A Land of Festivals

FESTIVALS in North Cyprus are a cultural staple. In fact, there are barely enough months in the folk festival calendar to cram them all into. March has already seen the tulip festival in the western village of Tepebasi in celebration and protection of the wild black tulip.

The black tulip is an endemic species, and otherwise rare in this particular region it can be commonly found growing in the cornfields. If you venture off the beaten tourist track toward Tepebasi, you should eventually stumble across a cluster of these hidden gems. You will also discover that on closer inspection the black tulip is a deceptively dark, velvety red. It is a mysterious and magnificent flower truly worth celebrating, and the Turkish Cypriots certainly know how to celebrate in true folk festival fashion.

At any of the village festivals, you can expect a maze of market stalls, music, folk dancing and delicious food. The locals will sell their handicrafts as well as fresh produce, the folk dancers will be decked out in traditional costume and the freshly made ‘fastfood’ will include the likes of gözleme (a traditional Turkish pastry filled with a variety of sweet or savoury fillings) or lokma (a sweet ball of dough, deep fried until golden and soaked in sugar or honey syrup). There are also activities, including competitions and demonstrations, to keep every age group entertained.

Many of the festivals are harvest festivals because of the cultural and economic significance of the local crops. And for the first time last May a food festival was held in the region’s capital in honor of all traditional and local foods.  In honour of each individual harvest you can expect to celebrate the Güzelyurt orange festival in June/July, the Mehmetcik grape festival in August; the Geçitkale hellim (Turkish for halloumi) cheese festival in August/September; the Tatlisu carob festival in September, the Zeytinlik olive festival in October; and the Lefke date festival in November.

And from the village festivals to the larger scale music and cultural events such as the famous Bellapais music festival held every year during May/June. Now well-established, this festival attracts international artists to perform, from classical tenors to Turkish popstars. You also mustn’t miss the international culture and arts festival held every July in Famagusta. And Kyrenia offers the increasingly popular jazz festival during November. As an added bonus these events are held at some great historical venues like the ancient amphitheater in Salamis just outside Famagusta, the Bellapais Abbey or the Kyrenia amphitheater.

And all these festivals, whether they be on a provincial or international scale, offer a real snapshot of both the ancient and modern day culture of the North. As the festival season runs from around April to November there is plenty of opportunities to capture this essence of North Cypriot life – sampling some delightful wares and Turkish Cypriot hospitality along the way.