What can an Abandoned Village in Cyprus Tell us about Religion and Coexistence?

Speaker: Aliosha Pittaka Bielenberg

What can the ruins of Agios Sozomenos tell us about how people live together across differences?

This talk focuses on Agios Sozomenos, an abandoned village near Nicosia, the capital of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has a many-layered past and complexly resonating present. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Agios Sozomenos fled after intercommunal violence on 6 February 1964. Independence from Britain in 1960 had not secured lasting peace and stability, as was made clear by the Turkish invasion of 1974, which divides the island until this day.

But Agios Sozomenos represents much more than this recent history of conflict. It has always been a place of plurality and coexistence, from the settlements of 1200 BCE to the many visitors — locals, foreign tourists, farmers — that frequent the area today. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the religious history of the site. The village is named after a little cave where Saint Sozomenos had established a hermitage in the 9th century CE. The next 900 years saw Greek Orthodox pilgrims, Latin nobles, Turkish Ottoman peasants, and many others leave their mark on the site, reflecting major regional developments on a small, local scale.

In this presentation, Aliosha guides students through the village by focusing on a few of the material remains of these many pasts. Students learn to think about material culture and the afterlives of history. Finally, he invites the group to think about what this tiny place in the Mediterranean might tell us more generally about coexistence and plurality in societies fractured along ethnic, religious, and class lines.

About the Speaker

Aliosha Pittaka Bielenberg is a PhD student in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Before coming to Berkeley, he earned an AB in Archaeology and Critical Thought from Brown University; an MSc in Digital Cultural Heritage from The Cyprus Institute; and an MA in Philosophy from KU Leuven (Belgium). He has worked with NGOs in Cyprus on public history, environmental awareness, and peacebuilding projects and deeply enjoys experiencing the beauty and complex history of the island and sharing it with those new to Cyprus.

Suggested Audiences

Age: Best for high school and community college, but accessible for middle school

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary. However, this talk references events in world history and will be more meaningful to students who have taken/are taking that course.

Courses: World History, Global Religions, Art History, Peace and Conflict, Archaeology, other history-social science courses

Invite Aliosha Bielenberg to Speak