THE LAND OF WINE
Omodos is a large village with plenty of traditional charm and a warm welcome for visitors all year round. Located amongst extensive vineyards high on the southern slopes of the Troodos with the summit of Mount Olympus as its magnificent backdrop, it is the regional centre for the six wine producing villages in the area.
Known to have been inhabited since the Byzantine era, Omodos sits near the west bank of the Cha-potami river at an altitude of around 810 metres. Today, the village revolves around the monastery of Timios Stavros and an attractive cobbled village square lined with Mulberry trees and a colourful assortment of handicraft shops and cafenia (coffee shops). This is where the elderly men sit and enjoy the winter sun as they discuss politics and play endless games of backgammon.
Originally the village was located on the opposite bank of the river and was known as Koupetra. In those days it was only the monastery that stood on the west side – until regular landslips forced the villagers to abandon the Koupetra settlement and build a new community around the monastery.
Some say that the village’s name comes from this time, as Omodos is from the Greek word modion, which are the large woven baskets that the women used to carry on their heads to move their family possessions across the river. However, it is far more likely that it was named after the feudal lord, Homodeus, who lived in the region during the Frankish period.
The monastery of Timios Stavros (The Monastery of the Holy Cross) stands on the site of a much older monastery that was probably founded in around 327AD. It was rebuilt several times over the centuries, then extended in the 19th century. Legend tells how villagers built the monastery on the spot where they saw a golden light glowing and, on investigation, found a small golden cross.
The monastery is beautiful and contains some of the finest wood carvings in Cyprus including its magnificent early 19th century gilded iconostasis (altar screen) and carved lattice railings next to the monks’ cells. Inside the monastery church there are two very precious large silver crosses, one contains a piece of the hemp rope that bound Christ’s hands, which was brought to the island by Saint Helena in 327AD and the second cross, the one on the left, contains the cloth that Saint Helena used to collect the wooden splinters when she divided her piece of the True Cross. This second cross originally came from the monastery of Timios Stavros in Anogyra village but it was brought to Omodos during Ottoman rule, for protection. Amongst its other treasures is the skull of Saint Philip, which was brought to the monastery from Arsos. Residents bought the monastery from the Bishop of Paphos for £3,000 in 1917 and in recent years it has been totally renovated, although no monks live there today. There are also four chapels in the village, the oldest is dedicated to Saint Philip and stands in the shade of the oldest (bay) tree on the island, which is said to mark the spot where there was a temple dedicated to Apollo in ancient times.
Leaving the monastery by the small northern archway, the narrow street leads to the village’s famous linos – a 15th century wine press. Omodos has long been a winemaking village and today has four wineries, all of which welcome visitors. In the 15th century, Omodos was a fiefdom of Jean de Brie, Prince of Galilee, who used to export the village wines to Palestine and his native France. Situated in an area with its own microclimate, Omodos is perfectly suited to the cultivation of grapes and the surrounding hillsides are covered with vines.
Wandering around the centre of the village, there is the chance to admire the red-roofed houses with their different architectural styles and to find the two village springs. The largest one, “pigadi”, is the main source of water for the village. Years ago it was a popular meeting place where, in the mornings the women would gather to chat and in the evenings the men would congregate there after leaving their fields so that their donkeys could drink. It is said that all the major village discussions and decisions took place here!
The whole village has been declared a “B grade” monument to be preserved because of its varied architecture and pretty cobbled streets. For those interested in local history there is the “House of Socrates’, one of two houses that have been turned into interesting ethnographical museums. A neighbor, Pambos Papadopoulos, recalls, “As I child I used to play there and although there are many extra exhibits on display, the character of the house hasn’t changed at all. There is still the old ladder leading down to the cellar with its old stone-built grape tread. All the family used to gather at the house on Green Monday and other festival days to sing songs together.”
Omodos has long been famous for its embroidery work and late in the afternoon many of the women can be seen sitting in the leafy shade with a velvet cushion perched on their laps, carefully sewing intricate patterns on cream-coloured linen. Pipilla is one of the styles and Richelieu the other and the origins of both can be traced to the years of Venetian rule in Cyprus (1489-1570).Richelieu is very complex to make and involves cutting “windows” in the cloth which are carefully decorated with embroidery. Pambos Papadopoulos recalls, “My grandmother made this particularly beautiful set of Richelieu linen which she called “springtime” and included a valence embroidered with grasses and daisies to cover the bed frame and a canopy embroidered with shallows. It was so special that it was only used on the four main festival days, Easter, Christmas, 15 August (the day of the Assumption) and 14 September, the festival of Timios Stavros.”
Omodos is a village steeped in tradition and the traditional bread rings, Arkatena, which can now be found everywhere in Cyprus, originate from the village. The recipe was brought to Omodos by travelers from Asia Minor. This bread was a distinctive taste because it is made with chick pea yeast. “My grandmother used to make it”, recalls Pambos. “She would boil a small pan of chick peas in water for a certain length of time, which was measured by a candle marked with lines. She let the liquid cool and repeated the process again and again to reduce the volume of liquid. The resulting yeast was certainly strong as one large spoonful was enough for 35 loaves! Arkatena was made for all the big festivals and as a boy I remember the wonderful smell of the bread baking in all four bakeries and in the traditional ovens in the family courtyards. It is a wonderful smell that I will never forget.”
Another special tradition that has evolved in Omodos is the making of almond marzipan. Cypriot marzipan is quite unlike the commercially made product and is wonderfully soft and usually a pale golden colour but not in Omodos where the housewives have perfected a method using egg white to ensure their marzipan is snowy white! Traditionally, when a couple marries in the village they are not given their wedding gifts until the Sunday after the wedding, when the bride alone welcomes the village women to her new home to receive her gifts and to offer them some freshly made marzipan.
After enjoying a wander through the streets of Omodos, nothing beats relaxing in the winter sunshine over a cup of Cyprus coffee and simply soaking up the atmosphere of one of the prettiest villages in Cyprus.