American tourists have a fondness for visiting the islands and countries of the Mediterranean. I suspect, however, that relatively few Americans have visited Cyprus. Yet, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean – after Sicily and Sardinia. The geography of Cyprus places it at the crossroads of civilization. Consequently, Cyprus has a rich history. Visitors can explore remarkable UNESCO archaeological sites and rich churches or monasteries from Early Christian to Byzantine Period. The landscape includes rugged mountains, sparkling coastlines, rich vineyards and charming villages where old traditions remain. The climate is pleasant year round.
So, please allow me to introduce some of the highlights of a trip to Cyprus. The entire town of Pafos is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. In antiquity, Pafos was the capital of Cyprus. Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, emerged from waves that crash on the shores of Pafos. Aphrodite’s Rock marks the spot of her birthplace. It was on Pafos that a cult to Aphrodite developed and, therefore, population sites emerged. Excavations constitute an archaeological park with sites and monuments from prehistoric times to the middle ages. However, most remains date from the Roman period. Excavations have uncovered spectacular 3-5th century mosaic floors of four Roman villas. The mosaics have been buried for sixteen centuries but remain intact. They are considered to be some of the finest in the eastern Mediterranean. The mosaics depict scenes of Greek mythology in beautiful color and design. Nearby is the Odeon Theater (2nd century AD) where outdoor concerts, plays and games were held in antiquity. At the “Tombs of the Kings” there are monumental underground tombs carved out of solid rock dating back to the 3rd century BC. Some are decorated with Doric pillars. Probably high ranking officials were buried here. However, the magnificence of the tombs gave the place its grand name. Nearby is a church built in the 13th century over the ruins of the largest early Byzantine basilica on the island. St. Paul’s pillar is situated in the courtyard of the church and the place where legend says that the apostle, Paul, was flogged before converting the then Roman governor to Christianity. Agios Neofytus Monastery was founded in the 12th century by a Cypriot hermit who carved a church out of a cave. It contains some of the finest Byzantine frescoes dating from the 12-15th centuries. Adjacent to the church is the cell belonging to the hermit.
Limassol is the second largest city of Cyprus. The Kolossi Castle is an example of military architecture. The present structure built in the 15th century stands on an original castle built in the 13th century. It was the headquarters for the knights of St. John and later the Templar knights. Since Kourion was an important city-kingdom in antiquity, yet another impressive archaeological site is located here. There is a Greco-Roman theater originally built in the 2nd century AD. It has been restored and is used for performances today. The “House of Eustolios” originally was a private villa but was turned into a public recreation area. The baths have been excavated to show the foundations, the pipe lines and heating areas. Once again, there are unbelievably intact and beautiful mosaic floors. The nearby village of Omodos is a wine producing village. Here, you can visit the cobblestone streets of one of the most picturesque villages in Cyprus. Have lunch and taste the local wine.
Nicosia was a fortified city in the 1500’s with stone walls and massive gates. The Famagusta Gate still stands today encircling the thousand year old city. The old town has been carefully restored. As you wander through narrow stone streets, you will find charming shops, tavernas and centuries old magic. The Cyprus Museum and Byzantine Museum are located here. The priceless collections will help you gain perspective on all that you have experienced. Unfortunately, Nicosia remains the only divided capital in the world. The Green Zone marks the dividing line where the city was separated in 1974. The northern half of the island is occupied by Turkey.
This is, merely, a glimpse of the treasures of Cyprus. There are multiple routes to explore. What ever route you take, you can satisfy your curiosity about nature, antiquity, religion or history. You will find a country unspoiled by tourism but, yet, well prepared for tourism. Accommodations are world class. The food is wonderful. The fish is fresh and meats are tastefully grilled. The wine is a fine accompaniment to the food.
You cannot be disappointed. Visit Cyprus alone or in conjunction with other nearby countries like Greece or Israel. Rendezvous with Aphrodite! Come to Cyprus and enjoy the magic of this island gem!