Larnaca’s Salt Lake and Shrine
By “Awake!” correspondent in Cyprus
IN Larnaca, Cyprus, a coastal town with a population of about 38,000 to 40,000, there is quite an interesting lake that serves as the main provider of salt for Cyprus. The lake covers about half a square mile (1.3 sq. kilometers) and presents a beautiful sight. At evening, one can see in its quiet waters the reflection of stark hills and rich foliage.
The salt lake forms following the rains of winter months. During the summer, especially July and August, the lake dries out, leaving behind its storehouse of salt. Local government workers collect the salt in small heaps, which they load on donkeys for transportation to special warehouses. They first wrap old pieces of cloth around the legs and the feet of the animals so that the salt will not cause them injury. The work of transporting the salt lasts about one and a half months. Eventually the salt finds its way into carton packets that are sold in markets.
To the west of the salt lake, in a setting of date palms, there is a famous Moslem shrine known as the Tekke of Umm Haram. The Tekke houses a tomb that is reported to contain the remains of an aunt of Mohammed. However, scholars who have traced the woman’s ancestry claim that she was not a relative but a close friend of Mohammed and an aunt of his secretary. It is said that this woman helped the prophet of Islam on his journey from Mecca to Medina.
Legend has it that Umm Haram accompanied her husband on an Arab invasion of Cyprus in 647 C.E. Supposedly, she fell from her mule and was killed and buried on the spot. Later, a monument consisting of two upright stones some 15 feet (5 meters) in height, with a third stone laid across the top, was erected in her honor. Visitors to the shrine are told that the top stone miraculously was brought from Mecca and placed there by night.
This shrine became important during the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. A mosque was built on the site that is now a place of pilgrimage for many devout Moslems. Of Moslem shrines, the mosque is ranked third in importance, after the Kaaba at Mecca and the shrine of Mohammed at Medina.
If you ever decide to visit Cyprus by air, you may land at the airport of Larnaca. Upon leaving the airport, about 500 meters (1,640 feet) away you will find this remarkable salt lake and the nearby shrine with its date palms and other rich greenery. Whether in winter, when the lake’s still waters are a delightful sight, or in summer, when the dried lake bed displays huge heaps of salt, this location will prove to be relaxing.