The Kontea Heritage Preservation Proposal
The United Nations, through the United Nations Development Programme, at the beginning of 2006 called for proposals for the restoration and maintenance of endangered monuments all over Cyprus. The programme aims in contributing towards co-operation and trust between the communities through working together on issues of common concern.
The project is under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the financial support of USAID.
The Kontea Community Council and the Kontea Refugee Association after a unanimous decision on March 14th, jointly applied to the United Nations for the restoration and maintenance of the church of Agios Charalambos and the church cloisters in Kontea and the preservation of the cultural heritage of the village.
The proposal also includes the study of the damaged Catholic Church, the Frankish Mansions and the unique system of underground cisterns and irrigation ducts,which are all in the same complex, with a view of restoring and maintaining them.
The proposal for the project consists primarily of the study and consequent restoration of the church of Agios Charalambos and its surrounding buildings, which will be used for joint activities between the communities and the creation of 'The Carob Tree Peace Park', which will serve as a picnic area and a space for open-air activities.
Kontea village - Location and Context
Kontea village is situated in a favorable position on the southeastern side of the Mesaoria plain, between the three main cities of Famagusta, Nicosia and Larnaca. It was originally a Frankish fief, gradually growing into a village with the influx of people seeking work in the fertile land of what later came to be known as the Frankish ciftlik.
Kontea was the agricultural center of the region, producing all kinds of fruit and vegetables, with big plantations of citrus and olive trees and many vineyards. Indeed, the first ever grape festival was held in Kontea and it is still celebrated by its people in Larnaca to this day.
In the years 1965-66, a Carob Tree Plantation of 350 trees was created on an experimental basis, on part of a large plot of common land located to the south of the village with excellent views. It is approximately 500 meters away from the church complex, on the branch-off road from Pergamos.
Modern Kontea was a very cosmopolitan village with cinemas, youth and sports clubs as well as tavernas.
On an elevated site, the Franks built a magnificent stone Mansion overlooking the vast plain. Extensive remains of this mansion stand to this day, largely due to restoration work carried out in 1797. Indeed, an engraved plaque inscribed in that year, and which had once formed part of the mansion, describes Kontea very vividly:
THE BEAUTY OF THE RICH AND FERTILE LAND
ADMIRE OH VISITANT! WELL AND DIVINELY GIFTED IT IS.
SWEET WATER IN PLENTY FLOWING OVER THE DUCT
PASTURES GREEN AND ORCHARDS REFRESHING
THE AIR IN MELODY BLOWING, FEEL THE MILD BREEZE!
JOY TO THE HEART AND TO THE EYE THIS PLACE BRINGS
KONTEA IS THE NAME AND RIGHTFULLY DESERVES THE FAME.
HERE FLOWERS AND GARDENS BLOSSOM AND TREES LIKE FORESTS GROW
YET THIS PLACE WAS NOT SO BEFORE, THIS MANSION NOW WELL IS DECORATED
NOW IN ORDER IS ALL, A BEAUTY AND A WONDER!
A translation by B. Pericleous
The Catholic Chapel
The descendants of the Europeans, who continued to inhabit the Mansion until 1974, also built a Catholic Chapel in 1910, about 200 meters away. It is believed that it was dedicated to St. Anthony and that it was built with funds from the Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Only insignificant remains have survived but there are photographs of the Chapel as it stood in 1973, as well as very detailed descriptions of the building and its contents. It can be resurrected to a true likeness of the original. The western part of the church courtyard served as a cemetery.
The Irrigation system
Kontea had a unique medieval irrigation system, with running water reaching the village from the south through a series of underground sewers and wells (lagoumia) and, by force of gravity, pouring into a system of stone-built cisterns and aqueducts. This system was in operation as late as the 1960s. Part of the system ran adjacent to the western side of the Mansion. The two cisterns, one starting from the Catholic Chapel and the other at the far northwestern side of the Mansion, together with the stone ducts joining them, can be seen to this day. These remains could easily be revived through renovation.
The Main Orthodox church
The main church of Kontea village is dedicated to Agios Charalambos. It stands on the site of two earlier churches, the first one believed to have been constructed around 1570, and it is situated on the eastern boundary of the Frankish Mansion. The church is of the single-aisled, cross-vaulted basilica type and was inaugurated by Archibishop Sofronios in 1876.
This was the only large church in the whole of the Famagusta region dedicated to Agios Charalambos and it was therefore a very popular gathering point for the celebration of the Saints feast day every February 10th. Along the west and south side of the courtyard, the church is surrounded by buildings which had mainly served as a covered market on the Saints feast day in case of rain. At the two ends and at the corner of the L-shaped arched structure, there were three fairly large rooms which were used to accommodate travelers and visitors.
These buildings are now in a bad state, with only the stone arches remaining. There are a number of photographs of the original structure as well as descriptions by people who remember the set-up.
The Primary School
On the north side of the church stands the first primary school of the village. The building appears to be well preserved, mainly because it is inhabited.
After 1974, a mosque was also built in this area, near the church to the south. Within a radius of approximately 200 meters, therefore, we have a Catholic Chapel and cemetery, an Orthodox Church and auxiliary buildings, a medieval Mansion, an irrigation system consisting of stone cisterns and aqueducts, an old school and a contemporary Mosque.