and the mules ambled along at a little more than five miles an hour. I found considerable fault in the low gradients (one in thirty), which had produced a road unnecessary for the vehicles of the country, at a proportionate outlay; it was altogether too good, and would have been excellent trotting-ground for a light phaeton and pair. As there was no such vehicle in the island, the beautifully traced highway exhibited a model of engineering that was scarcely appreciated by the natives, who invariably took the short and direct cuts to avoid the circuitous zigzags in descending the numerous valleys and in rounding the deep ravines. After a ride of twelve miles through a beautiful country, well wooded, and comprising a succession of wild hills and deep gorges, which formed torrents in the wet season, we arrived at a river flowing in a clear but extremely shallow and narrow stream beneath cliffs of cretaceous limestone. The banks were richly clad with rosy oleanders, myrtles, mastic shrubs; and the shade of several fine old plane-trees in full foliage invited us at once to halt immediately upon the edge of the rippling stream. This spot was known as Zigu, where an ancient stone bridge, with pointed arches, crossed the ravine about a hundred paces above the new wooden bridge erected by the Royal Engineers. This was a most charming spot for luncheon, and the dense shade of the planes was far more agreeable than the shelter of a wooden military hut that stood upon the height above and by no means improved the beauty of the view. Our dogs seemed to enjoy the change, and raced up and down the river's bed, delighted with the cold water from the mountains, fresh from the highest springs of Troodos Some cold roast pigeons, young and fat, and some hard-boiled eggs, formed our luncheon, together with bread and cheese. These were quickly despatched and the carpets being spread beneath the trees, an hour's nap was good for man while the mules rolled and then dozed in luxury upon the turf-like surface of the glen. I was awakened by the clatter of horse's hoofs, and Mr. Allen, the chief officer of the police of Limasol, appeared, having most kindly ridden after us with the post just arrived from England. Unfortunately not a crumb of luncheon remained, the dogs having swallowed our leavings. We now saddled, and continued the journey upon the firm surface of the new road.
When about fourteen miles from Limasol we entered upon a grand scene, which exhibited the commencement of the wine-producing district. The road was scarped from the mountain side several hundred feet above the river, which murmured over its rocky bed in the bottom of the gorge. We were skirting a deep valley, and upon either side the mountains rose to a height of about 1400 feet, completely covered with vineyards from the base to the summit; this long vale or chasm extended to the Troodos range, which towered to upwards of 6000 feet, at a distance of about fourteen miles immediately in our front. The vines were all green with their early foliage, and the surface of the hill-sides was most cheering, contrasting with the yellow plain we had left at Limasol.
The good road rendered travelling delightful after the stony paths that we had traversed for some months in Cyprus, and the time passed so rapidly that we could hardly believe the distance marked upon the nineteenth milestone, where it was necessary to halt for the arrival of our baggage animals. After waiting till nearly dark we found they had quitted the new road and preferred a short cut across country, which had led them to the village of Menagria down in the glen nearly a mile below us. We walked down the steep hill and joined the party, pitched the tent, and made ready for the night.
On the following morning, instead of adhering to the new road, we descended to the bottom of the gorge and crossed the river near some water-mills, as the bridge was not yet completed in the distant angle of the glen. We now ascended an exceedingly steep hill from the river's bed, which severely tried our animals, until, after passing a succession of cereal crops and vineyards, we arrived at the summit, about 1200 feet above the valley. From this point the view was magnificent. The pine-covered sides of Troodos appeared close before us, and a valley stretched away to our right richly clothed with trees below the steep vine-covered sides of the surrounding mountains. Keeping to our left and passing through several insignificant villages, we commenced a most dangerous descent, with an occasional deep precipice on the right of the extremely narrow path, until we reached a contracted but verdant glen. This was a remarkable change: we had suddenly entered one of those picturesque vales for which Devonshire is famous. The vegetation had changed to that of Europe, as we were now nearly 3000 feet above the sea. Apple and pear trees of large size were present, not in orchards, but growing independently as though wild. Dog-roses of exquisite colour were in full bloom, and reminded us of English hedges. Beautiful oak-trees scattered upon the green surface gave a park-like appearance to the scene, and numerous streams of clear water rippled though the myrtle-covered banks, over the deep brown rocks of the plutonic formation, which had now succeeded to the cretaceous limestone.
It was a curious geological division, limited by the glen: on the left, the hills and mountains were the usual white marls and cretaceous limestone; while on the right everything was plutonic or granitic, including gneiss, syenite, and metamorphous rocks of various characters. The soil of the glen was red, and the villages, built of sun-baked bricks of this colour, harmonised with the dark green of rich crops of wheat that had been irrigated by the never-failing water-power. We had now rejoined the English road, which passed along the bottom of the glen, and which was yet incomplete; several gangs of men were working at intervals, and in the scarps, where deep cuttings had been necessary, I remarked a considerable amount of ironstone.
A few miles through this interesting scenery brought us to the village of Mandria, where a strong working party was engaged in erecting a wooden bridge upon masonry piers. We now turned off to the left, over rough but richly-wooded hills, leaving the English road, which extended direct to Platraes, as our course was altered towards the large village of Phyni, situated at the foot of the Troodos mountain. There could hardly be a worse or more dangerous path over the high and precipitous hills; these were once more cretaceous, and in wet weather must be as slippery as soap. In many places the path was hardly nine inches wide, with a deep gorge beneath for at least 150 feet. At length we passed over the crest, and looked down upon Phyni, in the vine-covered dell below. As far as the eye could reach upon all directions for many miles, hill-sides, valleys, and mountains exceeding 4000 feet were entirely covered with vines; not a yard of soil was unoccupied by this important branch of cultivation. Immediately before us, on the other side of Phyni, in the dark hollow, was the base of Troodos, from which the mountain rose so steeply that it appeared impossible to ascend with mules. A narrow line was pointed out upon the thickly bush-covered sides of the mountain, and we were informed that we should reach Trooditissa monastery by that path. I thought there must be some mistake in the interpretation; however we dismounted, and preferred walking down the steep zigzags that led to Phyni, half hidden in masses of bright green foliage of various fruit-trees, now exactly at our feet.
This was a very peculiar village, as the broad flat roofs of the houses formed terraces; upon these you could at once walk from the steep hill-slope, into which the houses were inserted by scarping out a level space for a foundation. The effect was remarkable, as the house-roofs, in lines, seemed like flights of steps upon the mountain side. We halted at the first decent-looking dwelling and rested beneath the shade of an apricot-tree within a small courtyard. The people at once assembled, and the owner of the house brought us black wine and raki of his own make; the latter he was now engaged in distilling, and some pigs were revelling in the refuse that had been thrown in a heap below the window of the store. This man was proud of his wine, as it was tolerably free from the taste of tar; the jars, having been more than fifty years in constant use, had lost the objectionable flavour. We were thirsty and hot, therefore the wine was not disagreeable, and we lunched beneath the apricot.
After an hour's rest the real up-hill work commenced. We crossed a broad channel of running water beneath groves of green trees, and entered a path on the opposite side of the village; this skirted a deep and precipitous gorge, through which the river flowed from the high and dark ravine that cleft the mountain from the ssummit to the bottom. A water-mill was at work below us on the right; and always ascending along the side of the ravine, with the rushing sound of the stream below, we arrived after half a mile at the base of the apparently impossible route. Right and left, right and left, went the short and sharp zigzags, the path covered with rolling stones and loose rocks, which clattered under the feet of the tired mules and rolled down the steep inclines. The sound of the stream below became fainter, and the narrow angle of the deep cleft grew darker, as we ascended. We looked down upon the rounded tops of various trees, including the rich verdure of planes, which skirted the banks of the hidden stream, and we entered upon pines rising from an under-growth of beautiful evergreens, including the fragrant tremithia, the light green foliage of the arbutus, with its bright red bark contrasting strongly with the dark shade of the dense and bushy ilex. The mastic was there, and as we increased our altitude the Pinus laricio and Pinus maritima varied the woods by their tall spars, beneath which a perfect garden of flowers almost covered the surface of the earth; these included the white and purple cistus, dog- roses, honeysuckle, and several varieties unknown to me. Among the ornamental dwarfs were a quantity of the Sumach, which is an article of export from Cyprus for the use of the tanner and dyer.
The view became very beautiful as we ascended, until at length, after a couple of miles of the steepest zigzags, we turned a corner of the rocks and looked down the great depth at our right, below the path, upon the long white thread of a waterfall, which for some hundred feet of a severe incline, broken by occasional plunges, issues from the rocky cleft, and forms the river in the ravine below. "There is the monastery of Trooditissa!" exclaimed our guide. About 200 feet above our level, snugly nested among splendid walnut-trees in the dark angle of the mountains, were the grey and brown gables, half concealed by the rich foliage of plane-trees, walnuts, mulberry, and other varieties.
About half a mile from this point of view the mules scrambled up one of the worst portions of the route, and we arrived at a clear and cold spring issuing suddenly from the rocks through a stone spout, protected by an arch of masonry: this was received in a rude wooden trough formed from the trunk of a hollowed pine, and overflowed across the path to water some terraced gardens immediately below. A walnut and a fig-tree intermingled their branches above the arch, and formed an agreeable shade to shelter weary travellers, who might sit by the welcome spring after toiling up the rough mountain side. About eighty yards beyond, by a level path, we reached the widest-spreading walnut-tree that I have ever seen; the new foliage was soft and uninjured by the wind, producing a dense shade over an area sufficient for numerous tents. This magnificent specimen of vegetation grew upon the edge of an abrupt descent, perpendicular to a series of gardens, all terraced out to a depth of about 150 feet, to the bottom of a narrow gorge; thus one-half of the branches overhung the steep, while the other half shaded a portion of the monastery courtyard.
We halted and dismounted beneath this grand old tree, where the picturesque but not clean old monk, with some of his ecclesiastics, were ready to meet us with a courteous welcome.
THE MONASTERY OF TROODITISSA.
The monastery of Trooditissa had no architectural pretensions; it looked like a family of English barns that had been crossed with a Swiss chalet. The roofs of six separate buildings of considerable dimensions were arranged to form a quadrangle, which included the chapel, a long building at right angles with the quadrangle, which had an upper balcony beneath the roof, so as to form a covered protection to a similar arrangement below, and an indescribable building which was used by the monks as their store for winter provisions. The staircases were outside, as in Switzerland, and entered upon the open-air landings or balconies; these were obscure galleries, from which doors led to each separate apartment, occupied by the monks and fleas. The obscurity may appear strange, as the balconies were on the outside, but the eaves of the roof at an angle of about 48 degrees projected some feet as a protection from the winter's snow, and occasioned a darkness added to the gloom of blueish grey gneiss which formed the walls and the deep brownish red of the tiled roof.
The great walnut-tree overshadowed a portion of the mule stables that formed a continuation of the building, and faced the exterior courtyard, which was inclosed upon two sides of the square, in the centre of which was an arched entrance to the inner court. This doorway was beneath a covered gallery, and the ground floor formed a well-protected verandah, from which a magnificent view was commanded down the great gorge towards Phyni, overlooking the lower mountain tops to a sea horizon beyond the peninsula of Akrotiri and the salt lake of Limasol.
The covered gallery above this verandah was supported by stone pillars with exceedingly rude capitals, upon which long beams of the native pines, laid horizontally, supported the joists and floors. It was a dull and dirty abode, and at first sight I was disappointed. The angle of the mountain in which the monastery stood was formed by a ravine which intercepted the principal gorge at almost a right angle, thus a path which continued at the same level from the courtyard to the other side of the ravine, represented the letter V laid horizontally. From the walnut-tree across the broad base of the letter would be about a hundred yards, to a series of cultivated terraces upon an equal level.
This might have been made a lovely station, as no less than three springs of water issued from the mountain side in various positions: the first already mentioned; the second on the further side of the letter V, beneath another splendid walnut-tree; and the third upon the same level beyond, which fell into a trough beneath a large trellis, upon which some vines were trained to produce a shade.
The terraces formed an angular amphitheatre, the outer courtyard of the monastery being the highest level, looking down upon tree-tops of planes and pines throughout the dark gorge to Phyni. The gardens appeared much neglected; they were overcrowded with fruit-trees, including filberts, mulberry, pears, apples, figs, walnuts, plums; the only grape-vine was represented upon the trellis; the position was too high for apricots.
An Englishman's first idea is improvement, and I believe that upon entering heaven itself he would suggest some alteration. This was not heaven, but, as a monastery, it was the first step, and a very high one for this world, being 4340 feet above the sea. We began by cleaning, and I should have liked to have engaged Hercules, at the maximum of agricultural wages, to have cleaned the long line of mule stables, a dignified employment for which the hero-god was famous; the Augean were a joke to them. Piles of manure and filth of every description concealed the pavement of the capacious outer yard of the monastery. The narrow path by which we had arrived from the spring was a mere dung-heap, from which the noxious weeds called docks, of Brobdignagian proportions, issued in such dense masses that an agricultural meeting of British farmers would have been completely hidden by their great enemy. The priests or monks had filthy habits; it would have been impossible for civilised people to have existed in this accumulation of impurities, therefore we at once set to work. I had a spade and pickaxe, and we borrowed some other tools from the monks, among which were strong grubbers (which combined the hoe and the pick). There were a number of people belonging to the monastery, including some young embryo priests, that we might accept as deacons; these I set to work with the pickaxe at one shilling a day wages. The boys who were being educated for the Church I employed in removing all the loose stones which choked the surface of the ground, and subsequently in sweeping and scraping the courtyard. I gave them sixpence a day if they worked from early morning, or threepence if they came at noon after their lessons. There was a shepherd's family, upon the hill about 250 feet above the monastery, of seven handsome children, two boys of nineteen and seventeen, and five girls. These were hard at work, even to a pretty little child of four years old, who carried her stones, and swept with a little broom with all her heart (this was little Athena). Of course they were all paid in the evening with bright new threepenny pieces which they had never seen before. Even the priests worked after a few days, when the spirit of industry and new shillings moved them, and in the history of the monastery there could never have been such a stirring picture and such a dust as we made in cleansing and alterations. Nearly a month was occupied in this necessary work, by which time the place was entirely changed. I had made a good road as an approach from the spring, with a covered drain, dignified by the name of an "aqueduct," which led the water when required to a little garden that I had constructed close to the tent, where a nondescript slope had become a receptacle for filth. I had cut this down from the road, and mixed the earth with the accumulated dirt and manure, which I levelled off in successive layers, so that the stream led from the spring would irrigate my beds in succession. This garden was carefully fenced against the intrusion of goats and donkeys, to say nothing of pigs, and it was already sown with tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, barmia, and beet-root. The priests had a grand bed of onions upon a terrace, which was usually occupied by the pigs, goats, and donkeys, as they had been too lazy to arrange a fence.
The docks in the monastery gardens were at least six feet high; I had these cut and collected to thatch the sides of a peculiar shed (in which I am writing at this moment), which was a great comfort and formed a very original retreat, combining a seat in an amphitheatre with a modern summer-house. This was an oblong, of fifteen feet by twelve, erected within three feet of the tent beneath the walnut-tree upon the extreme verge of the abrupt incline. I laid a foundation of stones, which I covered with pounded earth and water, to produce a level with the tent. I then placed horizontally a beam of wood, secured from slipping with stakes driven to the heads into the bank upon the edge of the incline. Upon this a row of large stones was cemented together with mud to form a margin level with the floor, from which the abrupt inclination at once leapt to the lower terraces and the deep gorge, continuing for upwards of 4000 feet to the sea; this was visible beyond the inferior mountain tops.
There was nothing pretty in the arrangement of this "rachkooba," as it would be called in Africa; it was a simple square of upright poles, connected with canes secured across, thatched inside with ferns, and upon the outside with docks, fastened down with the peeled willow-like shoots of mulberry-trees. The mulberry-trees for silkworms are always pollarded annually, and they throw out shoots about seven or nine feet in length every season; the wood is exceedingly tough, and the bark of these wands when stripped is serviceable for tying plants or securing fences in lieu of cord. For lack of silkworms the monastery mulberry-trees had several seasons of growth, and the shoots were serviceable for our work. The ceiling of our opera-box was cloth, with a curtain of about three feet suspended along the front, which broke the morning sun as it topped the high ridge of the mountain on the other side of the gorge, about a thousand feet above us. The shed was carpeted with mats and furnished roughly with a table and chairs; hat-pegs were suspended around, made from the red-barked wood of the arbutus, simply cut so that by inverting the branch with the stem attached to a cord, the twigs, cut at proper lengths, would form convenient hooks.
From this cool hermitage we looked down upon the dense foliage of rounded mulberry-tops and the fruit-trees of the gardens within the gorge, while exactly in our front, a hundred yards across the deep ravine, was the rocky steep of the mountain side, densely clothed with ilex and arbutus, until the still higher altitudes banished all underwood, and the upper ranges of Troodos exhibited a surface of barren rocks clothed with tall pines and cypress, 2000 feet above us.
By the time we had completed our permanent camp a certain degree of improvement had taken place in the people, as well as in the actual cleanliness of the locality. Everybody washed his, or her, face and hands. The customs of the monks had so far reformed that the immediate neighbourhood was no longer offensive. When strangers with mules arrived the road was immediately swept, and upon Saturday evenings a general embellishment took place in honour of the approaching Sunday. The young clergy were remarkably good and active; they worked in my little garden at a shilling a day, went on errands to Platraes and the camp at Troodos, and made themselves generally useful for a most moderate consideration. I can strongly recommend all young curates who are waiting in vain for livings to come and work upon the holy soil of Trooditissa at one shilling per diem; and should they (as curates frequently are) be poor in this world's goods, but nevertheless strong in amorous propensities, and accordingly desirous of matrimony, they will find a refuge within the walls of this monastery from all the temptations of the outer world, far from garden-parties, balls, picnics, church-decorations assisted by young ladies, and all those snares of the Evil One; and the wholesome diet of the monks, including a course of soaked broad-beans and barley bread, with repeated fastings upon innumerable saints' days, will affect them sensibly, both morally and physically; under this discipline they will come to the conclusion that a wife and large family upon an income of 500 pounds a year in England would not confer the same happiness as one shilling a day with the pickaxe, broad-beans and independence, at Trooditissa, which is true "muscular Christianity."
It was extraordinary to see the result of a life-long diet of beans and barley-bread in the persons of the monks, who very seldom indulged in flesh. The actual head of the monastery was a handsome man of seventy, perfectly erect in figure, as though fresh from military drill, and as strong and active as most men of fifty. The younger priests were all good-looking, active, healthy men, who thought nothing of a morning's walk over the fatiguing rocky paths to Troodos and back (twelve miles), to be refreshed on their return by an afternoon's work in their gardens. The head of the Church was an especial friend of ours, and was a dear old fellow of about seventy, with a handsome face, a pair of greasy brass spectacles bound with some substance to retain them that was long since past recognition, and swelled feet that prevented him from walking beyond the precincts of the monastery, which he had never quitted for twelve years. The feet looked uncommonly like the gout, but I can hardly believe in the co-existence of that complaint with dry beans and barley-bread, although the truth must be confessed, that the monks are fond of commanderia, or any other production of the vineyard. There was one exceedingly disagreeable monk with whom we held a most remote acquaintance, and whose name I willingly conceal; he has been seen upon several occasions to sit down upon an imaginary chair, the real article of furniture being eighteen inches distant, and the stunning effect of arriving suddenly in a sitting posture upon the hard stone of the courtyard disabled him from rising; and even when assisted his legs were evidently affected by the shock. His enemies declared (as they always do) that he was the victim to an over-indulgence in the raki and wine of Phyni. We generally knew him by the alias of "Roger," in memory of the Ingoldsby Legends, where
"Roger the Monk Got excessively drunk, So they put him to bed, And tucked him in."
There was no friend to bestow such care upon our Roger, he therefore lay helplessly upon the bare stone until refreshing sleep restored his eyesight and his perpendicular.
Our particular friend the head of the Church was a very different character, and was a most simple-minded and really good religious man. I employed a photographer of the Royal Engineers (kindly permitted by Major Maitland, R.E.) specially to take his picture, as he sat every morning knitting stockings, with a little boy by his side reading the Greek Testament aloud, in the archway of the monastery. This was his daily occupation, varied only when he exchanged the work of knitting either for spinning cotton, or carving wooden spoons from the arbutus: these he manufactured in great numbers as return presents to those poor people who brought little offerings from the low country. Never having mixed with the world, the old man was very original and primitive in his ideas, which were limited to the monastery duties and to the extreme trouble occasioned by the numerous goats which trespassed upon the unfenced gardens, and inflicted serious damage. The chapel, which was under his control, was of the usual kind, and at the same time rough and exceedingly gaudy, the pulpit being gilded throughout its surface, and the reredos glittering with gold and tawdry pictures of the lowest style of art, representing the various saints, including a very fat St. George and the meekest possible dragon. Our old friend had never seen a British sovereign with the St. George, and was vastly pleased when he discovered that his saint and ours were the same person, only differing in symmetry of figures and in ferocity of dragons.
There was one very extraordinary effigy in bas-relief upon silver-gilt about two feet six inches high, of the Virgin Mary, to which peculiar miraculous properties were attributed. The possession of this relic formed the principal attraction of the monastery. About a quarter of a mile above the present establishment there is a small cave concealed among the ragged masses of rock that crust the mountain side; this has been formed by one rock which, leans across another, and each end has been walled up artificially, so as to form a stone chamber of about twelve feet in length by seven in width, with a small entrance. According to the account given by the old monk, this cave was the origin of the present monastery through the following accident. Among these wild mountains, where no dwelling of any kind exists, it has always been the custom after the melting of the snows in early spring to pasture the numerous flocks of goats, which are at that season driven up from the parched herbage of the low country to the fresh herbs of the cooler altitudes. Three or four hundred years ago a shepherd, having lost his goat at night, was surprised at the appearance of a light among the rocks high up on the mountain, and with superstitious awe he related his discovery to his fellows. For some time the mysterious light was observed nightly, and various conjectures were on foot as to its origin, but no one dared to venture upon an examination.
At length, the authorities of the Church having been consulted, it was resolved that a priest should accompany the party of investigation and the matter should be thoroughly cleared up.
It was a difficult climb to the pathless crags at night, but the light was glimmering like "the star that the wise men saw in the east," and though occasionally lost at intervals, it guided the party on their way. Upon arrival at the cave, there was no inhabitant. A lamp burnt before a small effigy of the Virgin Mary suspended against the wall of rock, but no trace of human foot or hand could be discovered.
Such is the legend; and the inexplicable mystery caused much excitement and agitation in the minds of the Church authorities. At length it was determined that, as the apparition of the light was miraculous, it was incumbent upon the people to erect a monastery upon the site of the appearance, contiguous to the now sacred cave.
This was an extreme difficulty, as the inclination formed an angle of about 60 degrees; and the mountain was hard gneiss that could only have been scarped by expensive blasting. However, it was hoped that a blessing would attend the good work; therefore, in spite of all obstacles, it was commenced, and masons were engaged from the village of Phyni to arrange a foundation.
There was no water nearer than the torrent in the deep hollow half a mile below, therefore extreme labour was required in mixing the mortar for the walls; the jars in which the necessary water was conveyed upon men's shoulders up the precipitous rocks appeared to be influenced by some adverse, but unseen, agency, as they constantly slipped from their hold and broke. During the night the work which the masons had accomplished in the day fell down, and was discovered every morning as a heap of ruin; the building could not proceed. In this perplexity the Church was relieved by a supernatural interposition. Early one morning a jar of pure water was discovered in the sharp angle of the hollow between the hills, exactly below the rachkooba, where I am now writing. It was evident to the priestly mind that an angel had placed this jar of water to denote the spot where some hidden spring might be developed, which would be a favourable site for the new monastery. They dug, and shortly discovered the expected source.
It was therefore resolved that instead of erecting the monastery close to the effigy in the cave, where bad luck had hitherto attended their efforts, it would be more advisable to commence the building upon a favourable spot, where a level already existed, in the angle between two mountain slopes within a few yards of the spring; it would be easier to convey the small effigy to the new building than to erect the monastery close to the effigy. Accordingly the work was commenced: the walls no longer fell during the night, and the unseen agency was evidently propitious.
Upon completion of the monastery the original effigy was enshrined, and Trooditissa became famous as a holy site. Years passed away, and the reputation of the establishment was enhanced by the arrival of a lady of high position from Beyrout, together with her husband, as pilgrims to the now celebrated mountain cave. The lady was childless, and having presented a handsome offering, and kissed the rock entrance of the cave, in addition to the effigy within the monastery, she waited in the neighbourhood for a certain number of months, at the expiration of which she gave birth to a son. The monks claimed this boy as their lawful prize, and he was brought up as a priest; but there is some discrepancy in the accounts which I could not well understand, as it appears that his parents insisted upon his restoration, and that an angelic interposition at length prevented litigation. It may be well imagined that the result of the lady's pilgrimage spread far and wide; the reputation of the monastery reached its zenith, and all the unfruitful women flocked to the shrine to kiss the cave and the picture of the Virgin within the church; at the same time offering a certain sum for the benefit of the establishment. The friction of constant and oft-repeated kissing at length began to tell upon the sacred effigy, and it became almost worn out; it was therefore determined that a beautiful silver-gilt Virgin and Child should be supplied by a first-rate artist which should cover the original relic within. This was remarkably well executed by Cornaro, and a small aperture like a keyhole of a door has been left, which is covered by a slide; this is moved upon one side when required, and enables the pilgrim to kiss through the hole a piece of rather brown-looking wood, which is the present exhausted surface of the effigy.
Although decayed by time and use, the miraculous property remains unchanged. This was exhibited a few years ago in a remarkable manner, where a childless lady had become old in barren expectation; but a visit to Trooditissa produced the desired result, and conferred much happiness upon the once despairing wife, who now became a mother. In addition to a monetary offering, this lady had presented the Virgin with a handsome belt with massive silver-gilt buckles, which she had worn during pregnancy. This offering is now suspended around the present effigy, and for a small consideration any lady applicant is allowed to fasten it round her waist. The effect is infallible, and quite equals that of the rock and silver Virgin. This remarkable inductive power may perhaps be some day explained by philosophers, but it is now exceedingly dangerous, and unfortunate results have occurred, when in a sudden impulse of devotion young maidens have kissed the rock entrance to the cave, or imprudently pressed their lips upon the sacred effigy.
During my sojourn at Trooditissa no arrivals of despairing wives occurred, but in the exhausted conditions of the finance throughout the island, it would have been the height of folly to have desired an increase of family, and thereby multiply expenses; possibly the uncertainty respecting the permanence of the English occupation may deter the ladies, who may postpone their pilgrimage to the monastery until their offspring should be born with the rights of British subjects.
I have described the origin of the ecclesiastical retreat at Trooditissa as nearly as possible according to the viva-voce history related by the monks. It is impossible to gauge the opinions of the world, as individuals differ as much in nervous structure and in theological creeds as they do in personal appearance; some may accept the monks' belief implicitly, while others may suggest that the original occupant of the cave was some unknown hermit secluded from the world, whose solitary lamp burning before the Virgin had attracted the attention of the shepherds from the mountain opposite. The old man may have fallen down a precipice and died, leaving his lamp still alight; but it would be unfair to interfere with the original legend, which must remain with the usual clouds and uncertainties that obscure the tales of centuries.
About 250 feet above the monastery the ridge of a spur afforded a level space beneath some tall pines which threw a welcome shade, and would have been a convenient camping-ground. This spot was occupied by the roughest of log-huts, which had been erected by a shepherd as his summer residence when the goats should be driven from the low ground to the mountain pasture. This man was originally a Turk, and formed one of a peculiar sect known in Cyprus as Linobambaki (linen and cotton). These people are said to be converts to Christianity, but in reality they have never been troubled with any religious scruples, and accordingly never accommodate their principles to the society of their neighbourhood. In a Turkish village the Linobambaki would call himself by a Turkish name, as Mahomet, or Hassan, &c., while in a Christian community he would pass as Michael or Georgy, or by other Greek appellations. The name "linen and cotton" applied to them is expressive of their lukewarmness and time-serving, their religious professions fluctuating according to the dictates not of conscience, but personal interest. It is supposed that about 1500 of these people exist in various parts of Cyprus; they are baptised in the Greek Church, and can thus escape conscription for military service according to Turkish law. The goatherd upon our mountain had been a Turkish servant (shepherd) in a Greek family, and had succeeded in gaining the heart of his master's daughter, whom he was permitted to marry after many difficulties. This woman must have been very beautiful when young, as, in spite of hard work and exposure, she was handsome at forty, with a pair of eyes that in youth might have been more attractive than the mysterious light in the hermit's cave. It is one of the blessings of fine eyes that they are almost certain to descend to the children. Property may vanish, litigation may destroy the substance of an inheritance; but the eyes, large, soft, and gentle, which can occasionally startle you by their power and subdue you by a tear, are the children's entail that nothing can disestablish. Even when time has trampled upon complexion, the eyes of beauty last till death.
The children of this Linobambaki and his handsome wife were seven—two boys of about nineteen and seventeen, and five girls from fourteen to one and a half—all of whom had the eyes of the mother developed most favourably. I cannot well describe every individual of a family: there were the two handsome shepherd youths who would have made level ground of mountain steeps, through their power and activity.
"Right up Ben Lomond could he press, And not a sob his toil confess."
These young fellows matched the goats in clambering up the rocks and following their wayward flocks throughout the summits of the Troodos range; and their sisters the little shepherdesses were in their way equally surprising, in hunting runaway goats from the deepest chasm to the sharpest mountain-peak.