Prof. Emer. Vassos Karageorghis 1929-2021
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that Prof. Emer. Vassos Karageorghis passed away yesterday. Here is the text I prepared with Giorgos Papasavvas and Demetris Michaelides on behalf of the University of Cyprus.
The University of Cyprus bids farewell to Emeritus Professor Vassos Karageorghis, the first Professor of Archaeology, and founder of the Archaeological Research Unit of the university. Hard-working and tireless, charismatic, with unparalleled leadership skills, generous, resourceful and imaginative, a man of works and deeds, a profound connoisseur of Cypriot, and not only, archaeology. A man whose great vision for the promotion and study of the cultural heritage of his country, leaves behind a tremendous and long-lasting oeuvre. A man of high education and paideia, and an unsurpassed scientific and academic output, he leaves behind a work that will remain indelible in the memory of all of us.
Vassos Karageorghis studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London (1948-1952). He received his doctorate from the same university in 1957. After completing his studies, he returned to Cyprus and began a brilliant career as an archaeologist at the Department of Antiquities, which he served for 37 years. In 1963 he succeeded Porphyrios Dikaios as the Director of the Department of Antiquities of the newly established Republic of Cyprus. He held this position until his retirement in 1989. During this period the Department of Antiquities flourished. Many monuments of Cyprus were uncovered and brought to the fore during his leadership, while archaeological museums were established in all districts of the island. With the power given to him by the Antiquities Law, Vassos Karageorghis fought many battles to save archaeological sites which were under threat by the burst in building development brought by the booming tourism industry after the island’s Independence.
But the biggest battle he fought, and won, was the promotion of Cypriot Archaeology within the international scientific community. Through his archaeological excavations and the consequent, impressive discoveries (e.g. the royal necropolis of Salamis, the monumental temples of Kition, the settlements of the Late Bronze Age in Pyla and Maa, and many others), the unsurpassed high number of publications, monographs and scholarly articles, and the many lectures he gave abroad on subjects of Cypriot archaeology, Vassos Karageorghis succeeded in elevating and promoting the status of Cypriot archaeology at an international level.
At the same time, he kept the scientific field open by inviting eminent foreign archaeologists to conduct excavations in Cyprus. In turn, these archaeologists expanded the archaeology of our island even more, taught it in their universities and discussed it in international conferences and scientific publications, consolidating its international character and orientation. Many colleagues remember the warm hospitality he always extended together with his wife Jacqueline Karageorghis, herself also a prominent archaeologist. In 1974, when, after the Turkish invasion, many of the foreign missions found their excavations under Turkish occupation, Karageorghis found and proposed new sites so that they could resume their work already in the following year. Their successors continue to work on the island to this day. This alone would be enough to demonstrate the great contribution of Vassos Karageorghis to his country.
But Vassos Karageorghis did not stop there. He organized a series of international scientific conferences that dealt with a wide range of topics, and brought distinguished archaeologists from all over the world to Cyprus. They thus formed long lasting relationship with the island and promoted its cultural heritage in their own countries. He was always willing to meet young archaeologists and support them in the early years of their careers. He launched the publication of the annual “Chronique des fouilles et découvertes archéologiques à Chypre” in the French scientific journal Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique of the French Archaeological School at Athens, and upgraded the Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, making it a well-respected international scientific journal. At the same time, he published more than 125 books in various languages, and more than 485 articles, which were widely read and will continue to be read in the decades to come.
In 1989 he was appointed Director of the “Anastasios G. Leventis” Foundation, which he served until 2010. His contribution from this position was just as ambitious and inspired. During his tenure at the foundation, many important collections of Cypriot antiquities, that were kept in the largest and most important museums in the world (British Museum, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc.), were re-exhibited and published. With the support of the Leventis family, Vassos Karageorghis established the Foundation’s scholarship scheme which supported many young archaeologists, both Cypriot and foreign, and enabled them to complete their postgraduate studies and doctoral dissertations, often with topics around Cyprus, thus promoting once again the archaeological research on the island.
From 1989 to 1992, Vassos Karageorghis served as an advisor to the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. George Vasileiou, and from this position he played an important role in the establishment of the Archaeological Research Unit (ARU) in 1991 at the newly founded University of Cyprus. His relationship with the University Cyprus has always been very tight, and in many ways it is thanks to him that archaeology has become such a successful discipline in the first academic institution of the country. In 1992 he was elected Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cyprus and appointed director of the Archaeological Research Unit, a position he held until 1996. Today, almost thirty years later, there are ten members of academic staff and 17 postdoctoral researchers working at the ARU, which since 1996 is also a part of the Department of History and Archaeology.
Although he retired from the University of Cyprus in 1996, his relations with the country’s highest academic institution, of which he was elected Emeritus Professor, remained close. That is why he decided to donate his personal library, one of the most important archaeological libraries on the island, to the University of Cyprus. He continued to collaborate with many of the members of the ARU in research programs, conferences, and publications.
Vassos Karageorghis served archaeology and culture from other places as well. From 2013 to 2019 he was an Associate Professor at the Cyprus Institute. In 2016 he was appointed as one of the four founding members of the Cyprus Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts, of which he became, in 2019, one of the four Transitional Regular Members.
For this brilliant career and his contribution to the archaeology of Cyprus but also to the discipline of archaeology in general, he was widely recognized and received the highest awards by many universities and research institutes, as well as by foreign Academies, such as the Academy of Athens, the British Academy, the French Academy, the Swedish Academy, and the Academia dei Lincei (Italy). He was also honored with the prize of the Société des Études Grecques de la Sorbonne (1966), the RB Bennet Commonwealth Prize (1978), the Onassis Prize “Olympia” (1991), and the International Prize of Venice “I Cavalli d’Oro di San Marco” (1996). In May 2008, the President of the Hellenic Republic, Karolos Papoulias, awarded him the Brigadier General of the Order of Honor, and in 2011 he received the State Award for Archaeology of Cyprus, the highest award given by the Republic of Cyprus for the Preservation and Promotion of the Cultural Heritage.
Cyprus and the University of Cyprus are poorer today because they lost one of the most important people of culture. Vassos Karageorghis, however, has left behind a tremendous oeuvre and has contributed greatly to the consolidation of Cypriot archaeology both locally and internationally. The University of Cyprus owes him a lot and will always recognize the legacy he leaves behind.
He will be sorely missed. I owe him so much and I will always remember him.
All the best
Lina Kassianidou (Department of History and Archaeology)