Historic Museum of Steni; in the picturesque Cypriot town of the same name

Hidden jewels of Steni

Hidden jewels of Steni

Display at the Steni Museum.

Comments for the Museum

Source: Newspaper “The Cyprus Weekly” 22-28/08/2008

The village Steni is found in the northwestern part of Cyprus, five kilometers from the sea of the Gulf of Chrysohous. It is built at an altitude of 200 meters above the sea and its climate is ideal during all the seasons of the year. The fact that at a radius of ten kilometers from the coast of the Gulf of Chrysohous there are produced cherries, “avocado”, “mango”, watermelons, apples, bananas, oranges and almost anything you can imagine, it shows really what climate exists in this region, that is not met in other regions, not only in Cyprus, but also worldwide.

At the east side of the village, going up to the mountain at a distance of two kilometers, the visitor can see the forest of Paphos and in the northwestern side the entire gulf of Chrysohous with the neighboring villages. This is really a very beautiful picture that is not easily found elsewhere.

We can not say for sure how the village Steni took its name, but there exists two versions by the older residents of the village. The first version says that the locality that the first settlement initially existed , it was a narrow part (steno) in the banks of the river that cross the community and possibly that’s why it was given this name. The second version says that the first resident of the village built his stockyard at a place called “stenia” from “stani” and thus afterwards “stenia” became Steni.

There is no exact information about when the village began to exist, but from a part of the old watermill next to the river that crosses the community, experts have pronounced that this is building of the 16th century and thus the village is of the same roughly chronology. Some other information brings the village to exist during the construction of the monastery of Virgin Mary of Chrysolakournas during the 12th century.

As all the villages of the region, the residents of Steni were dealing from the old years, with the agriculture and the livestock-farming. Because the village of Steni is found between mountains and plains, these two professions of its residents had been very gainful and also the water from the river that crosses the community had been for the old years the best gift to the residents.

The population of Steni had an augmentative tendency up to 1930, about 300 residents, but two big currents of immigration in South Africa from 1930-1950 and 1960-1975, brought the village to a stage between deterioration and indestructibility. A smaller current began towards South Africa, at the beginning of the 20th century thus this country was the choice of all the immigrants of Steni.

The municipal school of Steni functioned in 1925 with 35 students from whom 27 were boys and 8 girls, having for first schoolteacher the unforgettable Loucas Argyrides from the village Katydata of Solea. It stopped functioning in 1983, because of the decreased number of children. The children of the community study today in the regional schools of Polis Chrysohous.

With the manufacture of the dam “Evretos” the life of residents, especially that of the farmers changed because they had now other choices than the traditional agriculture, that is, cultivating only cereals. The main products today are the citrus fruits, olives and cereals. Apart from those that deal with the agriculture, others work in the tourist industry of the region and others with technical professions.

At the beginnings of 1980 the population of the community began once again to be increased, mainly because of the young persons in the village and the repatriation of the immigrants from South Africa due to the good economic situation that prevails in this region.

Today the village of Steni has about 120 residents, but as it has been reported, with the augmentative tendency that exists, as well as with the installation of foreign people in the village, is forecasted that the population will be doubled over the next five years.

The church of Steni is dedicated to Agios Tryfonas that according to tradition is the protector of the animals and crops and came from the Lampsako of Minor Asia. The temple has been built in 1913 at the place where the first church of village was found, a small building which was destroyed by fire because of some forgotten candles.

During the construction of the existing temple, all the residents offered voluntary work, some of them carrying stones with their animals from the region of the Monastery of Chrysolakournas and others by proving help to the craftsmen that built the church.

The belfry which is one of the more beautiful of the region is entirely built from hewer hard stone of the region, it was built in 1940 by the famous craftsman of that season, Constantinos Zoppos and his son Demos from the village of Geroskipou.

Before the construction of the belfry, as a “belfry” it was used a “tremithas”, a tree outside the entry of the temple where a bell was tied up. Near this tree it existed a big stone which the Metropolitan was using in order to ride his “Moula” (female horse), after the Divine operation at the church was finished.

The money for the construction of the belfry had been gathered by contributions of immigrant people form Steni in South Africa that had been sent to the village for this reason.

The temple has been reconditioned in 1961 and in 1988 and every year on 1 st of February, day of feast of Agios Tryfonas, local people and residents of other villages honor with their presence the memory of Agios Tryfonas.Today the priest of the temple is Mr Josif Christodoulou Vodommatis .

The Monastery of Virgin Mary Chrysolakournas

The Monastery of Virgin Mary Chrysolakournas is found roughly 3 kilometers at the north side of the village Steni in a fantastic locality, having a view of the gulf of Polis Chrysohous and Cape Akama.

We do not know when the monastery was founded or when it was destroyed. From some information that we have from the historical Archimandrite Kyprianos, we conclude that the monastery was abandoned in the beginning of the 19th century. Today, the monasterial buildings, that were saved devastated for fifty years, are completely disappeared. Only a small part of the church was saved and this up to 1974.

In 1974-1975 the Department of Antiquities restored the church. The saved, up to 1974, departments of the church emanated from various periods and are the result of many interventions during the long life of the monastery. A mural of Saint Ioannis the Precursor that is rescued in the western wall of the temple and that can be dated in the 12th century, reduces the foundation of the monastery in the medium Byzantine period.

From the saved elements it appears that the initial church was reconditioned radically during the 14th century after some destruction. The 16th century the Church was either destroyed or suffered extensive damages and it was then built again and took its current form.

Apart from the mural of the Precursor in the western wall that is dated in the 12th century, there were discovered also some written crosses of 12th century in the western wall.

In the quadrant of the arch, there are saved pieces from the “Platytera” between the Archangels. At a lower level there are saved big departments from the communion of the Apostles (Communion) and departments showing ceremonies by priests, where the better saved is that of Agios Gregorios the Theologian. In the western arc of the northern wall a big part of the mural of Agios Georgios is saved. Most of the saved murals are dated in first half of the 16th century.


Histories from the past
A tragic story: probably the first murder in Steni, June 30, 1828, the year England took over Cyprus, from the Othomans.

Ananias Papayianni was the appointed (by the Ottoman government) Mukhtar of Steni, and the oldest child out of five in the family of Steni’s priest Papayianni Hadji-Argyrou. He was married to Mariou, and they had three sons. John 4 years old, Demitris 2 years old and a son who was only a few days old.

He was a strong and handsome young man in his late twenties though shrewd, proud but a just person he came from a wealthy family and perhaps that was what shaped his character as mentioned above. May be that was the reasons, that the Ottoman government appointed him, Mukhtar of Steni. A few times his deeds, although not bad, caused a contradiction between him and his priest father, was a pious man.

Very close to Steni is the village of Ayios Isidoros (Saint Isidoros), Eiseroo in Turkish, whose inhabitans were Christians who turned Muslims and all of them spoke Greek, instead of Turkish, lived two brothers, Casoumi and Achmet, with the surname “kolas”. Both of them were troublemakers, creating problems in the whole area, not only to Christians but to Muslims too.

Achmet, the oldest of the two, being a soldier in the reserve, and the worst of the two, often visited Steni causing problems to people with his behaviour, especially when drunk. Often at nights he visited the house of two sisters in Steni, the two women being prostitutes. This is not strange for that era since -many times -poverty compelled some women to resort to that lifestyle so as to survive, the condition of the economy in the countryside during the times of Turkish domination being most tragic as we know.

Equitant Policemen during the years of English domination.

Perhaps several people in the village nagged about Achmet’s insolence, proceeding with such actions in their village, though no-one took any initiative to stop him. Knowing the character of Ananias, he must have considered it an insult for the Christian inhabitants of the village. So, he decided -we do not know if it was his decision or if some other persons influenced him -to give an end to this situation.

One night when Achmet visited the house, Ananias was waiting for him in the street, several meters away from it. As Achmet was heading back, the two young men came to blows; no one knows what exactly happened and how long the fight went on. At some point Ananias was found with a serious knife-wound in the chest. The perpetrator fled the scene but the cries of the wounded Ananias awoke the village and everyone that could run chased the perpetrator, soon arresting him before he was able to leave the village.

They took him to the house of Hadji-Lambis Hadji-Savvas, the notable of the village, and after tying him up with a rope they fastened him to the millstone of the oil-mill that was located nearby, sending someone on horseback to notify the police in Polis Chrysochous. As it was expected, until the police arrived the perpetrator was savagely beaten by a few friends and relatives of the victim.

In the meantime others had transferred the victim to the village’s main street but he was already dead, the wound being very severe. Meanwhile the policeman had come to the village, riding a horse and trying to approach the victim who was surrounded by all the villagers. Quite a few were shouting that the perpetrator should be put on trial and be hanged by the neck, Cyprus already being considered as British soil for some months now. A tragic figure in this scene was the wife of the victim, Mariou, mourning over her husband’s dead body while having recently given birth.

After the policeman confirmed Ananias’s death, he took the perpetrator and ordered him to walk in front of his horse, his hands tied, leading him to the police station of Polis Chrysochous.
The perpetrator was put to trial very soon and was convicted to twenty years of imprisonment, his action not being considered as premeditated murder. He was transferred to the jails in the island of Malta to serve his sentence, seeing only the sea and the sky from his jail cell, as he said later after his release.

Mariou in the meantime had raised her three boys going through a thousand trials and tribulations, knowing the difficulties that a woman -alone, with three children and without a husband -was facing in that era. She raised her three sons, constantly advising them to be quiet, kind-hearted, and to avoid bad company, achieving her goals to the fullest.
Achmet, returned to his home after his release but he now as a stigmatised murderer. He could not keep any job and no one wanted him anywhere near. He was rejected not only by the Christians but also by the Muslims of his village.

In order to survive he was forced to beggary in the region’s villages, including Steni. As the proverb declares “time can mend things” and so many of Steni’s inhabitants started looking at Kolas as their fellow human being, though they did not forget that he was the murderer of a fellow villager of theirs, giving him whatever they could so that he could survive.

One day Achmet found himself before the house of Anania Ananias, the infant that Ananias Papagianni left behind  after his death so many years ago, who was married to Kyriakou Theodoulou Nitti. Kyriakou was a woman who always gave to those in need and so she offered a piece of bred to the murderer of her father-in-law. Her husband justifiably told her that it would be better to give that bread to their dog rather than to Achmet, knowing that the bread was offered to his father’s murderer. Achmet heard the words of Ananias and said, word-for-word, “Ananias, don’t hold a grudge against me and hate me, your father pinned me down and would have killed me if I had not nailed him with the knife”, a detail that of course no one can confirm as being true.

Ananias’s heart softened -being a mild and peaceful man -and so a calmness was set in the hearts of these two men, both being victims of the circumstances since the lives of both of them  changed after the tragic event the night of June 30, 1878.

August  1878
SA 02/88

Lieutenant A. G. Wauchope, civil Commissioner of Paphos, reports on the murder of Annanieh Papayene, the Christian Mukhtar of Steni village on 30 June 1878.

The case commenced in this Medjili Davi Court (Turkish court).

The accused are all Mahammedan.

I have just returned from visiting the locality – some 10 hours from here. The Christian part of the village is called Steni and some little distance off is the Islam one of Eiseroo. The murdered man was Mukhtar of Steni. The accused come from Eiseroo. The murder took place some 200 or 300 yards from Steni. I was told by the Mudir of the district, a Mochammedan that Casoumi and Achmet are men who bear the worst of characters, in this district. Achmet is a soldier in the reserve and rumour has it that when he was confessing he thought his military service would protect him. At present, inquiries, collecting and classifying the necessary evidence is carried on in a most haphazard manner.

This murder has excited the interest in the country. This is the 3rd case of murden in Baffo District during the last 3 months.

I would prefer sending these men by sea from Paphos to Larnaca thence by road to Nicosia. The road from here to Headquarters lies over a very difficult and mountainous country-and the prisoners bound by cords, have in the past suffered terribly, in many cases died on the road.

I have 5 prisoners with 2 japtiens to send and this could be done, including the japtiens return journey for 100-120 piastres.cost”.

Civil Commissioner
Baffo Aug.14th 1878

One may ask: what is so special about this museum? The answer to that is simple; it was built with love, by special people with a special vision, pride in their rich inheritance and stamina to battle against all odds

Searching for a rare jewel can be an impossibly laborious task. It demands the persistence and complete dedication of persons with strong stamina and a dedicated mind to cut through the endless obstacles faced on the way. But when the jewels finally come into view, the thrill and rewarding experience of achievement can be priceless.
One such rare treasure is well-hidden in a picturesque but timeless little village perched on a sloping hillside about six kilometres away from Polis Chrysochous. It is the quaint village of Steni.
This lovely little place can be found by driving along a colonnade of tall cypress trees dotted with clusters of colourful oleanders and masses of brilliantly coloured bougainvillea. Snaking along the way, striking stonewalls lead directly to the village square – also clad with local stones. Alongside the vast square sits the council building, but the hidden treasure lies right next door to it; the Museum of Steni.
One may ask: what is so special about this museum? The answer to that is simple; it was built with love, by special people with a special vision, pride in their rich inheritance and stamina to battle against all odds. Fortunately for us, such extraordinary people do surprisingly still exist today to make good things happen. It took stubbornness and super-human strength to fight off a stifling negative bureaucracy and opposition before this wonderful dream became a reality so a new generation of Cypriots, visitors and tourists can enjoy this charming and quaint museum.
If only stones could speak, what would they say? They would tell a story of frustration, anger, dreams, ambition and most of all of the love of a dedicated man named Ilias, his family and cousin Savvas, who made a dream came true; it was certainly not due to government enthusiasm nor the cultural ministry’s support, and it was certainly not due to the over-bloated Cyprus Tourist Organization. They actively opposed the project and still refuse to offer it their official recognition or any financial assistance because of political self-interest and petty bureaucracy.
It all started a long time ago with a dream; a dream to create something positive and a lasting landmark for the community.
Ilias and Savvas migrated abroad after the EOKA uprising (1955-1960) came to an end, and they settled in the United States. While living there the dream was slowly nurtured bit by bit by the families left behind who, under Ilia’s instructions, began collecting rare artefacts from the locals and the surrounding villages. That task started with fervour thirty years ago and continues to this day.
The gathering of rare artefacts from everyday life used in village households, along with crudely made tools for farming soon grew into a vast collection. Some of those artefacts on display represent a bygone era of rural subsistence and are certainly rare (if not impossible nowadays) to locate; at least they found a safe home at the Museum of Steni.
Visiting the museum, one is instantly received by the gracious smiling face and genuine welcome of one of the two elderly moustached cousins. They take it in turns to act as guides and proudly show visitors their museum, which has taken over their lives.
Walking between the aisles of the museum, visitors are astounded by the vast collection on display. The beauty of the artefacts immediately takes one’s breath away, and one’s imagination on how people used to live, but especially how harsh life was in those days.
One is instantly exposed to wooden but strange-looking devices of all sizes, silk-production and crude spinning mechanisms, harvesting and threshing relics, animal tending tools, crude-looking iron gadgetry, traditional wedding displays, fine costumes and exquisite displays of hand-made laces, loom devices in full working order… the list is endless.
One needs to see this treasure trove to fully appreciate its beauty and, equally, appreciate what Ilias (also the village mayor) and his cousin Savvas have done to maintain this museum; Ilias actually donated the land while both cousins put a large portion of their own money towards the construction of the building and still support financially the maintenance of the museum. The government contributed 45 per cent towards the initial building cost of the community project, while the rest was collected from the local residents and generous benefactors.
Today the museum is open seven days a week and entrance is free. Since they receive no financial or moral support from any government authorities (not even from the cultural department) a donation box is available for those who care to donate something towards the maintenance of the museum – this is not mandatory!
What really worries Ilias and his cousin Savvas is their age; what will happen to the museum if they are no longer there? Since the government refuses to offer any assistance, they are very concerned for tomorrow. All they are asking is for an authority or a sponsor to take the museum under its wings and maintain it as part of Cypriot Cultural Heritage.
A visit to this special museum is a must; everyone will be pleasantly surprised by its unique beauty of displays packed with wonderful pieces of ancient artefacts. The best part of the visit is meeting Ilias and Savvas and hearing endless stories of the past; that alone is certainly a rare treat indeed.

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