The Cyprus Institute, in collaboration with the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia, was officially endorsed by the Department of Antiquities to document the churches of Ayia Solomoni at Komi tou Yialou, Panayia Pergaminiotissa at Akanthou, Panayia Apsinthiotissa at Syghari, and the Christ Antiphonitis Church at Kalograia, all of them in the occupied part of Cyprus. Following the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish military forces in 1974, looters stripped many of the region’s churches, removing an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 icons and several dozen major frescoes and mosaics, intending to sell them illegally on the antique market.
The churches in this study were among those affected. Due to efforts of Cypriot authorities, fragments of those churches’ frescoes have been repatriated and were digitally documented through high-resolution orthophotos. The churches were documented by similar means, in order to virtually re-position the frescoes in their original locations. The virtual re-composition of the frescoes along the looted walls helped quantify the missing parts, correctly re-locate virtually each fragment at its original position, obtain accurate colour information, and prepare a digital musealisation product to be included in the permanent exhibition display at the museum, which will feature a 1:1 scale reproduction of the church walls.
The Cyprus Institute APAC/STARC team responsible for the data collection consisted of Dr. Dante Abate and Marina Faka, who visited the Ayia Solomoni church last month together with the Curator of the Byzantine Museum, and sadly found out that the vandalism continues. The damage to the apse has been recorded and can now be visualized through a 3D online model: (http://ephemera.cyi.ac.cy/sites/ephemera/3D1/ayia_solomoni.html).
At the following link, visitors can virtually explore the churches through the EpHEMERA database, which is a repository of 3D models of endangered architectural and archaeological heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean area: http://ephemera.cyi.ac.cy. The restoration program for the looted and, today repatriated, frescoes and mosaic fragments, is funded by the Swiss government. All the artefacts are located at the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia.