Article in Cyprus Weekly 22/2/08

The Battle of Trapezoni
by Bill Macfarlane

November 6 2007. I was sitting on the hill facing Trapezoni. It had been a glorious November day quite different from the one that had brought the first rains that day a hundred and two years ago. The sun was lowering to the west. A bank of distant cloud made a red and gold backdrop to the shimmering sea. Silhouetted against this were the hills containing the ribbed valley, down which the cornered outlaws pinned their hopes of escape. The ramparts of Trapezoni glowed red, their gullies etched in purple shadow. It came to me that perhaps Inspector Mavrokordatis might once have sat on this very spot, anticipating, at last, an end to his long hunt for the gang of outlaws known as the Hassamboulia.

I shivered as a spiteful breeze from the west made its presence felt. A straggly pine, permanently bent over the rocks confirmed the prevailing direction of the winds in this exposed place. From here, Mavrokordatis would have got a view onto the table top of the outlaws’ stronghold west of Pissouri. I could imagine his tactical policeman’s brain searching for the most likely disposition of the defenders. I wondered if he realised how small the opposing force was. As the sunset faded, I joined the Inspector on his search for the fugitives in the gathering gloom. They must have had somebody covering the mule track that was the only easy access to the mandra on the plateau. I knew where I would have posted someone. I could almost imagine them, concealed there amongst the rocks above the mule track. Maybe in the dusky half light, I could imagine that I saw movement down there.

Of course, I knew who I was looking for. Mavrokordatis too? Surely his spies must have been able to inform him that only five men and two women were holed up on the ramparts of this natural fortress. They were the two Hassambouli brothers, Kaimakam and Kavounis, and Yerovasanos, the third of an unholy trinity popularly known as The Young Men. With them were the recently recruited Ali Eyoub and a reprobate called Avloides. The two women were, Feride Muharrem and the reputedly beautiful Pembe Mulla, who had been abducted from her father’s house, to keep her company.

As he watched, Mavrokordatis would perhaps have been musing on the trap he had set. The plan was to move in and complete the encirclement under the cover of darkness. Then a massive frontal attack at dawn would see the fugitives all in the hands of the Police. It was the best laid of plans, but Sergeant Hussein had other ideas. According to legend, an informer had told him that the outlaws, had decided the plateau was too extensive be defended by such a small number. They had therefore retired to a position on the western end of the hill, leaving the approach unguarded. Here was the chance for glory, promotion and, perhaps, some large part of the reward on offer for the capture of the Hassamboulia. Thus misinformed, the Sergeant and four troopers on horseback approached the hill by means of the mule track long before the appointed time for the main body to move in. They were met by a hail of bullets from the muzzle-loaders with which the Hassamboulia had become such experts. The Sergeant fell wounded to the ground and the troopers retired in disarray. It seems that several of the gang were concealed in the rocks above the track. Now down they came, two or three of them, to finish off the luckless sergeant with his own bayonet, and to relieve him of his watch, his state-of-the-art Martini-Henry rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition.

Imagine the fury of Mavrokordatis. A policeman was dead and the element of surprise had been lost. To make matters worse, the first rains of the season came in a series of vicious showers that converted the bare slopes of Trapezoni into treacherous mud-slides. Instead of the quick frontal assault the Inspector had imagined, the Police made slow progress against the desperadoes. Avloides was wounded and the police ‘comedy of errors’ continued. Seeing the wounded outlaw writhing on the ground, one Corporal Hakki Onabashi, rushed forward to take him prisoner. The poor man died trying to knock the prisoner out with the butt of his rifle. The outlaws got the blame for this death, though local supporters of the Hassamboulia (and of course, the Hassamboulia themselves) insisted that his gun discharged on impact with the outlaw’s head. Somehow the gang managed to stave off the assaults of the police for the whole day, but by now they realised they could not survive another day. They were trapped and desperate.

The Inspector must have realised this. Already he had lost two officers and there were other casualties that he, Theodore Mavrokordatis, would be held responsible for by the powers that be. He needed to get this thing wrapped up and what he saw from his vantage point could not have filled him with pleasure. The Police, camped all around Trapezoni had started to light fires to dry out and get warm after the rigours of the day. Kaimakam saw at once that that their path down to the sea was unguarded. So the three Young Men abandoned the wounded Alvoides, Eyoub and the two women to their fate and made their escape to the sea and to their hideouts in the forests to the north. Kavounis, the younger brother, who had been slightly wounded, crept round the police campfires and made his way back to friends in Pissouri, where he was sheltered until he recovered from his wound.

In spite of getting his hands on four of the fugitives, Mavrokordatis must have been smarting at not having captured his real quarry. This was not the first time Kaimakam’s foresight had saved the Hassamboulia from the wily Inspector. Earlier at the Battle of Siribili Hill, he had baled them out of police hands at the expense of their companions.

So the Young Men escaped to commit further atrocities. But the net was tightening. Special legislation was to erode the support of their friends in the Great Valleys. The end was inevitable, yet their arch-enemy, Mavrokordatis, was never to have the satisfaction of bringing it about. That, of course, is another story.

Get the full story in The Hunt for the Hassamboulia, published in 2007

The Ancient Ship Cyprus Weekly, Friday, December 28, 2001.

by Bill Macfarlane

Translated into Braille

Ancient Ship

It was only fifteen metres long. According to carbon dating, its timbers could be in excess of 2400 years old, though its cargo, olives, almonds and wine, only dated to about 200 BC. So, it was already an old ship when it went down. A few coins found on it came from the age of Alexander the Great. A wooden ship, at least a century old, is it surprising that it should meet its demise in some violent Mediterranean storm?  But the archaeologists in their researches, unearthed, if that is the right word, along with a treasure-trove of artefacts and preserved cargo, a mystery.

No remains of the ship’s crew were found, though all their utensils were discovered: four plates: four bowls, oil jugs and wooden spoons.If this was indeed a primitive version of the Marie Deare, the sea would long since have disposed of the steaming remains of their last meal. OK, so when the ship foundered, they abandoned her. But how? There would be no lifeboats. Surely they wouldn’t have had the time to take with them all their cash and valuables (the only money found was a few small denomination coins which helped to fix the date of the wreck, but added to its mystery). Finally, a number of spearheads were found, embedded in parts of the hull. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of a pirate attack, the captain and his three-man crew taken off into slavery and the scuttling of the resilient old lead-clad trader. All the money and portable valuables would be taken by the raiders.

Nice theory, but the spear heads were found UNDER the hull and the ship wreck WAS a little near to port for a pirate attack to be all that likely. Pirate attack? Overloaded old ship foundering in a storm? Let’s just say the mystery is unsolved.

Diver, Andreas (Arris) Cariolou, discovered it in 30m of water near Kyrenia, in November 1965, but a storm prevented him from fixing its position. It took him two years of searching to locate it again. When he did, it turned out to be the best preserved pre-Roman shipwreck found to that time. The Cyprus Department of Antiquities recognised it as an  archaeological treasure. They invited the American Institute of  Nautical Archaeology to raise and preserve its remains using state of the art technology. How this was done, under the supervision of Michael Katzev, is a fascinating story in itself.

I am not going to dwell on the meticulous recording that took place; the gridding; the tagging and stereo-photography. Nor will I trouble you with details of the ‘hoovering’ process by which the protective covering of silt was removed: the raising of the amphorae, containing the cargo: the dismantling of the wooden remains, their cleaning and preservation with wax. All this took more than two years to complete and the results lie on air-conditioned, display in occupied Kyrenia. All this is very interesting, but so, too, are all sorts of technical questions relating to it. How was it built, handled and navigated? To answer such questions, the first clone of the ancient ship was started in 1982 at Perama, by the Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition.This was to be a replica of the wrecked vessel, built in the materials and by the traditional ship-building methods of the ancient Greeks. These involved the difficult process of constructing the shell before the frames and skeleton. All the traditional skills of mortice and tenon jointing of wooden plugs to house copper nails were used. Of course, none of the original superstructure the masts, the sails and rigging had survived. To reconstruct these as accurately as possible ancient drawings and relief were closely studied. At the same time, the craftsmen, working with traditional materials and tools found that they were learning to ‘think’ like the ancient boat-builders. They knew too that this was a ship that was intended to sail the Mediterranean just as its ancestor had done. Even the amphorae were reconstructed and volcanic millstones like those found on the wreck were added to create a similar cargo and ballast. Apart from the technical problems that were to be overcome, there were maritime and legal conundrums to be solved. How was the ship to be registered? How was it to be insured? How could it fulfil safety requirements? In the end, it was registered as an experimental ship of primitive construction,’ the safety elements were to be handled by escort ships, while insurance was procured on the basis of the cost of its construction, which was considerable. Thus, Kyrenia II saw the light of day and from its birth it was destined to become a Greek icon.

Immediately after it’s launching in 1985 it began its Odyssey, one that is not yet complete, but can have only one possible destination. It immediately embarked on a series of voyages, both experimental and ceremonial. Let us say at the outset, that it did not complete all these voyages on ‘its own steam’. For major journeys, such as to the Statue of Liberty Centenary celebrations in 1986 and the Japanese Silk Road event in 1988, it completed the ocean crossings in the pampered safety of special containers. Even on the experimental voyages certain sections were achieved by towing in adverse conditions.

The first experimental journey, from Greece to Cyprus, was completed, to a predetermined schedule, by means of a highish percentage of towing time. On the other hand, the journey back in March 1987 tested the ship’s handling in winter, and involved less towing. They wanted to see if the ship could be handled by a four-man crew in winter, to test it in adverse conditions and at night, and to find out, in a general way, how the vessel would have functioned. One unenviable task was to find out the hard way how little headway they could make even against the lightest of breezes by rowing. Somewhere along the line, they found that they could sail closer to the wind, by adding a cross-bar to the bow to secure the leading corner of the square sail.

Early formal voyages included trips to Germany for the Centenary of Hamburg, and to Spain for the Expo 92 Exhibition in Seville, when Kyrenia II completed the voyage by navigating the Guadalquivir river. It was on one of these voyages that the second clone, Kyrenia III, came into being. Japan has a long tradition of wooden boat building and something about the tiny ship caught the Japanese imagination.

Glafcos Cariolou, son of the discoverer of the wreck, was appropriately appointed captain for this and other early voyages. He vividly recalls the amazing enthusiasm with which the ship’s arrival in Japan was greeted. The outcome was the construction of a replica by the Japanese themselves, which is still on exhibition in a specially constructed museum in Hakato (ancient Fukuoka). After the Spanish Expo, the Kyrenia II went on exhibition in Rafina, Greece and was transported to various parts of the country. It has spent long periods in Neo Faliron next to the Trireme and the Battleship Averoff, other famed representatives of Greek maritime tradition.

Current plans provide for its return to Cyprus for exhibition at the Museum of Nautical History of Cyprus, in Ayia Napa. This is to be located near the monastery and construction is already well advanced. It is a joint project funded by the Ayia Napa municipality and the Pierides Foundation and other organisations. Is this then the end of the story? Apparently not. The clone is  about to mutate. Work goes ahead on Kyrenia IV, an experimental vessel of ‘modern’ construction. It will be built by the refugee Kyrenia Nautical Club, closely to specification, but will use modern methods, which are much cheaper. The aim is to create a replica that can be used for further investigation of the handling properties of ancient small trading ships like the one that sank at Kyrenia.

Such ships ranged widely in ancient Greek times, travelling as far a field as Cornwall for tin, and possibly even to Ireland. There is particular interest in investigating the capabilities of the highly reshapeable square sail. Surely too, Kyrenia II will not come finally to rest before its Odyssey ends, as it properly should, back where its ancestor ended its own long and eventful life.