The first project results concerning the years 2016-2019, have been published, after their presentation in the annual DEGUWA conference (April 2019). The paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Skyllis, further discusses the relationship between vernacular shipbuilding and sponge-fishing. The paper is in English, and you can read here:
Following an intense 4-year research period, the first results have been published in the Athens Review for Archaeology (AURA). The paper is in Greek, and you can read here:
Two more papers are in press: the first concerns the Limassol shipbuilding community and will appear in the IKUWA 6 proceedings. The second gives an overview of the IMCH project and explores the relationship between shipbuilding and sponge-fishing in Cyprus (to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Skyllis). Stay tuned for more updates!
The following lecture was delivered on 12 November 2018 by mr. Kyriakos Kofteros, during the ”Vernacular shipbuilding in Cyprus” photo exhibition.
Honourable Mrs. Fachouri, Representative of the Movement of Ecologists — Citizens’ Cooperation,
Honourable Mrs. Pilides, Shipping Deputy Minister to the President,
Honourable Municipal Counsellors,
Honourable Mr. Antoniou, President of the Tourist Development of Limassol,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Morphou Bay and the sea at Karavostasi, are the areas where many of us have seen ships and the sea for the first time. It is a great pleasure to talk about our sea tonight despite being far from there, at another city.
In the years leading to 1974, the shipbuilder Vasilis Shiakallis had his shipyard at Karavostasi. He originally came from Morphou, son to Christos Shiakallis and Eleni Chirodontí. Vasilis was born in 1922, and was a primary school graduate like most of the craftsmen of his time. He showed his love to carpentry from very early but vernacular shipbuilding was his true calling. He studied under craftsmen at Larnaca, who worked mostly on fishing vessels. He later worked in Greece, across seven east Aegean islands, including Samos and Chios, as he often mentioned. The east Aegean shipyards provided the necessary environment to Vasilis to nurture and hone his skills, learning from local craftsmen, although his later career demonstrating a man of exceptional talent, makes us assume that he also taught secrets of the art to craftsmen of the islands. Samos, one of the islands he worked at, is well-known for its quality timber, especially pine, used in shipbuilding since antiquity in vessels such as the Kyrenia ship. Cypriot shipbuilders retained strong contacts with their colleagues in the east Aegean and Asia Minor, the latter being the area of origin for some Cypriot craftsmen. In 1946-47, shipbuilders were constructing two wooden vessels at Xeros, at the area by the police station. Vasilis had the opportunity to work with them, while sometime later he set up his own shipyard at nearby Karavostasi, under the big eucalyptus trees along the Pyrgos-Nicosia road.
The village of Karavostasi has a withstanding relationship with vessels and seamen, as seen in its name (karavi means ship in Greek). The nearby remains of the harbour, of the ancient kingdom of Soloi, remained in use during the early Byzantine period until its destruction by the Saracens connecting people and merchants with Asia Minor, even vessels travelling to and fro Smyrna. In modern times, its importance diminished significantly particularly after 1922 and the destruction of Smyrna. However, Karavostasi regained its former position as mineral cargo terminal of the local mining industry, offering jobs to great numbers of workforce.
Vasilis usually constructed vessels for local fishermen, and travelled often to other regions of the island: fishermen from across Cyprus would call him to construct new fishing boats at their place of residence. As a result, he worked at Vasilia, Lapithos, Kyrenia, Ayios Amvrosios, Davlos, Famagusta, Mansoura, Polis Chrysochous, and Limassol, which actually corresponds to the localities with active fishermen. His clientele included Muslims, and a carte-postal from Karavas depicts one of his fishing boats.
He usually worked alone, and rarely had assistants. The fishermen who would ask for a boat construction or repair would also serve as assistants. Vasilis had no power tools at his shipyard: everything was done by hand using an adze, a chisel, a saw, a drill and a plane. He was a fast and skilled craftsman, who was excited each time he would work on a vessel. He was ambidextrous and could work without previously drawing the vessel.
Palladios Nikolaou from Karavostasi was one of Vasilis’ close friends, and remained one until the very end. Palladios, his brother Theseas Nikolaou Zervos, and Andreas Georgiades, requested master-Vasilis to construct a vessel for them, thus fulfilling one of their old dreams. Their request of a 50 feet (ca. 17 metres) vessel with a deck had the form of a karavoskaro, a well-known vessel with ellipsoid bow. Vasilis used mulberry for the keel and frames, as it is considered to be of exceptional quality. He used pinewood for the planks, from Ayia locality in Paphos forest, and supervised the selection and cutting of the trees based on their suitability.
Vasilis collaborated with Savvakis Georgiou, a sawmill owner at Kampos, for forming the selected timber into the necessary shapes and scantlings. He worked alone, yet diligently, in building Argo I for three whole years, and once the vessel was ready, Manolis Kranidiotis installed the propulsion engine. The vessel owners used it for touristic, sailing excursions starting from Famagusta harbour with intermediate stops along the coastline. This was quite avant-garde for its time: a week-long journey overseen by captain Solomis from Ormidia along with his sailor, which unfortunately stopped abruptly in July 1974 as the Turkish invasion occurred.
Vasilis Shiakallis knew the coastline at Xeros-Limnitis region very well and participated in 1964 in the defence efforts to prevent a potential Turkish invasion at that area. He was acquainted with Andis Philetas, a Morphou resident who served as a civilian volunteer on board the Navy Command patrol boat Phaethon. Vasilis had just returned from the boat, having finished with wood repairs, before her bombing by Turkish Air Force on 8 August 1964. Philetas lost his life along with the 5 of the crew and the Executive Officer.
Shiakallis wife Terpsichore Christodoulou came from Kampos. Life was hard to them. They lost one of their daughters, who had been only 10 years old. Shiakallis loved fishing and enjoying his wine by the beach. He had been a very practical man, a philosopher, genuine and extremely humane. Older Karavostasi locals remember him entering the flames engulfing Tsouloupas bakery to assist with the rescue.
After the 1974 Turkish invasion, he took refuge with his family at Kampos, his wife’s village, leaving behind his small shipyard and tools. In 1975, his three old friends Palladios, Theseas and Andreas sought him in building another karavoskaro at Nicosia, to replace the captured Argo I. The boat building yard was next to the sawmill of Elias Loizou, also from Kampos, where they cut the timber members for Argo II, twin to Argo I. Argo II was initially used as a fishing vessel for swordfish at Paphos, and later on as a coastal passenger vessel in Limassol. Vasilis also constructed a decked vessel at Kampos and worked briefly at Limassol before his passing in 1983. In 2003, shortly after the opening of crossing points, Argo I was spotted at Kyrenia harbour, along with other small boats Shiakallis had constructed, judging from their characteristics.
One should note that shipbuilding timber in Cyprus usually came from the pine forests near Kampos, cut by local woodcutters. A well-known example built with Kampos pinewood is the Kyrenia-Eleftheria experimental ship, built in 2003, by the late vernacular shipbuilder Charalambos Avgoustis and his sons in the lines of the Kyrenia ship. Kampos community took steps in guarding that part of their heritage: the local Forest Museum displays woodcutting tools and machinery, relics of an era that has passed.
Speaking tonight about Vasilis Shiakallis makes us remember his colleagues. Here at Limassol, Famagusta, Larnaca and Paphos. The boatbuilding families of Avgoustis and Parpour, the master shipbuilders Eracles, Kokos Panteli, Patroklos, Skeparnides, Chalkites, Mpillis and so many more who have to be recorded scientifically. It is hoped that the much-awaited nautical museum will be founded and include their work. And it is also hoped that their vessels will be rescued; we have only rescued sporadically some of them. A European Directive leads to the destruction of unique vernacular vessels in order to purchase new ones made of plastic. Yet wooden vessels can continue being built if vernacular shipbuilders are supported. By helping them we are actually helping our country and tradition.
Speaking about Shiakallis, a Morphou local, cannot help one but remember Morphou coastline. The ancient harbour at Karavostasi and the anchorage at Xeros. The customs office. The fishermen. The divers. The liveliness of the region which had a developed agriculture and mining industry. The almost in ruins Cyprus Mining Company pier, which could have been restored and become a landmark by now, at it happened with its Limassol counterparts. The vapor boats (the “vaporakia”) of the mining corporation. The KEM buses and the “baths” at Shiachouros, Giannis and Chambis with their jukebox machines.
There were several individuals who gave information on Vasilis, such as his wife Terpsichore, his daughter Elli, Palladios Nikolaou from Karavostasi, the shipbuilder Nikos Mpillis from Famagusta and now at Limassol carnayo. Vasilis had estimated towards the end of his career, that he had built around 300 vessels, mainly fishing boats. The Cypriot fishermen and shipbuilders remember Vasilis being a good man and exceptional craftsman. His boats are immortal as they still sail and can be seen at fishing shelters along the coastline. If a book is ever written on vernacular boatbuilding in Cyprus, Vasos Shiakallis should be included as one of the finest craftsmen. He was free and independent as a man, and could have easily been a character in one of Papadiamantis’ novels with ships, coasts, and seamen having ragged faces from life’s hardships. Vasilis must have seen a “Dream on a Wave” for sure, or could have been the builder of “Ipiretra”, whose shipbuilding technology knew very well.
May his remembrance be eternal. May the shipbuilders who have passed away rest in peace.
Morphou beaches including Karavostasi and Xeros. Their development ceased after the population forced to leave in 1974.
KEM: Cyprus Transport Company
Vernacular shipbuilding, meaning the hand-crafting of a boat, is one of those cultural practices and perceptions that remain unprotected on the island.
The Intangible Maritime Cultural Heritage Project! It is a project that touched the heart of the neglected and often forgotten Intangible Maritime Cultural Heritage of our country. The shipbuilding craft has flourished in Cyprus during previous centuries, gave us great craftsmen, and has created unique vessels. Vernacular shipbuilding was a natural consequence for Cyprus due to its insular character, its abundance in suitable timber, and the ingenuity of the craftsmen themselves. Highly skilled shipbuilders and other craftsmen worked at Limassol, Paphos, Famagusta, in constructing merchantmen, fishing boats, or vessels for private use, meeting the needs of Cyprus and the Mediterranean region.
The group of my adult students from the Cyprus Archaeology Seminars participated in the unique Experimental Workshop of the project, dealing with the vernacular shipbuilding. The two-hour workshop clearly resonated with this declining traditional craft, through the eyes of one of the last Cypriot shipbuilders.
Along with the Maritime Archaeologist Maria Ktori and Mr. Marios Parpour, one of the last vernacular shipbuilders on the island, the workshop examined the intangible features of an ancient culture, which are preserved to us –amongst others- through social customs. The shipbuilders, carriers of a craft which was transferred and preserved through family tradition or apprenticeship, employed a significant number of skilled workers and built a great number of vessels.
Byzantine chanting, Wine-making, and Rebetiko music are part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, a global heritage protected by UNESCO. Why shouldn’t vernacular shipbuilding in Cyprus form part of this, being a craft which gave a huge economic push to a large part of the island’s population for many centuries. The protection of our Intangible Maritime Cultural Heritage remains an important factor in preserving our cultural diversity as an island while encouraging mutual respect for different ways of life.
Author: Dr. Annita Antoniadou, Geoarchaeologist
Limassol appears to have had a stronger relationship with the sea compared to other towns: Limassolians owned merchant vessels travelling to Egypt and Syria, local steam companies were founded in 1899 and 1905, and operated alongside agencies of foreign steam companies. We know of at least one more shipbuilding family tracing its roots at Limassol in the 1870s, the Parpour, who moved first to Lebanon and since 1958 operate at Paphos. The historical data, the family lore and the current craft practitioners all indicate that vernacular shipbuilding has a lifespan of more than 200 years at this southern coastal town.
The coastal landscape of Limassol began changing progressively during the British Colonial Rule. The construction of an iron pier and a customs office by the end of 1881, was followed by a series of improvement works in 1910. The pier was extended in the late 1920s and the first shipyard began operating in 1922 at the old harbour area. The harbour works resulted in the first relocation of the carnayo, from the old harbour to the beach in front of the municipal zoo, in the 1950s. This relocation is commemorated in early 20th century newspapers. The urban development of the 1960s, resulted in a second and final relocation of the carnayo, between the old and new harbour.
In the post-1974 war era, Limassol expanded further: the newly constructed port and adjacent industrial zone gave the coastal strip its current characteristics. The carnayo has influenced the coastal landscape between the old and new port: the establishment of a shipyard is directly related to the local topography, taking advantage of inclined, sheltered areas to facilitate the daily repair works and pulling the vessels out of the water. The shipbuilders had backfilled parts of the coast to meet those specific criteria, influencing the landscape of the western edge of Limassol. Considering all the above, the shipbuilding community had a central role in certain aspects of Limassol’s development: the early 20th century seaborne trade would have faced difficulties without the local shipyard, and subsequently affect the financial growth of local traders depending on it. Moreover, shipbuilding influenced the landscape itself, particularly after the 1960s and the final relocation of the carnayo.
Author: Maria Ktori
Image: courtesy of Pattichion Historical Archive and Municipal Museum Limassol
The maritime cultural heritage of Cyprus is well-attested in both material culture and written sources, since antiquity. Its geographical importance is highlighted particularly in the Middle Ages, when the island becomes a diplomatic and military base in the 12th century, and pilgrims would use it as a stop en-route to the Holy Lands. Portolans and nautical guides of the 13th and 14th century provide indirect information on the commercial mobility of Cypriot harbours and notary documents reveal the associations between merchants and the maritime community. The integration of Cyprus in the Stato da Mar in 1489 consolidated its role both as a nautical base of the Venetian fleet and as a Venetian trade centre in eastern Mediterranean. However, the information on the Cypriot maritime community remains rather scarce.
The island’s shipbuilding tradition takes firmer form in the Ottoman Period. Cyprus was among the regions were the Ottomans maintained the existing byzantine shipyards, although these operated on the island only after the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. The favourable conditions stemming from the treaty allowed shipbuilding to flourish in the Aegean: more vessel types are created (e.g. the trehandiri in Hydra in 1657), and shipbuilding design techniques evolve alongside the increased production. The constant flow of knowledge, skills, and expertise has been noted throughout the Aegean from the 16th century onwards.
Despite the absence of detailed information, it is possible to trace vernacular shipbuilding at Limassol as early as the 17th century. At that time, the Ottomans had there a fortified shipyard similar to that of Constantinople. Evidently, shipbuilding continued into the British Colonial Rule (1878-1959), although Cyprus had a profound lack of harbours at the time of this transition. There were only three safe anchorages at Limassol, Larnaca and Famagusta; Limassol in particular, had wooden docks along the coastline and ships had to unload their cargo by using lighters. This situation hindered seaborne trade, thus the British commenced a series of harbour works using funds from the colony.
Cypriot anchorages were just equipped with wooden piers until the late 19th century, and the majority of vessels docking there were fishing boats. The British Consular Agent Brunoni wrote in his report to the new Consul at Larnaca, in 1843, that the only, somewhat operational harbour, was situated at Famagusta and there were 36 silted anchorages across the island. These conditions just permitted the use of wooden vessels, a fact later attested in the Cyprus Blue Books. In 1887-88, ten years into the British Colonial Rule, the Blue Book records 327 Cypriot sailing vessels to have been engaged in such activities, with 9027 tons total capacity and a mean average of 4 crew members per vessel. Fifteen boats were employed at Limassol district for fishing that year, which were apparently locally built. The data available in the Blue Books (1887-1938), consistently show that Cypriots were solely operating wooden vessels and were often renting them to the British. There is a small gap in the available data during the World War II (1939-1945), but the 1946 Blue Book issue notes for the first time, four steam vessels under Cypriot flag while they continued operating sailing vessels. The historical data indicates that, as Cypriots had to fulfil all seaborne transports, trading and fishing via wooden vessels, it is reasonable to suggest that shipbuilders had certainly been active from the early 19th century.
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Author: Maria Ktori
Image: courtesy of Pattichion Historical Archive and Municipal Museum Limassol