From the changing shades of the flag to the colour schemes of the football teams, Cyprus has a distinctive palette. But why were these colours chosen asks Alix Norman

Blue for the sea. Gold for the sun. Green for our fascination with cold hard cash, perhaps? But Cyprus’ palette is more than these obvious three. Tuesday, March 21, is International Colour Day, which means there’s no better time to explore the colours of our island…

When you think of the shades of Cyprus, it’s the landscape that first comes to mind: the silver green of olive groves, backdropped by the translucent turquoise Mediterranean and the hazy mauve of the mountains. As the seasons change, so do our colours. In spring, it’s vivid gold flowers and hot red poppies as far as the eye can see. In summer, we get white hot skies and thirsty bronze fields. Come autumn, the landscape turns emerald and amethyst as the weather cools and plant life comes back to life. And in winter, bright oranges litter our streets and hot pink flamingos flash across sapphire salt lakes.

But there’s more to our national palette than mere flora and fauna. Take the flag, for instance. Often mistyped as yellow and green to symbolise the sun and the land, its colour scheme was actually chosen with far greater care: the green of the olive branches symbolises peace, while the island itself is rendered in copper, a tribute to the mineral deposits that gave Cyprus its name.

cyprus flag waving symbol previewDesigned by Turkish Cypriot artist İsmet Güney, our current flag was the winner of a national competition, whose rules required a design depicting no blue or red (the colours of the flag of Greece and the flag of Turkey). The original proposal, courtesy of the former British colonial administration, featured a rust-brown K (for ‘Kypros’ and copper, one assumes) on a white field denoting peace. But this was rejected by President Makarios and Vice-president Fazil Küçük; both preferred Güney’s design.

Interestingly, the country’s flag has been updated over the years. Originally, Cyprus was meant to be merely a copper outline; but on August 16, 1960, this was filled in. Then, in April 2006, the shape of the olive branches were slightly altered, and the colour of Cyprus changed from Pantone 336-C to Pantone 574, a deeper copper.

During the days of the proposed Annan Plan, a competition was announced for a new flag that would represent the planned reconstituted confederal republic of Cyprus. Over 1000 entries were submitted, many of which incorporated the colours of blue, green, and copper. But as the Plan was rejected, none were chosen.

Like the flag, the logo of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and the Deputy Ministry of Tourism into which it has morphed has also changed several times over the years. According to the official description, the most recent iteration depicts “a colour palette that represents all aspects of Cyprus. The sun (orange), our culture (yellow), the sky and the sea (blue) and finally the forests, the olive groves, our lush nature (green).”

Quite where all these colours are incorporated is a bit of a mystery: the actual logo simply depicts the words ‘Love Cyprus’ in shades of cerulean and gold. Other local colour combinations make more sense, perhaps. Especially those of our football teams…

Yellow and blue denote Apoel FC, a colour scheme that has two possible reasonings. The first suggests that the merging of Poel (blue and white) with Apoel (yellow and black) in 1948 saw the two primaries chosen to represent the new team. But other sources suggest that the blue stands for Greece, while the yellow signifies the Byzantine flag.

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Meanwhile, green and white indicate Omonia, a combination chosen in 1948 shortly after the team’s founding. According to the club website, these colours reflect both name and ethos: ‘omonia’ means harmony or unity in Greek, and the green and white insignia represents hope and joy.

Beyond that, the island has any number of places that are named for colours. From ‘lefka’, the ancient Greek for white, we get our capital Lefkosia (various theories suggest the name pertains to either the regional limestone, or the original white houses of the settlement). Kokkinochoria are the ‘red’ villages around Famagusta, so-named for the region’s oxblood earth. And although the Krasochoria district takes its moniker from the Greek for ‘wine’, the original meaning of the word kraso is also believed to be ‘red’.

Our island’s heritage colours enjoy a similarly fascinating history. In our textiles, you’ll often find bright reds and oranges that denote passion and energy, and the deep blues and greens associated with tranquillity and nature. Black, as worn by the elderly, obviously represents mourning. And white – as is customary in the west – is the symbol of purity and innocence used at weddings and christenings.

Interestingly, the island’s most notable division is also the colour most commonly associated with peace. But have you ever wondered why we refer to The Green Line?

Tasked with creating a ceasefire line that would separate the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island, a team of cartographers and UN officials met on December 30, 1963. After 12 hours of discussion, one of their number reached for a green chinagraph pencil – all that could be found at the time! – and began to draw. And thus the division of the island was marked in a colour that later lent its name to the line itself!

Quite whether this tale is entirely true is unsure.