The Ottoman Landscape and Pyla-Koutsopetria

Over the past month, I’ve been working to draw historical conclusions from the artifact distributions produced through the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. For antiquity this did not prove particularly challenging in that our site conformed in many ways to general patterns of expansion and contraction across the island. By the post-Classical period, however, my job have become a bit more complicated as the quantity of artifacts present at our site is depressingly small and the patterns of settlement across the island are less clearly established. Fortunately, our colleagues at the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project and the Troodos Archaeological and Environment Survey Project (TAESP) have begun to shape their relatively modest finds into some interesting analytical models that may help make some sense of our material. M. Given and M. Hadjianastasis published an article titled “Landholding and landscape in Ottoman Cyprus” last year in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 34 (2010), 38-60.

NewImageOttoman material from Pyla-Koutsopetria microregion

In this article, the authors use Ottoman census records to reconstruct the population and arable land available to several villages in the TAESP survey area.  Given and Hadjianastasis were able to reconstruct the local pattern of interdependence between villages that produced grain and other crops according to the suitability of the land. Better watered land of the plains tended to feature larger villages with more land per person suggesting grain cultivation. Villages situated in the dryer foothills of the Troodos tended to be not only small, but have less land per person suggesting that residents of these communities had to have land holdings on the plain which they cultivated seasonally and that they were likely more involved in cash cropping in the immediate vicinity of their own villages. The interdependence of these villages reflects that access to larger Ottoman economy as well as the likely demands of larger Ottoman landholders who sought to exploit cash crops in place of subsistence. A similar pattern has appeared in Greece where it is clear that by the Ottoman period an increasingly globalized economy rendered traditional definitions of subsistence inadequate for explaining the organization of Greek agriculture.

The relatively arid lands of the coastal plain and the thin soils of the coastal plateau at Pyla-Koutsopetria were probably best suited in antiquity as today for grain cultivation. We do know, however, that the marshy lands of the foreshore saw market gardens as recently as mid-20th century suggesting that some local freshwater was available to the area. Moreover, the rugged slopes of the coastal plateaus produced herbs which while never a substantial part of the local economy, do reflect patterns of land use that sought to exploit a wide range of environmental resources. The sparse scatter of Ottoman period material most likely indicates that no major settlement existed in the area. The small scatter of Ottoman period glazed wares on the northern edge of the Mavrospilos/Kazamas coastal plateau might represent a small seasonal settlement or even an isolated farmstead. The fields were probably cultivated by residents of Pyla village some 1.5 km to the north. By the early 19th century, it is clear that some local lands were owned by absentee landowners or stood as part of the endowments of religious officials. It seems likely, then, that the individuals who cultivated the land at Pyla-Koutsopetria were tenant farmers. The presence of a small fortification of Venetian (?) date near the foreshore perhaps suggests that the low-lying lands in the eastern part of the Pyla-Koutsopetria plain continued to serve as a small embayment as late as the Ottoman period. The very slight traces of a road that ran along the earlier coastal ridge hint that the coastline had a more pronounced curve in the 19th century than it does now perhaps providing some protection for coasting ships traveling along the littoral.

The most interesting part of Given and Hadjianastasis article was not the careful, if general, interpretation of ceramic evidence, village populations, and land use, but the discussion of the experiences associated with living in the diverse villages present in the Ottoman landscape. The call of the muezzin and the sound of church bells (or the more common wooden or metal tsimandro) served as aural limits to the religious landscape. The limited intervisibility of Ottoman period settlements provided another means of defining the extent of a village’s land and communicating a sense of community among individuals working the fields (even if these fields were owned by landlords).

The village of Pyla is not visible from our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria obscured by the imposing coastal plateau. It seems likely that the settlement at Pyla which dated at least since the geometric period became the center of habitation in the area as much because it was not visible from the coast as because it stood astride a major route north to the Mesaoria and east-west between Kition/Larnaka and Salamis. When coastal settlements became vulnerable to raiding after the decline of Roman hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-7th century, the settlement on the Pyla littoral declined rapidly. It is difficult to imagine that the relatively level lands of the coastal remained neglected long.  The only evidence for habitation was a small scatter of material on the northern edge of the Mavrospilos/Kazamas plateau.  It is worth noting that the southern limits of Pyla village would have been just barely visible from a seasonal shelter in this area and perhaps the fieldworkers could have heard the call to prayer or the church bells (or tsimandro) to orient their daily routines while in the fields.

DSC 0064View to northeast from the Mavrospilos/Kazamas Ridge

As a brief epilogue, it is remarkable that we have almost no photographs looking north from our site. We must have 1000+ photos of the Pyla-Koutsopetria landscape and 80% of these photographs take their orientation from the sea. This probably speaks as much to our preoccupation with the sea as our disinclination to look toward the politically troubled buffer zone between the British Sovereign Base Area, the U.N. Buffer Zone in which Pyla Village sits, and the Republic of Cyprus.

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