Cyprus, an island in the Levant

by the London Reading Book


Letter C.

Cyprus, an island in the Levant, is said to have taken its name from the number of shrubs of that name with which it once abounded. From this tall shrub, the cypress, its ancient inhabitants made an oil of a very delicious flavour, which was an article of great importance in their commerce, and is still in great repute among Eastern nations. It once, too, abounded with forests of olive trees; and immense cisterns are still to be seen, which have been erected for the purpose of preserving the oil which the olive yielded.

Near the centre of the island stands Nicotia, the capital, and the residence of the governor, who now occupies one of the palaces of its ancient sovereigns. The palaces are remarkable for the beauty of their architecture, but are abandoned by their Turkish masters to the destructive hand of time. The church of St. Sophia, in this place, is built in the Gothic style, and is said to have been erected by the Emperor Justinian. Here the Christian Kings of Cyprus were formerly crowned; but it is now converted into a mosque.

The island was formerly divided into nine kingdoms, and was famous for its superb edifices, its elegant temples, and its riches, but can now boast of nothing but its ruins, which will tell to distant times the greatness from which it has fallen.

The southern coast of this island is exposed to the hot winds from all directions. During a squall from the north-east, the temperature has been described as so scorching, that the skin instantly peeled from the lips, a tendency to sneeze was excited, accompanied with great pain in the eyes, and chapping of the hands and face. The heats are sometimes so excessive, that persons going out without an umbrella are liable to suffer from coup de soleil, or sun-stroke; and the inhabitants, especially of the lower class, in order to guard against it, wrap up their heads in a large turban, over which in their journeys they plait a thick shawl many times folded. They seldom, however, venture out of their houses during mid-day, and all journeys, even those of caravans, are performed in the night. Rains are also rare in the summer season, and long droughts banish vegetation, and attract numberless columns of locusts, which destroy the plants and fruits.


The soil, though very fertile, is rarely cultivated, the Greeks being so oppressed by their Turkish masters that they dare not cultivate the rich plains which surround them, as the produce would be taken from them; and their whole object is to collect together during the year as much grain as is barely sufficient to pay their tax to the Governor, the omission of which is often punished by torture or even by death.

The carob, or St. John's bread-tree, is plentiful; and the long thick pods which it produces are exported in considerable quantities to Syria and Egypt. The succulent pulp which the pod contains is sometimes employed in those countries instead of sugar and honey, and is often used in preserving other fruits. The vine grows here perhaps in greater perfection than in any other part of the world, and the wine of the island is celebrated all over the Levant.