A Visit to Cyprus

Cyprus sits in the north east corner of the Mediterranean and almost every country in that neck of the woods has at one time or other invaded it. And today I’m re-visiting it; it is a country with much to offer.

I love the fact that, in Cyprus, scarlet pimpernels are royal blue

Since the 7th century BC, Cyprus has been part of the Assyrian Empire; the Egyptian Empire; the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Richard the Lionheart captured it in AD 1191 and sold it to the Knights Templar. They found it too much trouble to rule and sold it to Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, whose family held it until 1489. It was subsequently captured by the Genoese, the Egyptian Mamelukes, the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Turks. The British captured it in AD 1878, and it finally became independent in 1960, only to be invaded by the Turks in 1974.

Nowadays, after the 1974 agreement, Turkey owns the top third of the country; Greek Cypriots own the bottom two thirds. Britain, who ruled Cyprus from 1878 to 1960, retains 98 square miles with two Sovereign Base Areas at Acrotiri (a R.A.F. Base) on the south west coast and Dhekelia on the south east coast of the Greek sector. They are there partly as peacekeepers, protecting the green line which marks the border between Turkish and Greek Cyprus. They also keep an eye on the Middle East.

Prehistoric figurine in Nicosia Museum: does it celebrate the female life force – or the male? 

The agreement forbids the British Sovereign Base Areas ‘to impair the economic, commercial, and industrial unity and life of Cyprus.’ In practice, most of the SBAs are open to visitors. The fact that the road signs are unmistakably 1970s British,  gives one the faint feeling of being in a British time warp.

Such a lot of mixed-up history! I was going on an Archaeological trip, and I really didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a lot of prehistoric hut circles, a Crusader castle, some beautiful Byzantine churches and villages in the Troodos Mountains; a number of ruinous Greek temples, and some excellent mosaics – not to mention their delicious Turkish Delight!

Prehistoric hut circles in Kalavasos Tenta c. 8,500 – 7,000 BC

Let’s start with the prehistoric hut circles. The ones above have stone foundations, mud upper walls with gypsum-plastered walls and floors, some of which have traces of paint. They are also noticeably huddled close together.

Modern reconstruction of prehistoric huts.

At Khirokitia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a reconstruction of some of the houses shows you what they would have once looked like. It was here that some under floor burials were found – possibly of ancestors, there to protect the living.

Inside another reconstructed prehistoric hut at Lemba: the originals date from c. 3,400 – 2,900 BC

During the week I was in Cyprus, I saw an awful lot of hut circles! The photo above is of a roomy hut with plenty of head space. It was divided into two working areas, with kitchen and food and liquid storage space on one side and tool storage at the other side. The working area occupied about two thirds of the space, and the other third was a living and sleeping area. There was a central hearth. A covered porch led to the outside world.

Maa-Palaeokastro. 8000 BC well. 

One of the most impressive things I saw was this well which is over 10,000 years old! It is about 1.5 meters in diameter and over 8 metres deep – that doesn’t sound a lot but it’s a long way to fall; and some of the wells were much deeper. There are hand and foot holes cut into the walls so that you can climb up and down – which made me dizzy just thinking about it. The guy who showed us this well said that, when it was being excavated he, too, used the foot and hand holds. This well was in the middle of a small village with no railings to protect it – or passers by – and just dusty earth around it.

However, Cyprus has more than just Prehistoric hut circIes and wells to offer. There were some impressive remains from the Classical world, as well.

Kouklia: Aphrodite’s Sanctuary with terebinth

Once there had been a magnificent temple here, but today not much of it is left. But it has an impressive terebinth tree in the centre of the sanctuary’s fallen stones. Terebinths were important trees in the classical (and Biblical) worlds; because they tend to grow alone, and can be seen from afar – so they were valued as trees which marked a special location. There is something rather magical about terebinths – they are faintly aromatic and, somehow, very soothing to stand under.

The equipment to make Turkish Delight (or Cypriot Delight)

Nearby, I found several shops selling home-made Turkish Delight – I watched them make it! I love Turkish Delight, both the pink variety and the lemon yellow, particularly with nuts. Unfortunately, I discovered that even small boxes of it are much heavier than you think – which cut back my greed to reasonable levels.


 Nea Paphos: The Archaeological Park – the Odeon

It was wonderful to see the Archaeological Park in Nea Paphos: there are houses, some with wonderful mosaics, public buildings like the baths and the Odeon and I felt very cheered. This is what I’ve been wanting to see!

View towards the lighthouse through Persian lilacs.

I first discovered Persian lilacs in Egypt and nobody could tell me what they were – at least not in English. Now I learnt that these wonderfully colourful trees were Persian lilacs which, amazingly, have blossom and seeds at the same time! The photo above shows clearly the blossom (purple) and the seeds in their cases (walnut brown).

Mosaic of Pan, Silenus and Dionysos

There are a number of houses with mosaics in the Archaeological Park, for example, above. I don’t know who the figure on the left is, but, next to him is the god Pan, with horns on his head and with goats’ legs; next to him is Silenus, Dionysos’s tutor, usually portrayed as a drunken old man with a paunch, and then comes the god Dionysos, (the Roman god, Bacchus) associated with wine and a fertility cult.

Mosaic including Poseidon, the god of the sea with his trident, (the Roman Neptune) and his wife, Amphitrite?

I don’t know why Eros (the Roman Cupid) is hovering above. Perhaps the female isn’t Poseidon’s wife, after all.

A latrine

It’s not all beautiful mosaics, though; above is a latrine. We don’t often see ancient latrines– but, after all, every house needs them!

St Nicholas of the Roof – a church up in the Troodos Mountains

One day, we went up into the Troodos Mountains to see the  Byzantine ‘pained churches’, which are covered in lively, meticulously-detailed wall paintings depicting Jesus’s life. The traditional style of the paintings, which has remained remarkably constant for over 800 years, is because the icons were seen as important tools in teaching the eternal holy truths about Christianity. Fortunately, we had an expert in iconography with us who explained the significance of various traditional images – such as Jesus having a large, un-baby like head. The answer is that Jesus was not as other babies – he was a divine child, not just a baby, but God come down to earth as well, so this was how he was represented.

Sadly, the previous year, the Troodos Mountains had suffered a number of destructive wild fires which destroyed many of the mountains’ plants and trees. It was a very sad sight.

The church bell with its tiled roof is separate from Panagia Podhithou church

I liked this photo because it shows some of the undamaged scenery up in the mountains and the bell itself is very attractive.

I’m now moving forward in time to the Crusades of the 11th-13th centuries; when Cyprus was owned by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller.

Kolossi Castle

Kolossi Castle was built in 1210 by the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitaller). It changed hands numerous times and was destroyed by the Genoese and by Mamelukes (from Egypt) – and also by earthquakes. The original castle was itself built over the remains of an early Christian basilica (4th-7th century AD.)

The inside of the Castle

There’s not a lot to see inside the castle; having said that, it’s a pleasant space with its warm, slightly honey-coloured stone.

The ruined sugar refinery next to the castle

Next to the castle you can see the ruins of a sugar refinery. Originally, the Knights of St John stood amid vineyards and the Knights made their own wine. The local Commandaria wine comes from here.

(We also spent some time in a sympathetically restored, still inhabited, traditional Cypriot village – in the foothills of the Troodos mountains. I did a blog on it on June 17th, 2016: Kakopetria: a traditional Cypriot Village.)

And I haven’t even touched on the Cypriot museums, but time is running out. I think this is quite long enough.

Nicosia – this is the line that divides Turkish Cyprus from Greek Cyprus, and it goes straight through the middle of Nicosia.

It is impossible to forget that Cyprus is now a divided country. I’m ending here, with the photograph of the row of houses which are on the Turkish side of the ‘green line’ between the post 1974 division of Cyprus into Turkish Cyprus in the north and Greek Cyprus on the south. The ‘barricade’ might look flimsy but it is nonetheless real.

Just think of the emotional shock of having a visible border down the middle of Oxford Street! When I visited, the Turkish presence in Nicosia was low key and confined to small groups of what looked like very young Turkish soldiers. They carry weapons, casually, but, otherwise, they are quiet and non-threatening.

The houses’ owners (Greek Cypriots from the south) cannot now live in what was once their own homes, and the boarding up of the houses is a poignant reminder of the pain of a country now divided.

I have touched only on historic Cyprus; I know that it is also a popular country of sea, sand and sunshine. Let’s hope we can visit it again soon.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Twitter: @Hawksley_E

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9 thoughts on “A Visit to Cyprus”

    1. Thank you, Jan – it was almost like visiting Cyprus all over again myself! And we had some lovely meals, too. I remember going up into the hills very much off the beaten track to a restaurant called ‘8 Georges’. It was a very simple place with farm implements hanging on the whitewashed walls. George, the owner, was big and burly with lots of hair and a generous beard. He looked like a farmer. His 3 sons worked for him, one cooks and the other two serve. You pay a flat fee and you get dozens of delicious mezes with 3 different sorts of meat and whatever George wants to give you. It just goes on and on. Everyone got very merry and we all had a wonderful time.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. I really enjoyed re-visiting it for this post! I’d forgotten how wonderful the ‘painted churches’ were up in the Troodos Mountains. They were painted floor to ceiling – including the ceiling itself. It was like stepping inside a jewel casket! Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs.

  1. Thanks for this interesting post, Elizabeth. I love Cyprus and have visited both the Greek part and the Turkish part several times over the last twenty nine years. I even remember the area now called the Archaeological Park in Paphos before it was tidied up and organised! Fabulous island if you are a fan of history and/or food. Some lovely beaches too.

    1. Lucky you, Gail! I’d love to visit Turkish Cyprus. There are some fantastic sites there I’d love to see – like Salamis. I enjoy seeing the sea but I’m not so keen on getting in it (eczema) or sunbathing (I burn too easily). Holidays with ruins are more my thing!

  2. What an archeologicaly rich and divert place! I suppose it being place of political tension makes it a little less popular for tourists. Hopefully cool heads will prevail.
    I shall have to add this to the “Places Seen on the Elizabeth Hawksley Blog that I Must Visit” list.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Huon. Normally, Cyprus (at least Greek Cyprus – I don’t know about Turkish Cyprus) is a popular place to visit for those seeking sun and sea. The hotel we stayed in had a large outdoor swimming pool and dozens of tourists the colour of kippers, with drinks on trays beside them. Not my scene – but there we are.

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