Once upon a time, in the old, old town of Nicosia, there stood a magical museum – the most wondrous place in the whole of the land. It was a home of creation, imagination and exploration; a crossing place into the realms of fancy, full of fantastical items and enchanted objects. Even the building itself was under the spell: doors opened into mystical forests, walls transformed into towering books, and the stairway was guarded by a wicked, fire-breathing dragon. Wardrobes led to Narnia, and windows looked over Alice’s Wonderland; tiny keys unlocked trapdoors to secret quests, and shimmering threads summoned the unwary on a journey of marvel and magic…
Opening its doors on February 23, this Fairytale Museum is like nothing the island has seen before. A compendium, a celebration, a creative carnival of all that is fairytale, its aim is to showcase those universal tales, myths and legends which have touched us all, inviting us to explore the world of stories interactively and through play.
Brainchild of psychotherapist and educator Vicky Balomenou and her husband Photis Kakoyainnis, the museum is now in its final design stages, under the auspices of Museum Designer Antigone Michaelides: “It began,” Antigone explains, “about three years ago, with a germ of an idea…
“As a psychotherapist, and director of the Systemic Institute of Cyprus, Vicky has always been fascinated by stories and tales, written and visual archives, references, texts, paintings and etchings which relate to the tradition of storytelling and fairytales. And in that she already had a collection of rare books on the subject, it was only a matter of time before this passion evolved into something bigger…,” she adds.
Coming on board in September 2016, Antigone has transformed this beautiful house in Granikou Street into an absolute marvel of a museum: a place where children and adults alike can learn, explore and imagine. “There was such a charm and a magical appeal to the building,” she continues. “And it’s been a real labour of love to turn it into a museum which works on two levels: stories per se, and then as a place in which the interactives can be used in a therapeutic manner to, for example, empower or educate. “In fact it works rather like a Russian doll,” she enthuses. “This is a museum in which visitors are encouraged to touch, open and explore; layers upon layers of context unfolding as one delves deeper into the exhibits…”
This idea of nested information runs throughout. Downstairs you’re overawed by a huge rendition of Aesop’s Fables. Upstairs there’s the related flip book – made of wood and far, far larger than life! – and then you walk into a muralled room straight from the fables themselves: a magical forest complete with towering tree trunk and elements from the stories hidden within its knots and branches.
“The basic design premise for the museum was that of a magical library: the permutations and combinations achieved when playing with the idea of books,” Antigone explains. Thus while the main hall of the museum is a testament to the great fairytales of our time, books also become props for illustrations, “made tactile, made giant, made flippable or airborne, allowing for different types of interaction and exploration. And this forces a physical interaction, reinforcing the idea of discovery and what’s coming next that you would actually find in the plot of a fairtytale… You start with a fish and end up with a frog,” she laughs. “In effect, it’s an exploration of exploration which allows for different styles of learning. At the end of the day this is not a classroom – it’s not necessarily linear in time or space, and so the layers of information and interactivity allow any age and ability to take something from their visit…”
While elements from fairytales around the world abound – “we’ve suspended the personal effects of fairtytale heroes and antiheros over the staircase: Cinderella’s dress and slipper, giant footprints on the ceiling, Rapunzel’s braids” – references to local myths and legends are also present in abundance. And this is largely, Antigone reveals, thanks to the museum’s scientific and academic advisors, who have amassed over 20,000 variations of folk tales from the Greek speaking world, classifying them according them to the official index of fairytales.
“So, for example, one of the giant books in the hallway is devoted to Nearchos Clerides, the preeminent collector of folk tales in Cyprus. And another fairytale, a variation of a Cyprus folk story told to our researcher in Ayios Memnoas in 1958, has become the basis for one of the bathrooms: the story of the magic fish… Because, of course, everything here has context, and the bathrooms are ideal for featuring tales which involve the water!”
The kitchen, meanwhile, will highlight the layers upon layers of the gastronomic aspects found in many stories: two exquisite chandeliers composed of cutlery and china pay homage to Alice, cupboards are labelled ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Drink Me’, and this is also where cooking workshops based on fairytales will take place. Then there’s the Book Mobile – a giant book on wheels which can be transported from school to school, the story changing according to audience – packed with self-contained activities including interactive dioramas, finger puppets and artistic tasks.
Even the exhibits themselves – which are far too numerous to count – are playfully named and layered with meaning. “The FM” – an antique radio which, tuned correctly, becomes a bilingual storytelling device – “stands for Fairytale Machine,” Antigone laughs. “And the UFO” – identical boxes containing random objects which encourage visitors to craft a story from their own imagination – “is actually the Unidentified Fairy Object!”
And while the ubiquitous gift shop and café (along with the upcoming workshops dedicated to theatre, art and music) will certainly add to the magic, it’s the exhibits themselves that make The Fairytale Museum wholly unique. Each corner, nook and cranny, drawer and cupboard is designed so that every visitor who crosses the threshold is immediately transported on a journey of imagination, exploration and learning… In a quest that begins with Once Upon A Time. And is certain to end in a Happily Ever After.
The Fairytale Museum
At Granikou 32, Nicosia, officially opens on February 23. Entrance costs €5 and €3 for school parties. For more information visit the Facebook page: ‘Μουσείο Παραμυθιού’, email [email protected] or call 22 376522