The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia – The blue gate to the history of the city of Nicosia

Hello everybody,

Sometimes, a very long time passes before a building discovers its appropriate shape and purpose. It took this particular building 126 years to become the Museum that it is today: The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, a part of the city’s history. Passers-by will first stop and glance at the impressive blue gate and then step inside. Children will be curious to discover its secrets, mystery, and beautiful collections, as “The building is the shell, the objects are the pearls that we hold and safeguard for the future”.

The Leventis Municipal Museum in Nicosia is one of the most beautiful cultural places to visit in Nicosia.

Mrs.  Jenny Lymperopoulou, Education Officer at the Museum, will explain why the museum is the best place to come for the most interesting history lesson.

Izzy: Thank you very much for the most wonderful pleasure, a virtual visit that will enable our readers to know what to expect from a real visit with their children at The Leventis Museum. What can you tell us about the long history of the building with the blue gate? How was it built, how did it almost die but, most importantly, how was it reborn from its ashes?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: This year, the Leventis Museum celebrates its 27th anniversary. But the building hosting it has a history that began 126 years ago, when merchant Ioannis Evangelides commissioned the construction of two mansions at 15 and 17, Hippocrates street.
The two buildings have so many stories to tell. They initially served as residences for Evangelides’ daughters. Subsequently, the first one was turned into a hotel called “Victoria” and, some years later, was purchased by the Nicosia Sewerage Board to be renovated and rearranged into offices. The second building became a clinic and later the headquarters of the Cyprus National Party before it was abandoned in 1968.
In 1984, the then Mayor of Nicosia, Lellos Demetriades, unanimously with the Municipal Council, and the ever-memorable Constantinos Leventis, decided to name the city’s fledgling Municipal Museum “The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia”. The decision had been taken after the Anastasios G. Leventis Foundation had already approved the donation of a sum that would cover the purchase of one of the two buildings (17, Hippocrates str.) and the cost of establishing Cyprus’ first Historical Museum. This is how, in 1989, Nicosia acquired its own Museum, through the exhibits of which the city could vividly tell its story.
A landmark in the creation of the Leventis Museum has been the purchase by the A.G. Leventis Foundation of the building at 15, Hippocrates street. Several studies and much work were needed to connect the two buildings and renovate them to their current form. Once the project was completed in 2010, the building at 15, Hippocrates street, named “Constantine Leventis Wing”, provided a significant expansion of the Museum’s exhibition area but also of the area now housing the library, the archives and the Museum’s offices. The incorporation of the residence of Nikolaos Tsikkinis has also been an important addition; since 2006 it hosts the Museum’s House of Educational Programmes.

Izzy: More than 300 donors have contributed to a heritage of more than 10.000 exhibits. This is what makes it possible for children today to discover the history of Nicosia, the history of Cyprus, to know and admire Cypriot culture and arts. What can you tell us about these beautiful collections?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: Indeed, the Leventis Municipal Museum curates important Collections, through which visitors can trace Cypriot history, art, tradition as well as the people of Cyprus themselves and their path through time. But putting together the Collections had been an arduous and time-consuming process, set in motion by the vision of several people. The first Collection of the Museum, the first cluster of exhibits, namely 300 historical items, was created with the contribution of the Association of Friends of the Leventis Municipal Museum and the support of the A.G. Leventis Foundation.
Over time, the Museum Collections have been expanded and enriched. Today, visitors can tour amidst more than 10,000 items arranged by chronological and thematic order into interesting units and special Collections: Ancient Years, Byzantine Period, Frankish Period, Venetian Period, Ottoman Period, British Rule and Republic of Cyprus.
Of special note are the Collections of Maps, Jewellery, Mediaeval Ceramics, but also Collections on long-term loan such as the Leto and Costakis Severis Collection, the Christ Phylaktou Collection and the Michalis Zeipekkis Collection, an integral part of the “Caterina Cornaro” Gallery.
The Museum also has a large photographic archive spanning the period from the 19th century to nowadays.
These interesting Collections are one of the main reasons why the Leventis Municipal Museum is today one of the most popular poles of attraction in Nicosia, both for the city’s residents as well as for visitors.

Izzy: Every museum has some hidden treasures, one or more exhibits that serve as its main attraction. Some of the travellers will know what this is beforehand while others might never guess. What should we not miss in visiting the Leventis Museum?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: Our visitors should not miss the “sense” of history. In order to offer our young guests this experience of the past, we employ the term “time-travelling”. Similarly, grownups should bear in mind that, whilst touring through the museum halls and Collections, they actually trace the path of the island through the centuries. Only this way will they be able to listen to the unique story of each exhibit and feel they have become part of this city.

Izzy: “A person with no past is a person with no future”. What would the Museum like to teach its little guests? How does it welcome families with children that would like to spend a day here? What is the best age to start with the first visit and what surprises do the “Educational Stations” hold for their young guests?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: At the Museum we are trying to substitute teaching with experience, replace simple conveyance of knowledge with an interactive and experiential teaching process. This is how one comes to know history in a more direct and substantial manner; and knowing history is basic to developing critical thinking for a better future. Knowing your history means knowing the identity of your people. It is highly important for both adults but, more especially, children to know their history from a very young age.
Therefore, as learning has no age, we try to appeal to all age groups. Special educational programmes are addressed to grownups, including tours, lectures and other activities of various themes that invite them to delve into history and into the exhibits.
Of course, young visitors are always welcome! We run educational programmes for organized school groups, with topics pertaining to both permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibitions hosted at regular intervals. Special educational programmes and activities guided by curators are organized for families with children as a creative option for a family’s free time.
At the same time, a family can visit the Museum for an autonomous tour. Our educational stations are highly interesting and useful for guiding a family through a visit. They include electronic games with Onasagoras, a young potter, for an introduction to ancient ceramics; an interactive touch screen for the capital’s fortifications, and a video on life in Nicosia during the years of Ottoman rule.
The “Nicosia-Old Chora” station is also significant in that, there, children can meet the Museum’s mascots, Ledra and Ledros, on the time-machine. The “Museological Illustrated Board”, an interactive board of history is part of the station, featuring curiosity kits with copies of selected museum items. The children can touch the “mantle of King Richard the Lion-Heart”, put on the “golden crown of Caterina Cornaro, last queen of Cyprus” or imagine they drink milk from an ancient cup. The Illustrated Board depicts history, forming and integral part of our educational programme called “10+1 Hidden Secrets: Time-travelling with Ledra and Ledros”. For families with children we have also prepared a special educational booklet.

Izzy: The most wonderful idea, an entertaining and educational book for children, created by the Museum!  What can you tell us about it?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: We are proud of our new acquisition, our educational programme for an autonomous tour at the Leventis Museum, entitled “10+1 Hidden Secrets: Time-travelling with Ledra and Ledros”. Our goal is to enable families with children, visiting the Museum in their free time, especially over the weekends, to discover a unique path of knowledge through selected museum items. The booklet’s colourful, fun and educational pages, but also the Museum’s mascots, Ledra and Ledros, encourage children to travel through time and discover 10+1 hidden secrets whilst engaging actively with the past of the city.
The booklet, in Greek, is available for sale at the Museum’s Shop. The English edition will follow.

Izzy: When parents do not have the time, schools and kindergartens pull the strings to make the visits possible. How should they prepare their students for the visit and what interesting educational programmes would you offer them?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: As I said, the educational programmes draw on the Museum’s permanent and temporary Collections. The educational approach has been adopted by the Leventis Museum since its very first year of operation, in 1989, by means of educational actions that still run to this day across a wide range of themes. Some of our most recent programmes have been: “Playing and learning with Onasagoras”, “Stories and outfits of times past!”, “Learning how to make a printed scarf on my own!”, “Throwing a magic pot on the potter’s wheel”, “Making kites” and many other. Available now at the Museum is the “10+1 Hidden Secrets: Time-travelling with Ledra and Ledros” interactive programme for exploration and adventure.

Izzy: I believe that the Museum' Shop is a lovely way to conclude a visit. Small gifts and souvenirs can become sweet memories for everyone. What could parents and children find at the Shop?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: I agree! Acquiring a souvenir can be a pleasant way to complete your visit to the Museum. The Association of Friends of the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, which is responsible for running the shop, makes sure the items on offer, inspired from the Museum’s exhibits, are often renewed. Visitors can choose between magnets and notebooks featuring figures and patterns drawn from history and tradition, or utilitarian items such as jewellery and ceramic items. Also available at the Museum’s Shop are publications pertaining to the Museum’s collections and exhibitions, as well as the history of Nicosia and Cyprus in general. Publications by the A.G. Leventis Foundation and of the Municipality of Nicosia, touching on the Museum’s themes, are also on offer.

Our little friends will find a beautiful, colourful collection of pencils, rulers, rubbers, magnets, drawing books and, of course, the “10+1 Hidden Secrets” booklet for an exciting tour of the Museum.
All proceeds from the shop contribute to the work of the Museum’s Association of Friends, for supporting the events and enriching the Collections and educational programmes.

Izzy: I could not conclude this interview without asking you about the award received by the museum - The “European Museum of the Year”. How did the Leventis Museum win this award? How would you describe “the needs and tastes of today’s public” which the Museum successfully understands?
Jenny Lymperopoulou: In 1991 the Leventis Municipal Museum was awarded the European Museum of the Year Award. The prize is awarded every year by a special committee that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe. It was a distinction that deservedly helped place the Leventis Museum on the map of the most notable and important museums in Europe. In its unanimous decision, the panel of judges said that, for the first time, Cyprus had acquired a modern museum that records the history of a town in an objective and balanced way:
“We came to the conclusion that the museum which scored more highly than others was The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, whose quietly brilliant and astonishingly determined and well-informed and politically sensitive curator (Loukia Hadjigavriel) has given Cyprus its modern museum and provided it with a real opportunity to break out of the straitjacket of archaeology which has held back museological progress for far too long. It is a museum with style, with wit, with cultural balance and, above all, with a keen sense of the needs and tastes of today’s public”.

The award rationale clearly sets out the contemporary need for Museums that are open to the wider public, offering opportunities for study, education and entertainment. In a field where facts, objects and circumstances are displayed objectively and scientifically, “people can explore their personal convictions through global concepts” and grasp the past empirically and not as mere knowledge. The Museums operate as active cultural sites, cultural bodies that preserve not only items but also timeless values.

Izzy: Thank you very much for this extraordinary opportunity, to virtually open the blue gate for all our readers. In closing, I would like to ask you to share with us a small story from Nicosia’s history, which can be discovered at the Leventis Museum.
Jenny Lymperopoulou: So many important plots can unfold behind each find; every item has its own story to tell. They are the “products” of the times, circumstances and the people that created it. Therefore we should rather let visitors make their own personal discoveries, either small or big ones!

Lots of sunny days from Izzy the Cypriot lizard!

The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10.00-16.30 (Closed on Monday and public holidays)
Entry fee: Free
Address: 15-17, Hippocrates street, Laiki Yeitonia, Nicosia
Phone no: +35722661475
Map Location: