— What is that sound over there? — Alice
— Miracles, — calmly explained the Cheshire cat.
— And what are they doing there? — asked the girl.
— As they should be. — Cat yawned. — Happening.
«Alice in Wonderland», Lewis Carroll
Today we visit an unusual place, where fairy tales, stories and legends have made a home and now live. The museum was founded in 2016 and officially opened at the beginning of 2017. Its doors are open to everyone: children, teenagers and adults. Your interest is bound to be piqued by well-known images from your childhood as well as the colorful interior decorations that blend real and imagined worlds and make you feel like there is no end to the adventures of life.
Every visitor has a unique chance to interact with all of the objects showcased in the exhibition. You can touch and study everything you see here, as well as learn about the history and role of major fairy tale phenomena in our civilization. You can dive into a world of fantasy and imagination through Greek, Cypriot and other countries' fairy tales. This is a perfect place for those who love miracles and stories as well as rare books and art inspired by tales and legends.
We were greeted and accompanied by Ms. Vicky Balomenou Kakoyianni, the head of the museum as well as a Greek-born psychotherapist who moved to Cyprus 15 years ago.
«The best way to explain is to make something on your own»
V: We opened in February 2017, but we are still in the process of putting some things together and are constantly growing. The museum emerged from the series of events that were organized by the Systemic Institute of Cyprus. The idea was to preserve the cultural heritage encapsulated in people's fairy tales. The public likes to come here. School students come in the morning and families stop by in late afternoon. (See working hours below)
— How did the idea of creating a fairy tale museum occur to you?
— You see, Cyprus has all kinds of museums, except for the one about fairy tales, which are actually an important element of our culture. I got to thinking: what kind of museum will this be? What would I like to see here? I shared my vision with my husband, Photis Kakoyiannis, who expressed his support. If we had made a books-only exhibition, then it would have been a library. If we had only exhibited art objects, then it would have been an art exhibition. It turns out that organizing an interesting space around fairy tales is quite hard.
It took me three years to research the subject, which I did with the help of a colleague from Greece. We finally developed the concept, which perfectly represented our idea: to create an exhibition that centers around a «magic» library.
Our museum offers many interesting things to children and students as well as tourists and groups, which come here quite a lot.
— How and why did you pick this location? Is there history behind it?
— When I first saw this antique house I immediately fell in love with it. It was exactly what we needed for our project. Out of everything I saw, this was the most beautiful space. I hope that we have made it even more incredible. Don't you think so?
Years ago this was a residential building. With time it became a popular cafe. And then we moved into this historic building located close to the Paphos gate and other Old Town attractions.
— How many people work here?
— We have two permanent staff members: myself and my husband (we are both directors; I am the executive director and he is the financial director). Theater art is taught by Despo Sophocleous. We also have a few assistants, who are chiefly actors, storytellers and artists. They work with us on different projects and events.
Like I said, our visitors, be they young or old, will never be alone in their experience of the museum. They are active participants and characters on a magical journey marked with adventures and trials.
«There is morality in everything. You just need to discover it»
— You said that the museum is open to interaction...
— Yes, our exhibition assumes that visitors will interact with it through different scenarios, objects, quests, etc. It can turn you into a child again by engaging you in different tasks and asking you to experiment with different devices, such as the magical phonograph, also known as the «phonogryph».
Many things here are not what they seem and you can touch, study, read and open all of them! Our visitors are drawn into a world of fairy tales and invited to become their characters. We have different game scenarios and theatrical quests designed for children and adolescents of different ages. In October we are launching a few new programs for children, such as fairy tale painting and story-telling (which entails writing your own fairy tale).
The museum is both a place for education and entertainment designed not only for children, but for adults as well. So, for example, we have a group therapy program that relies on different fairy tale elements as tools for self-exploration. Every room and hall in our building is dedicated to a specific theme that serves as the basis for our group tours.
We offer many interesting options for families, students and their teachers. One such theater program is called: «Red thread tied up, spinned around the yarn». We launched it in March 2017. It incorporates recommendations from the Cyprus Ministry of Culture. The aim of the program is to familiarize people with fairy tales as well as myths and legends of Cyprus and Greece. The program employs different variations of theater arts to allow children ages 4-11 to experiment with their creative talent and imagination.
We get to revisit basic human values and practice socializing with others through a range of different scenarios and stories. The program is offered in Greek and English. It lasts 1 hour for younger children and 1 hour and 20 minutes for elementary school students.
If you have a group of students or children who want to participate in one of our programs, we will gladly provide any additional information.
— I happen to really like this idea, because I am a big fan of fairy tales and everything magical. But how do you choose which fairy tales to include in your collection?
— This museum is about the overall phenomenon of fairy tales. The main idea is to show that different countries’ fairy tales have a lot in common. And there is a lot of research to prove this. By the way, Vladimir Propp, a Russian folklore researcher and a collector of fairy tales, discovered that most fairy tales feature different versions and combinations of similar plotlines. Inspired by Propp’s research, we created a special board depicting a «magical» window, whose sides feature different objects from fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella’s shoe, Aladdin’s lamp, etc.). As you close them in any manner you wish, you get a different idea for a fairy tale.
Propp wrote: «Everything that contributed to our upbringing, all of our experiences, knowledge of the surrounding world and wisdom, were offered to children in a manner that they could relate to and understand».
At the same time, every culture, every country has something unique, like a detail that you won’t see anywhere else. Take the story of Cinderella, for example. It exists in many different cultures, but it is different each time.
We know many fairy tales, but we want to see something unique, right? So we go up to the second floor, where all the bookcases are.
Our dream is to have a huge collection of books with fairy tales from around the world. It is a question of time and finances, of course.
We do receive books as gifts sometimes, even from tourists. One of our visitors from Australia gave us a few books from his library.
— I can see that all of the information and game boards come in Greek and English. Since you mentioned a Russian researcher, do you plan to make anything in Russian?
— We definitely will in the future.
— I think we are in the British hall right now and I even recognize «Alice in Wonderland».
There is a teacup chandelier «soaring» just under the ceiling. It is hard not to think of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the never-ending tea party that Alice was lucky enough to partake in.
Yes, every room here has its own theme. This is where Alice «lives». And the atmosphere here speaks of the Victorian era. By the way, since we are a museum, all of our objects are authentic, and all of this (cups, plates, cookie boxes, etc.) is British-made and antique.
Some of our most prized possessions are gifts from our visitors’ homes.
My idea was to make the visitor feel as if he is traveling from one fairy tale to the next by walking through different rooms. By the way, even though the exhibition includes truly rare and authentic objects, we also have fairy tales written by contemporary writers.
«Few people can find the exit. Some can’t see it even when they’ve found it, but few look for it»
Vicky walks us through secret passages, revealing hidden rooms and, what seems like, entire worlds.
V: «As you can see, the walls in the lobby feature a painting of gigantic book edges — this is how we first «meet» a book».
The edges reveal names of well-known writers like the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, Nearchos Clerides, Lewis Carroll, Vladimir Propp and others. Now take a look at this — every book has a door, behind which you will find a scene from a different fairy tale.
Children can open these doors and study the objects hidden behind them.
Opposite this installation is a cozy corner with a spinning wheel. Its red thread symbolizes the way a fairy tale draws you into a world of fantasy.
We keep walking…
«Curiouser and curiouser!» — Alice exclaimed
We now find ourselves in a room full of mysterious hiding spots that reveal different magical objects. Each one of them is related to a specific character and plot from a fairy tale.
One of the walls depicts a painting with a «secret»: different characters are hiding in its landscape and waiting to be found.
— Vicky who came up with the idea for the museum’s design?
— It was our collaboration with designer Antigone Michaelides-Porter. We worked on it for a year, trying to create a space, where fairy tales could find a three-dimensional manifestation.
— What about the games and quests? Were they your idea?
— Yes, they were. And Antigone helped me find a way to realize it. She understands me very well.
After we take a peek into all of the hiding places on the first floor and practically walk through its walls and then fall into a rabbit’s hole, we finally find ourselves on a patio in front of a lovely garden with a huge lemon tree.
As expected of any magical garden, there is a pathway to a Witch house, which is really the museum’s creative studio.
«Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast» — said the Queen
V: Look at all those lemons! We can finally start making homemade lemonade for our guests.
Do check out the Witch house: everything there inspires creativity. There is a large wooden table, shelves with crafts and a magical atmosphere. We plan to invite different professional artists to give art lessons to beginners there.
Now we go up to the second floor. The ceiling above is covered with books that whisper incredible stories. There is a gigantic beanstalk crawling towards the sky, Rapunzel’s undulating hair and Cinderella’s sparkly dress.
«What I tell you three times is true»
We stop in front of a tall bookcase, which stands across from the staircase.
V: Fairy tale books are our pride. The ones you see here have been divided into categories. These, for example, are fairy tales from around the world. Our library is constantly growing.
Also, the second floor houses an exhibition featuring objects from our very first exhibit.
That exhibition showcased 54 original works — illustrations to children’s books by a Greek artist Effie Lada, who is the student of the famous Yorgo Voyatzis.
The exhibition was called «Flying Among the Clouds» and was the illustrator’s debut in Cyprus.
Also, it was Effie Lada who designed the museum’s logo and helped to develop its visual style. It is her illustrations that you see around the museum, which serve as a leitmotif uniting different parts of the exhibition.
You will also find here a book-stand. If you browse through its pages, you will learn about the emergence and development of fairy tales.
Now, this is an antique telephone. It still works and if you pick up the receiver you will hear a fairy tale by the Italian writer Gianni Rodari (available in Greek only).
If you open a door of one of the bookcases painted on the wall (which is really a secret door into another space), you will find yourself in… Narnia. As many of you know, Narnia can be found by walking through a wardrobe. And so we also walked through a «real» royal wardrobe to find ourselves in an enchanted forest
… which was really an educational playground for the museum’s youngest visitors.
— Vicky, you have so many secret passageways and locations here. Do your visitors ever get lost?
— We give them special flyers with directions [Vicky laughs].
Though it does happen that our visitors get distracted and end up somewhere they didn’t intend to be.
Then we move to a library of magical books with a reading hall.
V: This place is bound to attract people with a serious interest in folklore, legends and literary tales. Here is also a copy of a painting by a famous Russian artist Ivan Bilibin (1876 – 1942), who continues to inspire many contemporary artists, including those in Cyprus. Our museum collection has a few things that reflect Bilibin’s graphic and ornate style.
— Is this the theater?
— Yes, beginning in May 2017 we started inviting artists to come here and produce theatrical work for adults. They have already produced a great musical performance.
Picture this: right before the performance begins, it is almost completely dark and the atmosphere is even more magical.
«Unless [the letter] was written to nobody, which isn't usual, you know» — said the King
— Vicky, can I buy a souvenir to remind me of this wonderful place?
— We are planning to open a souvenir shop in the near future. It will be located in the main hall, where we ended up after our tour of the museum. It is the «Hall of Princesses and Dragons», which is actually one of the most common fairy tale plotlines that even appears in Greek mythology. Do you remember the story of Andromeda? The princess was supposed to be sacrificed to a monster, but Perseus rescued her.
Right now the hall showcases a few works inspired by this theme, as well as books by a famous Cypriot collector of folklore and Nearchos Clerides’ schoolteacher, who wrote about dragons, princesses and many other different things.
We thank Ms. Balomenou Kakoyianni for a chance to travel back into childhood and invite everyone to visit this magical museum located in Old Nicosia.
For school visits:
Monday – Friday: 9:00 – 13:00
For general public visits:
Monday – Thursday: 13:00 – 16:00
Friday: 16:00 – 19:00
The museum is closed on public holidays.
Entrance: 5 euros
Address: 32 Granikou St., 1010, Nicosia
Contact and additional information:
See you soon!