Conference:Postgraduate Colloquium, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Cyprus
Authors: Antigone Heraclidou, Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert
Date: December 2020
Abstract: The Museum Lab at RISE Centre of Excellence, in Cyprus, has embarked on a project that aspires, through the creation of a re-invented museum, to negotiate issues of ‘difficult history’ in a non-authoritative way. More precisely, the ‘Ledra Palace Museum’ project deals with the representation of difficult history in museums and investigates ways in which technology can facilitate participatory and collaborative approaches, actively engage different groups and communities (especially excluded or silenced ones) and help bring out contested histories. The starting point of this project is the Ledra Palace Hotel, a site that can be seen quintessentially representative of Cyprus’s difficult heritage. The aim of the project is to ‘deep map’ this site and ‘revive’ it, not via the conventional method of building a traditional museum, but with emerging technologies. In the context of this project, we are doing an in-depth and multi-layered historical research in order to bring forward the history of this iconic place and shed light on untold stories. Once praised as the jewel of Cypriot modernity in the heart of the capital, the Ledra Palace hotel it is now a crumbling dwelling located in the buffer zone between the southern and northern parts of the island and partly used by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. The 70-year old hotel has fallen into despair and reminds nothing of its glorious past. Inspired and founded in 1949 by three wealthy men and designed by the German-Jewish architect Benjamin Gunsberg, the Ledra Palace Hotel soon became the pride of Nicosia, the first choice for esteemed visitors, journalists, official meetings, general assemblies, balls and social events, art exhibitions, concerts, etc. Through its short-lived history as a hotel, the Ledra Palace witnessed and inevitably became part and parcel of the island’s turbulent history – from the beginning of the 1950s until the tragic events of 1974. In line with this conference’s aims, this presentation is focused on the history of the Ledra Palace hotel from its opening in 1949 until the end of the colonial period in 1960. During this period, several notions are explored which come to underline the importance of the hotel as a unique cultural and historical site. While Cyprus was visually presented as a predominantly agricultural society routed in the past (see for example the National Geographic feature in 1952, the paintings of Diamathis or the photographs of local photographers such as Reno Wideson and George Lanitis), the photographs that emerge from the Ledra Palace Hotel tell a different story: that of a modern society in search of culture, fashion and entertainment. The presentation will attempt to showcase why and how the Ledra Palace hotel witnessed the island’s turbulent history, became the heart of the island’s social and cosmopolitan life – as opposed to the island’s agricultural character agricultural society –, and dubbed as a place of both peace and conflict.