Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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Hala Sultan Tekke: 
a late Bronze Age harbour town

The broad expanse of the Larnaka Salt Lake is one of the first sights encountered by visitors to Cyprus arriving at the nearby international airport. During the winter months its shallow waters attract large numbers of pink flamingos and many other species of wild bird. By the mid-summer, however, evaporation caused by the intense heat transforms the lake into a glistening salt pan, which until recently was an important source of income for the surrounding communities. On the western edge of the lake can be seen the dome and minaret of a small mosque nestling among the palm trees, the famous Hala Sultan Tekke, named after the aunt or wet-nurse of the prophet Mohammed who is said to have been buried here. Beneath the rolling corn-fields that extend behind the mosque are the remains of a Bronze Age harbour settlement. During the later second millennium bc, this town was a bustling trading and industrial centre with a cosmopolitan community drawn from around the eastern Mediterranean world.

This chapter of the Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum Online Research Catalogue describes 127 objects from the Bronze Age town, which were excavated by the British Museum in 1897–8. Most of the items were found in tombs belonging to the community who lived and worked in the harbour settlement which flourished between around 1750 and 1150 bc (Middle Cypriot III to Late Cypriot III). Its extensive mercantile and industrial activities are likely to have included: the organisation of copper extraction from the mines of the Troodhos mountains to the north-east, together with the processing of the raw metal within the settlement itself; the manufacturing of a variety of quality goods (including dyes, cloth, unguents and bronze items); and the importation and redistribution of luxury goods and raw materials from the surrounding regions of the eastern Mediterranean.[1]

The ceramics, metalwork, glass, faience, stone and other items presented here also reflect the international culture that developed in the major coastal centres of Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, of which Hala Sultan Tekke is a typical example.[2] The contemporary settlement, which was not explored by the British Museum team, has been documented through extensive modern excavations in the area, begun by the late Professor Paul Åström in the 1970s and continuing to this day. These important excavations, together with discoveries by the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus in the area over the years, are described in greater detail below and allow the older British Museum finds to be understood within a modern archaeological framework.[3]

The Bronze Age settlement is named after the monastery or mosque (Tekke) of Umm Haram or Hala Sultan located on the eastern edge of the site by the shore of the Salt Lake. The mosque is one of the holiest shrines in the Islamic religion, built in honour of a close relation of the Prophet Mohammed. Her tomb is said to have been discovered at the site in the 18th century. According to tradition, she died at this spot during the Arab invasion of the island around ad 649 (28 ah).[4] In the Cypriot Greek dialect, the word Vyzakia means ‘stony mounds’ and sometimes denotes the remains of an ancient site visible on or just below the surface. The site is also sometimes referred to as Dhromolaxia-Vyzakia, referring to the village of this name located to the south, though Hala Sultan Tekke is more widely used and recognised by archaeologists.

View of the Hala Sultan Tekke from across the Larnaka Salt Lake

 

We would like to pay tribute to the legacy of Paul Åström, who did so much to extend our understanding of the site of Hala Sultan Tekke, including the 19th-century excavations. Before his death in 2008, he kindly provided permission to reproduce maps and plans from his publications for this chapter of the Online Research Catalogue, for which we are very grateful.


  • ^ [1] - Åström 1986, 14–15.
  • ^ [2] - Åström 1989b.
  • ^ [3] - Twelve volumes of results have been published to date in the Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology series, beginning with Åström 1976. These are listed, along with other major publications, on the website of the Hala Sultan Tekke section of the Mediterranean Archaeological Research Institute in Brussels (http://www.vub.ac.be/mari/HalaSultanTekkePublicationsandpresentations.html). Finds from the 2010 expedition are summarised online in Fischer 2010.
  • ^ [4] - Cobham 1986 [1908], 374–5 provides a translation of the account preserved in a Turkish manuscript compiled around 1800 AD; Gunnis 1947, 119–20.
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