Ten thousand years of history, hundreds of miles of pristine coastline, delectable cuisine and a renowned reputation for the hospitality of its people makes Cyprus a sought-after destination for the type of tourist that appreciates the great outdoors.
Cyprus is known for its sand and sun, but without an understanding of the ancient sites in Cyprus, one cannot truly appreciate the rich Cypriot culture. As with any topic, it’s best to start at the beginning…
Brief History of Ancient Cyprus
Archaeological evidence has demonstrated that Cyprus has been inhabited since prehistory. The Neolithic (8200-3800 BC) and Chalcolithic people (3800-2400 BC) of Cyprus left behind remnants of their everyday lives, which include simple single-room huts, stone tools and pottery. The Bronze Age (1650-1050 BC) brought with it an emigration of mainland Greeks, organized societies and trade with neighboring countries. City-kingdoms were established during the Geometric and Archaic Periods (1050-480 BC). These kingdoms had their own sovereign rulers, customs and coinage. The Classical, Hellenestic and Roman periods (480-330 AD) saw Persian control come and go with Alexander the Great’s plan to reconquer the East. Eventually polytheism died out beginning in 45 AD and the island was converted to Christianity by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas. From 1571 to 1878 Cyprus was under Ottoman control, but managed to retain its Hellenistic cultural identity.
Now let’s skip to the island’s most significant piece of modern history: Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20th, 1974. They claimed 33% of the island as their own, which forced over 200,000 native Greek Cypriots out of their northern Cyprus homes. According to the U.N. (and almost every Greek Cypriot you ask) Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus is illegal. Tourists can cross the border freely, but don’t expect to be encouraged to go see the Turkish side.
Now for the fun stuff. I have been in Cyprus for 10 days and I’ve had the opportunity to see incredible museums and ruins. Here are my top 8 ancient sites in Cyprus. If you love history as much as I do, these places will have you mesmerized with the ancient Cypriot world. I have organized them into regions.
The Cyprus Museum
This is the largest archaeological museum in Cyprus. It includes artifacts from the Neolithic Age to the Byzantine period (7th century AD). Of all the exhibits, the terracota human figures from the Bronze Age are the most impressive. There are over 2,000 of these human and animal forms on display, each in amazingly good condition. The museum also houses an ancient coin collection, various cross-shaped idols from the Chalcolithic period, gold jewelry and statues of gods and goddesses.
Kourion Archaeological Site
About 20 km west of Lemesos is the site where the ancient city-kingdom of Kourion was located. The site features a theatre, four Greco-Roman villas, public baths, a Roman agora (market), an early Christian basilica and an early Christian house. The theatre was modified by the Romans to be used by 2,000 spectators watching gladiatorial games. It has been completely restored and is still used for performances. Many of the mosaics in the villas are in superb condition. They depict gods, goddesses, hunting scenes, and blessings of the home.
Amathous Archaeological Site
Although in relatively poor condition compared to other ancient ruins in Cyprus, Amathous still merits a visit by the ancient Cyprus enthusiast. What remains of this seaside city-kingdom is from the Archaic, Roman and Christian periods. Visitors can see what remains of the baths, temple, a fountain, agora and a few other features from what once was a thriving city kingdom. Amathous was once an important place for Aphrodite worship.
Tomb of Kings
This is a major attraction in Paphos because of its large size and state of preservation. These tombs weren’t actually used to bury kings, but they are certainly fit for them. The site is a grand necropolis created from the solid rock. Each tomb is different, but there is one that’s a stunner. It features an open courtyard, pillars and several rooms.
Considered to contain some of the most intact and beautiful ancient mosaics in the Eastern Mediterranean, Paphos Mosaics is a “must” stop for anyone in Paphos. The mosaics form part of an indoor and outdoor complex of ancient villas. Each mosaic depicts something different, whether an act by a Greek god or goddess, a blessing for the home, or a scene from a mythological story. The Romans sure knew how to live it up!
Temple of Aphrodite
Nearby Paphos, in the town of Kouklia, is what remains of one of the most significant places of Aphrodite worship in ancient Cyprus. The structure is almost completely in ruins, but some of the original walls dating back to the Hellenistic period remain. There are also portions of some Roman pillars still standing. At the far end of the site is a castle housing a small museum that includes some artifacts uncovered at the temple site.
Some archaeologists believe that where the Kamares aqueduct stands now there was once a Roman aqueduct used to supply water to ancient Kition (modern-day Larnaka). What scientists can agree on is that the aqueduct that is there now was built in 1746 by the Turkish governor of Larnaka. It was used to cary water from 6 miles away until 1939, when modern plumbing made it obsolete.
Choirokoitia Archaeological Site
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, Choirokitia’s Neolithic settlement amazes and showcases the way Cypriot inhabitants lived almost 10,000 years ago. These one-room dwellings offered them protection and the ability to live in communities. The site contains reproductions of these hut dwellings to give visitors a better idea of how their homes looked. The smallest of huts were used to house their animals while the larger ones were used as sleeping quarters. These peaceful people were hunter/gatherers.
Kition Archaeological Site
Unfortunately what remains of ancient Kition pales in comparison to what it once was in its heyday. Only the bases of a few structures remain. Kition was one of Cyprus’ most prosperous city-kingdoms. It had the most important commercial port in ancient Cyprus. Modern day Larnaka would literally would have to be torn apart to uncover more of Kition. The nearby Larnaka District Archaeological Museum houses many artifacts found at the Kition archaeological site. Its exhibits also show that there was international relations between Cyprus and other area in the world via Kition’s port.
So there you have 8 of the most amazing ancient sites in Cyprus. These are by no means all there is to see. Cyprus has nearly 10,000 years of fascinating history, which you can experience when you decide to visit this sun drenched Mediterranean delight. More posts about Cyprus coming soon!
Have you been to Cyprus or planning a trip there? Tell us about it! Leave a question or comment below!