Fryne Eliades is a true entrepreneur, dynamic and full of enthusiasm over new projects that her Ethnographical Museum is undertaking.
Tell us about the origins of the Museum and the visions your father, George Eliades had when he began the museum in 1958.
My father George Eliades was a cosmopolitan man who spoke seven languages fluently and who studied Ancient and Modern Greek Literature and Archaeology at the University of Athens with scholarships from various European countries. When he married my mother Chryso Antoniadou, they decided to convert her house into a museum. The entire collection is therefore, housed in this building which comprises two floors and a big garden.
The house was constructed in 1894 and displays a unique architectural style, with grand gothic style arches at the entrance, and Roman styled arches on the ground floor. The top floor consists of five rooms, a large hallway in the shape of the letter T. The ground floor also has five rooms and a large corridor shaped like a cross. The two rooms on the top floor were used by my father as his private study room and dining room.
Each of the rooms on ground floor display different objects and images of Cypriot life, folk art and history through the ages: from the villager’s room with the workshop and the bedroom with folk/traditional costumes and laces, the traditional kitchen, to the ceramic room and the room of Chalcolithic period (3000 BC).
The corridor shows the traditional methods of cultivating land in Cyprus with the rooms connection to a beautiful large yard with a garden. There is a village fountain, chapel, traditional ovens, laundry room, olive-mill and an original tomb which dates by to the end of the 3rd and beginning of 2nd century B.C. The Museum first opened in 1958.
You say that “museums are not just about objects but about the cultures that produce them.” Can you tell us a little more…
My father always said, an Ethnographical Museum should always aim to provide both a general and specific picture, a form of living image, reflecting man’s evolutionary development, from prehistoric times to present. It should be a representation and expression of life through its most essential phases.” Ethnography derives from the Greek word ethnos – meaning the elements of history, our customs, habits, heritage, in one word culture. So, the museum is not just about objects, but rather a journey to historical tradition and the soul of the Cypriot civilization encompassing the Cypriot life from the Neolithic age three thousand B.C. until today.
Can you tell us about your childhood and the people your father had in the museum
Since opening in 1958, thousands of people have visited the museum including distinguished visitors such as the dethroned ex-King of Italy Umberto, Eleni Kazantzaki (wife of Nikos Kazantzakis), the painter Vasiliou, foreign prime ministers, ambassadors, patriarchs, archaeologists, professors, authors and artists. For my brother and I, living in a museum was quite normal. We used to play in the garden like any other children and my father would take us on excursions and long walks around Paphos. In this way, he nurtured in us a love of nature and enjoyment in the simple aspects of life.
What made you decide to continue your father’s work?
Although I studied political science and economics at the University of Athens, I chose to continue my father’s work because of my love and passion for archaeology. Moreover, I always admired my father as a personality. My mother and I currently work at the museum, guiding tourists and taking care of the daily operations. I strongly believe that when you do something you are passionate about, then you are willing to work hard and thus succeed in it.
The collections are beautifully laid out and include a fascinating array of artefacts – can you tell us about a few of the very special and unique pieces?
Every object of the museum has its own history making it invaluable and difficult to choose one object over another. However, some of the most notable collections include those of jewelleries, chalcolithic axes, old coins, fossils dating back 30 to 50 million of years, the head of Apollo (classic period), the geometrical amphora, the old flower pot, the wooden chests with symbols. Even our piano and our empire mirror, the old lamps, the shelf with the old plates have their own history.
The museum is not only an inner venue, but also an outer one …
In the garden you can see the olive oil mill, the ovens and the original tomb dated to the period of Alexander the Great, end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd century B.C. (Hellenistic period). The tomb brings memories from the Turkish occupation in 1974, where together with my family and neighbours, we used it as a hide out for nearly a week to protect ourselves from the bombings. Beside the tomb there is the village fountain, and the catacomb 2nd A.D which was converted into a chapel.
Do you continue to collect pieces for the museum?
The collections of the museum are really very rich. I believe the lack of space, would make it hard to continue collecting any additional pieces. Moreover, the upkeep of the building and collections is huge and we rarely receive any funding from the Government. The upkeep of the museum is a difficult task both financially and mentally and includes the maintenance of both the collections and the actual building, as well as the daily cleaning of the rooms and garden.
Following the death of my father, my mother and I thought that in his memory we should attempt to open up the premises of the Museum to a wider audience in order to secure necessary funds to ensure the continuation and upkeep of the museum. With this in mind, we now offer the premises for small private functions, such as civil weddings, parties etc. The museum offers the perfect place for a historic wedding and standing in the heart of the old town of Paphos and occupying one of the oldest finest heritage buildings, the Museum provides an elegant location for both the ceremony and reception.
The proverb says “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand” – this is part of the museum’s philosophy regarding education…
Yes, exactly. We try always to capture a child’s imagination and welcome school visits and private groups of children. The fact that the collection is actually housed within a home environment makes the youngsters feel less intimidated by the objects surrounding them, and can therefore, fully relish the experience. Many return on their own to use some of the exhibits for their class projects and essays. I believe that learning is an active process, and here, they can actually see the objects they have been reading in their history books. We also have a wonderful library of books which can be accessed by those working on specific projects.
How do you envisage the future of the museum?
There is a Greek saying ‘’when we make plans God is laughing’’ which in my opinion is true. For the moment, my mother and I operate the museum. Both my children love the museum and are very proud of their grandfather. However, I do not want to force them to continue his work if they do not want to, but of course, I hope that they will continue the tradition.