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Picture Archive: Women Weaving, Cyprus, circa 1920

Cypriots have a leg-up loan but have lost some traditional ways of making a living.

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Several generations of Cypriot women ply the traditional trade of weaving.

This picture of women weaving in Cyprus was bought in 1920 for a National Geographic article with the working title "The Island of Aphrodite." Today, the Mediterranean nation might swap in austerity.

In the past few weeks the island country's failing economy has made headlines. During talks to finalize a European Union bailout—in the end a ten billion euro loan—all banks were closed and citizens lined up at ATMs, which had a strict withdrawal limit to prevent potentially disastrous runs on the banks. In addition, the Cypriot government will seize an as yet undisclosed percent of all bank deposits of more than 100,000 euros.

This isn't the first time Cypriots have faced a financial squeeze. The ruling Templars during the Crusades imposed heavy taxes and put the people's money into the construction of elaborate and costly churches and castles.

When the Ottoman Empire ruled Cyprus from 1571 to 1878, heavy taxes were levied. Britain annexed the country in 1914 and continued to tax citizens at a high rate. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus became an independent republic.

Today the country is divided between ethnic Greeks, who make up nearly 80 percent of the population, and the ethnic Turkish centered in northern Cyprus. There are strong ties to ethnic traditions in each quarter.

The photo, taken by German archaeologist Max Ohnefalsch-Richter in the 1910s, highlights the key role that weaving once played in the island culture.

Though no longer widely practiced, weaving was at that time a significant way for Cypriot women to earn money as well as an integral part of the Cypriot household. Women wove sheets, handkerchiefs, clothes, and even undergarments.

The export value of intricately woven items was considerable—the silk products of cities like Lapithos were often considered pieces of art abroad.

The colorful designs the women wove into the edges of vast expanses of white material were inspired by everyday life on Cyprus, including the little arch and the fish bone. One of the most famous patterns was the teacher's shoe—a design copied from the footwear of a visiting scholar.