Cyprus is situated at the crossroads of three continents; due to its significant geopolitical location by being at the crossroads of civilisations, it has received the influence of many cultures and civilisations. The remains of the oldest known settlements date back to the Neolithic period, between 9000 and 6000 years ago. Cyprus was settled by Mycenaean Greeks in the 2nd millennium BC. Due to its significant strategic geopolitical location, the island was subsequently occupied by several powers including the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, Alexander the Great who seized the island from Persians; after the Ptolemaic period the island was ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the French Lusignan, the Venetians and then the Ottoman Turks. In 1878 the island was placed under the British administration until 1960 when it was granted its independence.
Throughout the island’s long history its rich cultural heritage has been looted and destructed; the culmination of destructions occurred during the Turkish military invasion in 1974 and the subsequent occupation of 36.2% of Cyprus’ territory; a substantial amount of historic and religious monuments in various regions of the occupied area have been destroyed, looted and vandalised. Moreover, illegal trade of cultural goods and art treasures stolen from museums and private collections of the occupied area has been traced in illegal antiquities trade markets and in auctions around the world.
As far as cultural policy is concerned, the responsibility for cultural heritage preservation lies mainly in three Departments of the central government. More specifically:
- The Ministry of Education and Culture through its Cultural Services has as its main responsibility the promotion of contemporary cultural expression in traditional and folk art.
- The Cultural Services support the following activities in connection with folk culture: Traditional music and dance ensembles are being subsidised for their costumes and for their participation in events of a traditional character in Cyprus and abroad. Also, travel grants are being provided to dance teachers and researchers are encouraged to attend dance seminars abroad. Furthermore, Shadow Theatre artists are being supported as well as other activities such as local festivals which promote traditional culture and folk arts.
- The Ministry of Communications and Public Works through its Department of Antiquities is responsible for ancient, Byzantine and medieval culture as well as the culture that had been developed during the Turkish Ottoman rule. In accordance with the Antiquities Law (cf. chapter. 4.2.2), the Department of Antiquities is responsible for the management and running of the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia and of the District Museums, as well as for the excavation, conservation, restoration and promotion of Cyprus ancient monuments as a whole.
- The Ministry of the Interior is responsible, through its Department of Town Planning and Housing, for the conservation and protection of the architectural and local cultural heritage as well as for the planning and control of physical development and land-use planning.