Zena Kanther: the ” Last Princess ” of Cyprus
We all have seen the impressive building near the seafront of Limassol, on Agiou Andreou Str., but have you ever wondered about its history? Pilavakis Mansion (Μέγαρο Πηλαβάκη), was named after its owner, Antonis Pilavakis and nowadays houses the Public Library of Limassol. The building itself is a one-of-a-kind architectural creation that adorns the picturesque streets of old Limassol. The construction began in 1919, was completed in 1934, and it was one of the most majestic buildings of its time, as its ornate decoration and immense size had never been seen on the island before. The blueprints of the mansion were based on the architecture of the Monaco Casino, where Pilavakis used to spend his holidays. The building is such an elegant masterpiece, that everyone in Limassol knows about it. What most locals do not know though, is the story at connects Pilavakis Mansion with Zena Kanther de Tyras: the last “princess” of Cyprus.
Here is the story of a modern Cypriot Cinderella, Zena Kanther, a girl of a poor Cypriot family from Tala village in Paphos who ended up as a cabaret dancer, then got married to an American billionaire and eventually was given the title of a “princess” from the Greek crowning Prince Pavlos. Zena had a very tough childhood as she was abused by her father, one of the many reasons she decided to leave home for a more promising future at a very young age. Coming in Limassol, she started doing various jobs, to save money and got engaged to a man who ran away after finding out she was pregnant.
In an attempt to help lift her out of poverty, a friend suggested that she start working as a cabaret dancer, to earn more money and raise her son. Even though she was misled about the working conditions, after only a few months she became famous on the entire island for her innocence, purity and classy beauty. While working in misery, her life was about to change. One night at the cabaret, she met Christian Kanther, a wealthy American who was in Cyprus for business.
Christian and Zena started out as friends but eventually became romantically involved. In 1952, they got married without her knowing about his wealth. She only found out by her husband’s lawyer, when he gave her the American passport after 3 months of their marriage. While everybody believed that she was living a fairytale, the irony was that she was suffering because of her husband’s alcoholism.
Zena, now a rich and well-known woman, didn’t let fame get to her head. She wanted to give as much as possible back to the Cypriot suffering society and became a philanthropist, spending millions of pounds. She helped build schools, hospitals, churches, she supported the homeless and the poor and also helped organise charities. One of her biggest philanthropic actions was the acquisition of the Pilavakis Mansion, and its donation to the Limassol Municipality, with the intention to turn it into a public library for the town.
On #inspirationalfriday, we will share impressive landmarks, public figures and motivated individuals that have shaped Limassol’s history or that are now creating our city’s future, contribute in our development and give inspiration to new generations.