If you take the B7 out of Polis and then turn left onto the F733, after about five kilometres you’ll arrive in the village of Steni. The village is at an altitude of 234 metres above sea level. The fields in the surrounding countryside are cultivated with cherries, avocado, olives, watermelons and oranges, to name but a few. Until recently tobacco was also grown but since Cyprus joined the EU this is no longer the case. In bygone days, cereals were the traditional crop cultivated by the residents, but with the recent construction of the Evretou Dam, a variety of crops are now grown.
Between 1930-50 and 1960-75, many of Steni’s residents emigrated to South Africa, but now many of these ex-pats are returning. The village mukhtar now puts Steni’s population at about 150 but forecasts that this number will have doubled over the next five years.
There are two stories, as told by the older residents, of how the village came to be called Steni. One version has it that when the settlement first existed it was a narrow community situated on the banks of the river and ‘steno’ means narrow in Greek. The second version says that the first resident of the village kept his livestock at a place called ‘stenia’ from ‘stani’ and thus afterwards ‘stenia’ became Steni.
As you enter the village you will see the 20th century church of Agios Tryfonas built in 1913 on the site of the village’s first church, which was destroyed by fire due to some forgotten candles left burning. Constantinos Zoppos and his son, Demos, from Geroskipou, with the help of local residents, some of whom carried stones from the monastery of Chrysolakournas, constructed the new church. Much of the funding for the construction of the church came from South Africa where a lot of the former residents had emigrated. St Tryfonas is the protector of animals and crops and every year on 1st February there is a feast in his honour.
Next door to the church is the local community office where the mukhtar, Elias Lambides, can be found. Elias has been the village mukhtar for five years and before that his uncle was mukhtar for an astonishing 34 years. Elias told me that a new community centre is planned and will include a medical centre, a community hall and an agricultural museum on the first floor. Other future projects include: the construction of a new water supply reservoir at a higher point to cover the needs of the expanding community; the creation of a park and areas for outdoor events; asphalted roads in all residential areas. As you will notice on the drive from Polis, Elias and his council have already beautified much of the village with the planting of trees along the roadside and the refurbishing of walls from concrete blocks into local stone.
The local school in Steni was closed down in 1983 due to lack of numbers and now the local bus service ferries the children to schools in Polis. But the revitalisation of Steni continues with a new restaurant, a mini market and a coffee shop scheduled for completion soon.
As to how long Steni has been in existence, there are few records. However, three kilometres north of the village you can find the monastery of Chrysolakournas, which dates back the 12th century. An earthquake destroyed the building in 1953 but part of it was restored by the Department of Antiquities as a three-aisled basilica in 1973. Inside you can still see fragments of a 12th century fresco of St John the Baptist, and 16th century frescoes of St George, the communion of the apostles and Playtera amid the angels. All around the monastery is evidence of an old settlement with crumbling walls and mounds of stone.
If you’d like to get to know Steni and its locals better, why not attend the yearly festival celebrating the end of summer and held in September. You will be heartily welcomed by one and all as Steni is a particularly friendly village.