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The start of life
ZOE CHRISTODOULIDES meets a natural history buff who has taken his passion one step further by creating a museum
Take a whizz through the streets of the capital and the signs of recession seem to be ingrained everywhere. Countless shops have been left empty, closing down sales have become commonplace, and cafés seem abandoned in time. But amid the rather depressing cityscape, a new place has recently sprouted up that aims to take young and old on a journey far from present day hardships. So very far away, in fact, that an entire building is now dedicated to all sorts of weird and wonderful exhibits that tell tales of when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Located just a stone’s throw away from the Strovolos Municipality, the Tsirides Foundation is packed with just about anything and everything imaginable, from dinosaur teeth to the most unusual fossils. Aiming to attract tourists and locals alike with a thirst for discovering the glories of days gone by, the place is the pride and joy of one local collector.
“This is what I love to do,” proclaims Angelos Tsirides busying himself in an office cluttered with collectables that would make anyone’s jaw drop. That’s not to forget the half a dozen cats that are curled up around the space as Angelos tell tales of the other 30 or so felines that he has adopted over time. “Animals!” he suddenly exclaims. “If only everyone understood that they are our distant relatives, that we have developed from them. But anyway, let’s get back to my passion for collecting. It all started from a very young age when I was searching for something,” he says, voice trailing off as if lost in the past. Searching for what exactly? “Well I was asking ‘who is God’?” And one fine day, Angelos suddenly discovered his passion for natural history when he stumbled across a lonesome fossil. “At that point I stopped and thought about life that existed millions of years before humans and I felt as if I’d found some answers.”
Magnetised by the evolution of life on earth, the natural history buff then spent years trotting the globe while purchasing all sorts of fascinating items to add to his collection. Professionally speaking, Angelos has spent years in charge of his Tsircon Company, engaged in the manufacture and trade of specialised materials used in the construction industry. But with his passion for natural history standing as more than just a sideline, almost of all his free time has been spent jetting away with his wife to faraway destinations to get hold of treasures.
From the depths of China to the heights of South America, the travel bug was coupled with an insatiable desire to get his mitts on the most unusual museum pieces. And year by year, the pieces overflowed in boxes that piled up in the premises of his company until he finally managed to set up the Tsirides Foundation.
Go along to the exhibition space that first opened its doors a couple of months ago and you’ll come across a whopping 1,000 exhibits, including collections of antiquities, fossils and minerals. Then there’s the skeleton of the Protoceratops dinosaur which Angelos describes as being as big as a large sheep, topped off by the large skull of the Triceratops Horridus dinosaur.
As for those who are rather partial to examining fossils, there’s plenty to set your sights on including those of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants with the oldest in the collection being those of unicellular organisms dating back three-four billion years originating from Australia
“But the most important fossil in the collection is probably the one that comes from the Archaeopteryx family and provides the missing link between dinosaurs and birds,” enthuses Angelos. “This one dates back about 160 million years.”
With the total collection worth more than €5 million, Angelos professes to being absolutely clear about his priorities in life. “Sure, it’s costing money but some people choose to build houses and palaces, and instead, I choose to do this.” Angelos then lets on that he has even bigger goals in mind, with the creation of the Cyprus Museum of World Natural History now in the pipeline, set to function according to international standards. While it may take a little while for the final dream to be realised, there are already more specimens making their way to Cyprus. “One is a head of a tyrannosaurus rex and the other is the most beautiful fossil of a big fish eating a small fish,” he lets on.
In the meantime, a Friends of the Foundation group has been set up, focusing on science, entertainment and knowledge. “Our aim is to be fun and appealing to anyone who loves this kind of thing, whether its hobbyists, paleontologists or professors. We really want to pass on and exchange knowledge with everyone.” Kids and adults can also enjoy special guided tours of the foundation to really get to grips with all that’s on show. “It’s so important to see how life started and where it has taken us,” says Angelos. “You know how it goes: you have to read the past and study the future in order to govern the present.”
Opening hours: 9am-1pm and 2.30pm-5pm daily. Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday 10am-5pm. Closed Monday afternoon. €5 adults and €3 students. Guided tours available on a daily basis. email: email@example.com. www.tsiridesfoundation.com. Tel: 22- 312676.