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A guided tour of the past

By Alix Norman

Enough of the concerts, exhibitions, launches and lunches. This week there’s something rather more intellectual – but none the less exciting – on the agenda: the Othello’s Island conference. Now in its second year, this annual event is more properly titled Othello’s Island: The Annual Conference of Mediterranean and Levantine Cultural History in the Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance Periods and their Legacies, and is a huge draw for visiting speakers and lecturers from all corners of the world.

Hosted by the Cornaro Institute in Larnaca, the aim of the conference is to provide an interdisciplinary look at the medieval and Renaissance periods, mostly as they relate to Cyprus – the island, of course, being the home of Shakespeare’s Othello, hence the title. And with topics ranging from art and literature to Islamic and Christian relationships, from the legacy of mediaeval culture on the island to the work of Shakespeare and other writers of the same period, Othello’s Island will attempt to cover it all.

“Each of the lectures will all be between 45 minutes and an hour in length, with designated discussion times for the audience to air their views and question the visiting speakers, as well as a number of lunch and coffee breaks,” says Angela Witney, Administrator and tutor at the Cornaro Institute. “The previous year – our first – the conference was very successful,” she continues. “So much so, that several of the lecturers are returning, and many of last year’s audiences have already booked their places. It’s an event that covers a wide variety of topics; although the emphasis is on Cyprus, some of the speakers will also be looking at the Byzantine Empire as a whole.”

The four-day event will see over 30 experts – including a number from major institutions in the USA and the UK – gathering from all over the world: there’s Susan Balderstone from Deakin University in Melbourne lecturing on The evolution of Holy Trinity images from the medieval period to the Renaissance with particular reference to Cyprus; Alexander Borg of Ben Gurion University in Israel speaking about Religion, Language and History: The case of the Cypriot Maronites; Nicolas Drocourt of Université de Nantes in France delivering a talk on Clothes and clothing, barrier or bridge between cultures in the Mediterranean? The role of diplomatic contacts between Byzantium and its Neighbours; and Nina ChichinadzeIlia of the State University in Tbilisi, Georgia discussing Mediterranean Geography of Medieval Georgian Liturgical Arts. And that’s just the events of the first afternoon…

The second day of the conference focuses more on Othello – a character who has kindly, and aptly, lent his name to the proceedings. With talks ranging from Desdemona’s Appetite to Venus’ Nuns: The Women in Othello, from The Double-Time Crux in Othello Solved to Words of Passion, Words of Rage – You and Thou in Shakespeare’s Othello, it’s certainly shaping up to be a seriously Shakespearian morning. But the rest of the day will be a little lighter in tone, as the conference moves offsite: guests and speakers alike setting off for Famagusta for what is, possibly, the highlight of the event.

“The trip to Famagusta is always incredibly interesting,” says Angela, who accompanied the guests on their journey into the Byzantine history of the north at the 2013 conference. “We will be visiting a number of the old religious buildings in the area, and you certainly learn a great deal when you’re accompanied by experts in the field. Rather than just thinking how lovely it all looks, you’re getting a real insight into the history, the culture of the times; a guided tour into the past, as it were.”

With the third and fourth days of the conference focusing more precisely – though not entirely – on subjects related to the specific time period on the island (topics include The Works of the Cypriot Neophytos Enkleistos, Monasteries, land ownership and church building on Byzantine Cyprus and The Defender of Cyprus: Unwarlike Othello), the event ends on Saturday April 12 at noon.

With such an array of topics on the agenda, this is an event that appeals to all: “We get quite a lot of people from the U3A, lots of students from around the island – a wide variety of guests who are interested in this important time period,” says Angela. With tickets for either a specific day or the entire event available both online and at the door, Othello’s Island is a must for anyone interested in the rich and colourful history of the island.

Otherllo’s Island
For further information and the full programme of events, visit http://enqui7024.wix.com/copy-of-cypruscolleg# or the Facebook page for the Cornaro Institute. Tickets are available for either the entire four days (€100) or for a specific day (€30) both online and at the door. The cost for the trip to Famagusta is €30 including transport from the Cornaro Institute by bus; it is recommended that this is booked in advance

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