As far apart as they are, Cyprus and China can be linked by having civilisations that developed through multiculturalism. KAREN TAYLOR finds out more

The geographical locations of both Cyprus and China meant they were historically at the crossroads of cultures, and those passing through left their marks, creating multi-cultural civilisations and impacting nearly all walks of life.

In the Kizil caves, a Buddhist grotto in China’s Xinjiang, some Buddhist murals and sculptures have surprisingly European faces, representing the cultural heritage of Ghandara art, an important Silk Road pathway where different civilisations mingled over time.

Buddhism originated in ancient India in the 6th century BC and soon travelled to the Ghandara area in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, what is today northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. And after the wars of Alexander the Great artists broke the taboo of featuring Buddhas in art, creating a large number of statues with Greek characteristics.

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Some of the Buddhas have western features

In the second and third centuries AD, Ghandara art passed along the Silk Road travelling through central Asia to China’s Xinjiang.

“The Kizil caves play an important part in the gradual spread of Buddhism from West to East,” deputy director of the Kizil cave temple complex Miao Lihui says. There the Gandhara art statues have flat eyebrows, big noses and a relatively 3D effect when seen from the side.

Buddhism art in the Kizil caves was influenced by Ghandara art but also combined with local culture, forming a unique Chinese Buddhist art called Kucha art with features adapted from the architecture of India but changed and developed in the local area, reflecting the importance of foreign cultures along the Silk Road to Chinese art.

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The Kizil caves

“The Silk Road connected China to the Mediterranean Sea. It travelled through great civilisations including Persia, India and Chinese civilisations. It was the link,” adds professor and vice chancellor at the Nalanda university in India Sunaina Singh.

“Different groups of people can create completely different cultures each with its own merits. When coexisting with other cultures, a culture will not only be able to appreciate another culture’s beauty but also evolve by learning from others,” says fellow at the Palace Museum China Luo Wenhua. “Ghandara art happens to be that form of art forged by diverse cultural exchanges. No matter in ancient times or today, multiculturism is essential to us. Only in this way can a culture or civilisation develop healthily and sustainably.”

The melting pot concept of culture is also present in Cyprus as occupiers and colonialists passed through.

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the Centre of Visual Arts and Research in Nicosia

“Multiculturality is the core of Cyprus culture,” says the founder of the Centre of Visual Arts and Research in Nicosia Rita Severis. “Cyprus is a multicultural place. All sorts of civilisations have intermixed here. This mixture of civilisations has affected all aspects of Cyprus life: religion, cuisine, our clothing, the language.”

Art on the island though, she says, didn’t develop before the early 20th century, when it was influenced by the British school of art. The permanent collection at CVAR reflects how the foreigners passing through Cyprus saw the island, although in contrast to the Silk Road this movement was West to East.

The island was largely a hub for travel to the Middle East. “During the Lusignian times when Famagusta was one of the most important ports in the world ships would pick up spices from the Far East, but there was no route through Cyprus to the Far East,” says Severis.

But as with the Indians in China, those passing through and colonising Cyprus contributed a lot to architecture, which is very much from the Lusignians and the Phoenicians. The island is full of Gothic architecture, Severis says, while the walls and castles by the sea are mostly Venetian.

“The architecture is a bit special in Cyprus,” she says, “it was brought from France but was influenced by the locals, which is why there are Gothic churches with flat roofs. The stone used was local stone. The arches we have here are called the Cyprus arch, a mix between Gothic and Byzantine arches. The Cyprus arch is wider and not so tall.” Further evidence that the culture of the island was created by all those passing through. “Multiculturism shows in everything,” Severis concludes.

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About Mirror of Culture

Mirror of Culture is a joint initiative of the Cyprus Mail and the Chinese embassy. It highlights the parallels between Cypriot and Chinese culture to set an example of acceptance, respect and

understanding among the various cultural communities on the island, recognising the fundamental importance of culture.

Culture is the universal language that transcends many barriers, including language and geography. The aim is to work with diverse cultural communities in Cyprus to share and promote our vibrant cultures to further bolster the bonds among all the people of Cyprus and celebrate the diversity of cultures in the world.

Furthermore, the initiative understands the importance of cultural preservation, which is an important way for us to transmit traditions and practices of the past to future generations.