History of the Carnival
Although the Carnival festive season has been chronicled in Cyprus since medieval times (under the Franks and Venetians), in Limassol it began growing spectacularly in more modern times, specifically at the start of British rule (late 19th century). This was no coincidence, as it was due to the economic progress of the town during this time period, but also to the special traits that the town's inhabitants developed over time: their outgoing and enthusiastic nature, their inclination towards the arts, satire, dance and song, as well as their love of partying and having fun.
Nevertheless, the growth of the Carnival owes more than to the traits of the locals; its development is likewise due to the untiring efforts of citizens, distinguished or not, as well as the efforts of municipal and government authorities. As Georgios Taliadoros Templar writes, "This custom was created and fostered not only by ordinary people, but also by eminent mayors, one [Christodoulos] Sozos, one Araouzos, Chr. Hadjipavlos, Alekos Zenon and others. There were those who fought by hook or by crook to preserve the custom: distinguished statesmen, journalists, as well as the late N.Kl. Lanitis, M. Frangoudis, or schoolmasters who together with their students wore masks and paraded in the streets and whose chariots always won the first prize."
Throughout its long history, the Limassol Carnival would ebb and flow, its progress always linked to the fate of the town and the island as a whole. Its progression was inevitably affected by shifting political, economic, artistic and social trends.
However, before the carnival had transformed into an urban phenomenon (early 20th century), it was characterized chiefly by people's impulsiveness and their partying spirit. "All households, for example, be they rich or poor, threw their doors open to the masked revellers, and house-to-house friendly visits were a daily occurrence. On Sundays, and following some heavy feasting and partying, almost everyone would put their masks and costumes on, jumped into wagons, or formed into groups that poured out into the main streets and squares, where they carried on their singing, dancing and their pranks, some of which were so successful they would be talked and joked about for days thereafter."
Merry-making at the time was simple and traditional, involving a great deal of food, Cypriot dance and song, as well as makeshift masquerades. Because people were mostly poor and there was a lack of ready-made costumes, they crafted their own using any materials handy.
The start of British rule heralded a time of radical changes, due to the island's now closer ties to western Europe. During this period, Cypriot towns slowly but surely went through a process of urbanization and "Europeanization," bringing about gradual changes in social structures, habits and customs, but also broadly in the way of life and the manner in which people had fun.
This gradual process affected the Carnival festivities as well. It was not long before the Limassol Carnival was enriched with novelties and trends imported from the West, such as European-style dancing, mandolins, serenades, masks and costumes with European themes, costumes designed by specialised seamstresses, as well as chariots featuring new construction techniques and themes.
These developments had the effect of gradually displacing certain traditions and customs of the Cypriot carnival festivities, leading to the emergence of a more "European-style" urban carnival. Despite the sidelining of certain traditional elements, others would survive to this day, thus bequeathing to modern-day Limassolians an intriguing amalgam, a mix of traditional and modern features, folk and urban practices, as well as imported and local traits.
With the passage of time, serenades and carnival songs would come to dominate most such festivities.
In particular, the serenade (kantada in Greek), was a Greek musical genre of Italian and western influences, which originated in the Ionian islands in the 19th century. A serenade is usually in three or four voices, with a simple melody, and accompanied by guitar and mandolin. The serenade, be it from the Ionian islands or from Athens, began spreading to Cyprus as far back as the mid-19th century.
But how did this musical genre come to be so intertwined with the Limassol Carnival?
Under British rule, and the end of Ottoman influence, Cypriots gradually began to adopt new European and western ways of having fun beyond the various religious festivities and rites of passage. It was not long before European-style music would begin to be heard. It was in this climate that serenades from the Ionian islands and Athens were imported into Cyprus, finding fertile soil in the urban centres and particularly in Limassol, where in time serenading became closely linked to the Carnival festivities.
Initially people formed into bands. These groups of singer-revellers, singing throughout the year, had a field day during the carnival season. By the mid-20th century the Serenaders had officially arrived on the Carnival scene, while at the same time there emerged various carnival-style or serenade-style songs that sang the praises of Limassol, the pleasures of life, fun, and of course the Carnival itself. The lyrics for most of these songs were composed by locals, often using already existing western tunes or in some cases entirely new tunes crafted by local musicians and songwriters. These carnival songs, along with the old Greek serenades, are sung since that period through to the present day, imparting to the Carnival a sense of romance, sensuality, but also a strong tinge of nostalgia for the past and for the carnivals of old.