Tommaso Porcacchi, a 16th century

travellers view of Cyprus.


By Ismail Veli……

Tommaso Porcacchi was born in Castiglione near Arrezo, Italy, and moved to Venice in 1559. His visit to Cyprus left a vivid account of Cyprus during Venetian rule. An avid writer, he left some remarkable accounts of his travels. his most famous works were the four editions of ”L’Isole piu fTommaso Porcacchiamoso del mondo” (The most famous islands of the world). The translation from Latin to English was from the second edition from his 4 printed in Venice in 1590 pages 144-153. Fortunately he left us a great personal account of his visit to Cyprus.

The following which I have edited into a shorter version is in his own words as he wrote it. Writing about history is one thing, reading it from the perspective of an eye witness is quite another. His accounts involved the way Cypriots lived, what crops they grew and ate and the class difference prevailing on the  island in the 1500s. One thing I found intriguing is that he records Kolokas as an Egyptian bean. It’s strange that this food seems to have its origin from South East Asia (from the family plant Araceae), and yet seems to be so popular in Cyprus, but not so in Greece or Turkey where most Cypriots claim their origins. As Porcacchi describes it as an ;”Egyptian bean” it’s possible that in those days it had a much different size and look. We all know that modern scientific farming methods have changed many foods to larger and different shapes. Thanks to people like Tommaso Porcacchi  we can have a glimpse into the way of life of Cypriots centuries ago. The rest is in his own words


Cyprus is an Island in the Carpathian Sea, has on the north, at no great distance, the bay of Issus, (the modern Iskenderun): on the south the Egyptian sea, on the west Rhodes and the east Syria.

It is of oblong shape and has a circuit of five hundred and fifty miles, according to modern reckoning. On the west it has three promontories or capes, C.San Tommaso Porcacchi' bookPifani, anciently called Acamas, Trapano, Cilidonia or Punta Melonta, of old C.Zephyrion: These look partly towards Egypt, partly towards the Pamphylian sea.

The whole island Is divided into eleven districts, thus arranged. On the west Baffo, anciently Paphos, Audimo, Limiso, Masoto, Saline and Mesarea: these look to the south. The others look to the north; Crusoco, Pendaia, Cerines, Carpasso, formerly Capasia. The last is the Viscontado, lying between those of Saline and Cerines. Those of Cerines is itself divided by a chain of hills standing from a mile and a half to three miles from the northern coast.

The island is rich indeed in all fruits of the earth, and its more useful products, its wines are very luscious and wholesome; as they grow old they turn from black to white, they are fragrant and of pleasant taste. One finds wine of eighty years and more, and a vintage that had graced a grandee’s table gets fresh honour as a medicine for its health giving and preservative virtues. They are appreciated in Venice and Rome, wherever indeed they reach. It produces the raisins called zabib, large, black and fine fruit, dried naturally by the sun. Wheat and barley in abundance, and all kinds of vegetables. All ordinary fruits grow here, except cherries, chestnuts and sorbs, but in their place are dates, bananas and citrons. Its gardens are adorned with oranges, lemons and citrons, of such quality as few countries can surpass. Sugar was formerly one of its chief products, but a culture of the cane was abandoned for that of cotton, as being more profitable. And not to be tedious, I must assure the reader that Cyprus is a most productive island. It gives saffron, sesame, coriander, sumach, lentisc seed and three sorts of honey, the white oMap of cyprus 1f the hives, black made from carobs, and treacle from sugar. It has all the common vegetables, and in addition cauliflowers and cabbages. The colacasia or Egyptian bean, which is excellent eating.

The population fell into five classes, Parici, Levteri, Albanians, White Venetians, and Perpiriarii. I leave out for the present the nobles, of whom I will speak by and by. The Parici were  a kind of slaves, bound for life to their masters: they dated from the time of the Greek Dukes, who compelled them to defend the coast from corsairs, both by money payments and personal service. The Latin kings found this custom and preserved it (men so easily fall in with what is profitable). Its conditions were even aggravated, for when they began to give the villages to their barons, they gave them also authority of every kind, short of the power of life and death, over the Parici; and the tyranny of the masters grew so fiercely insolent that some bartered their slaves unblushingly for dogs or other animals. The Levteri were those of the Parici who were freed by payment, through charity or other reasons. But some who were free in their persons were bound in their purse, being compelled to pay yearly to the Dukes and Princes fifteen perpiri or more, a perpiri was a silver giulio, or (as they say in Venice) a Marcello and from this coin they get their name Perpiriarii. The Albanians were people of Albania, brought here to defend the seaboard against pirates, who married in Cyprus, and with their descendants preserved the name of their native country. The White Venetians were certain peasants who were personally free men, but paid  a yearly tax, and came under the jurisdiction of the Venetian Consuls residing in Cyprus.

So the Venetians remained lords of Cyprus, and held it until 1570, when the Turkish Sovereign Selim, without lawful excuse and contrary to his plighted faith, declared war against the republic for the conquest of the island. He landed  a huge army at Saline on June 24 and besieged  Nicosia, which he took by assault on September 8th, by cutting the inhabitants to pieces. Next he gained by capitulation the fortress of Cerine, whose defenders, Gio. Maria Mutazzo a noble Venetian, and Alfonso Palazzo, surrendered it. After this he marched his troops to Famagusta, which he invested, up to the end of July, 1571.

I should describe this war, about which I am fully informed, with more detail, but I have set forth the whole story in a separate book which I have composed about the life and deeds of Astorre Baglione; in which it may read with interest, if it be ever allowed me to send forth to the world as my own this work of mine. The reader can refer too to what I write at length in my ”History of the events between 1550 and 1575.”

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