The great maps of Medieval Cyprus


By Ismail Veli……

Many people are familiar with the amazing map of Cyprus drawn by Jacomo Franco. Printed in Venice in 1570, it contained the names of hundreds of settlements and many place names of the period. it was one of the most accurate maps on Cyprus for that era and when copied by Abraham Ortelius in 1573 it became, and still is the most recognised map of Medieval Cyprus under Venetian rule.

Many however are less familiar with what may have been an even more detailed map drawn by Leonida Attar in 1542. There was a great attempt by Francesco Bustron in 1533 with at least 400 villages listed on the map. An extraordinary effort for the period. It was probably the first attempt to map Cyprus so comprehensively. In 1538 Pagano published his map showing 273 place names. Leonida Attar however took Cypriot cartography to a new level. By increasing the size of his map Leonida Attar managed to add 692 settlements of which 35 were unnamed. It was a gargantuan effort which has left us a vivid list of 11 Contradas (districts) with all their villages.

Leonida Attar a Cypriot by birth was an engineer par excellence. On 30 November 1543 he was assigned by the Venetian senate to exclusive rights for twenty years to technical details concerning the design and building of bridges for the Venetian state. In addition 2 years after the completion of the map of Cyprus he was assigned to work on construction projects directed by Michele Sanmichele. The assignment on 17 March 1544 was by the office of the ”Provveditori sopra le fortezze,” for a payment of 5 Ducats. The fortifications of the island were to be strengthened so as to withstand a major siege by an invading army. In addition to the 5 ducats a month, the cost of transport by boat was also paid for.

Attar’s duties at Kyrenia and Famagusta castles seemed to have impressed the Captain of Famagusta, Andrea Dandola so much that his references to the Venetian senate increased Leonida Attar’s payments on 20 April 1548 from 5 to 7 ducats.

Die XX apriles (20 april)

A sentence translated into modern Italian from the original letter of 20 April 1548 (as explained above)

”Perho l’andera parte che alli presenti ducati cinque gli siano cresciuti ducati due al mese, si che in tutto l’habbi ducati sette al mese.

Part of the letter above confirming the increase, instructed his salary of 5 (cinque) ducats should be increased by 2 each month (due al mese) in all to 7 a month (sette al mese).

The above proves that Attar was not only a great cartographer, but an exceptional engineer, with an impeccable reputation. With a threatened invasion by the Ottomans, the Venetians were no doubt eager to use everything at their disposal to prepare for such an eventuality. One can confidently say that engineers like Attar strengthened the Cypriot city walls to such a high level, that the cost of capturing Cyprus would cost the Ottomans dearly. The terrible casualties suffered in the storming of Nicosia, and in particular to Famagusta is a testament to the engineering skills of the Venetians.

On the question of the great map he drew in 1542. The details and knowledge left us a record which few have matched. His list of districts and names of settlements have been  a source of reference for Cypriot historians for centuries.

The list of districts (Contrada) and number of settlements below are recorded by L. Attar.

Contrada di Carpasso   60 settlements
Contrada di Mesaoria 107 settlements +1 city-Famagusta (2 without names)
Contrada di Cerines   47 settlements + 1 city (5 without names)
Contrada di Visconta 103 settlements +1 city-Nicosia (5 without names)
Contrada di Saline   17 settlements (3 without names)
Contrada di Mozoto   28 settlements (2 without names)
Contrada di Pendaia 120 settlements (13 without names)
Contrada di Limiso   84 settlements (3 without names)
Contrada di Avdimo   21 settlements (2 without names)
Contrada di Paphos   47 settlements + 1 city
Contrada di Crusocho   58 settlements (1 without a name)

TOTAL; settlements 692+4 Cities 35 without names which leaves us with a total of 661 recorded settlements for 1542.

Prior to the Ottoman conquest of 1571, Pendaia had the most villages recorded, while Visconta and Mesaoria probably had the largest concentration of people. Nicosia itself was in the administrative district of Visconta (Contrada di Visconta) with 103 other settlements.

An important thing to bear in mind however is that not every village in Cyprus is on Attar’s map. Karavas and Lapithos for example are not included. Two villages near Lurucina, Aya Marina and Limbya are not in any medieval map and yet we know for a fact that the former two villages existed in 1542 and 1643. The latter two were listed in the population census of the period. The reason for omitting many other villages must be because the maps drawn during the 15th and 16th centuries were simply not large enough to accommodate all the existing villages of the period, or that they were not considered important at the time. This is not a medieval phenomenon. Many modern maps omit many villages in Cyprus.

The fact that Leonida Attar listed almost 700 villages was amazing enough for 1542. to list over 660 by name was an amazing accomplishment which has helped us to understand and learn of our island’s geography in amazing detail.

It’s an unfortunate consequence of war however that Leonida Attar completely disappeared from the historic records after the fall of Nicosia to the Ottomans in September 1570. According to a research by G.A Quarti eleven members of the family (not necessary blood relatives, but perhaps by patronage) fell in the siege. The names are given as Gerolamo, Francesco, Lucio, Giovanni Marco, Sinnocchiero, another Francesco, Pi Antonio, Ercole, Pietro da Larnaca, Gerolamo and Balian. The destruction of this talented family was also indirectly confirmed in that there were no letters of correspondence between the Venetians and Ottomans for their release, or any document relating to a pay of ransom ever being found. Many Venetians were eventually released by ransom right up to 1590. It’s also possible of course that the Attars did not have the connection or support of the Venetian ruling class to the same extent as other families in Cyprus.

In spite of the destruction of such talent, one thing that remains is the genius of Leonida Attar in what may be the most comprehensive and detailed map of Cyprus drawn before the takeover of the British, and the completion of the Kitchener maps in 1882. Others may beg to differ, but I hold the view that Leonida Attar was the best cartographer that Cyprus had the good fortune to have until the advent of more modern technological advances.

Our sincere gratitude must go the ”Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation”, in sponsoring such a wonderful research in uncovering the great map of Leonida Attar, not to mention choosing such writers as Francesca Cavazzana Romanelli and Gilles Grivaud, to translate the original documents.  It’s hard to choose better.