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Cypriot Medieval glazed pottery

Sgraffito ware bowl decorated with a fish Cyprus has a long tradition of producing both hand-made and wheel-made pottery in an exuberant range of colours and styles of decoration that goes back to the Bronze Age. The technology of the Medieval wares shown in this exhibition was practised in many partsof the Byzantine world, but the Cypriot potters exploited their own excellent clay sources and native ingenuity to develop their own distinctive local styles.

There are two main types of medieval pottery from Cyprus: sgraffito ware and slip-painted ware.

Pottery of this kind was produced in many parts of the Byzantine world. The idea of producing it in Cyprus may have arrived with the Lusignans from Syria and other parts of the Byzantine empire. Within Cyprus itself there were three main production centres: around Paphos in the west, Enkomi (Famagusta) in the east, and Lapithos (near Kyrenia) in the north.

Decorated glazed ceramics are mostly tablewares, used on a daily basis by a large section of the population in the towns and villages. A large number of ceramics are found in graves. This is probably connected with burial customs that still survive in Cyprus today, in which the priest pours oil from a vessel on to the body in the grave and then throws the vessel in on top.

A limited number of inscriptions that have been discovered on glazed vessels are written in Greek, indicating that the local Greek population used such wares, and perhaps that the Greek language was predominant among the medley of peoples and languages that characterized Medieval Cyprus. While all the ceramics in this exhibition were found in Cyprus, Cypriot products were also exported and have been found on the coast of Anatolia, in Syria and in Palestine.