Cypriot culture is a curious yet distinctive blend of European, African and Asian; the result is an experience that it is impossible to replicate. The border between south and north Cyprus has been somewhat relaxed of late allowing travellers to explore the country as a whole so consider also making the trip into North Cyprus.
Cyprus has been invaded many times over history by the Romans, Persians, Crusaders and Venetians who have all left their own particular legacies. The Romans contributed the Salamis Port and the Roman Curium. The medieval aspect is highlighted by Crusader castles, Venetian abbeys and castle. There are also quaint Byzantine churches dotted throughout the Troodos Mountains. And of course, it has to be said that Cyprus is also the birthplace of Aphrodite, although I’m sure you’ve heard that one before!
Nicosia, aka Lefkosia, is the largest Cypriot city and serves as the center of government despite being divided into two separate sections with part belonging to North Cyprus. In fact this is the only divided capital city within Europe. There are several universities there, and this is where many foreign embassies are located.
As befits any place with a long and storied history, Nicosia has many museums. A traveller can spend their holiday in this part of Cyprus just traveling to museums alone. There are relatively few tourists and as a result, this city could be seen as being more representative of Cypriot culture than most other places on the island. The museums of Nicosia include The Byzantine Museum, the Archaeological Museum, the Ledra Observatory Museum and the Leventis Municipal Museum. The side streets of the city are well suited to being explored on foot and no visitor should leave without having tried the world famous coffee served in Nicosia’s many little cafes.
Also worth a visit in Nicosia is the St. John’s Cathedral, Agios Ioannis, which was built by Archbishop Nikiforos in 1662 and is a popular tourist trap. Time your visit for early in the morning. Visit the Old Archbishop’s Palace which dates back to the 18th century and today stands directly beside the new Archbishop’s Palace which is constructed in Neo-Byzantine style in stone. Built in 1956 both the Byzantine Museum and the Library of the Archbishopric are situated here. Today the Old Archbishop’s Palace is home to the Folk Art Museum and also the National Struggle Museum.
The Tombs of the Kings is a necropolis located a little over a mile outside of Paphos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is thought to be where the aristocrats of Paphos were buried in the 4th century BC. The name is therefore somewhat inaccurate as there is no reason to believe that it is the resting place of any actual kings. It is carved out of rock and has eight elaborate complexes for travelers to explore. After its original purpose as a place for the dead, it was used by early Christians who converted one of the tombs into a church. Despite the fact that the graves have been robbed many times over the years, archaeologists have still found many artifacts in these tombs. The notable archaeological finds include three untouched tombs complete with burial gifts.
Paphos town itself is divided into two sections, upper and lower and has been occupied since the Neolithic period. Here is the very center of the legend of Aphrodite and since 1980 Paphos has been a UNESCO recognised site. The Petra Tou Romiou – Aphrodite’s Rock – is located within the sea and this is where Aphrodite was born and close to where her legendary temple was constructed in the 12th century BC by the ancient. Today the site bears witness to the remains of palaces, theatres, villas, fortresses and tombs. The cult of Aphrodite, aka Venus, Goddess of Love gives the site superior value both in terms of history and architecture. Visitors should make a special point to view the stunning Nea Paphos mosaics which are said to be the most beautiful mosaics in the world.
The recently-renovated lower section of Paphos is where visitors will find mainstream hotels, restaurants, resorts and other modern amenities. This is also where most of the town’s historical points of interest are located. Aside from the nearby Tombs of the Kings, Paphos also has the Paphos Archaeological Park. This includes the House of Dionysius with wonderful mosaics and the House of Theseus as important heritage attractions. Visitors can also explore Pafos harbour, the eerie catacombs, the Anglican Ayia Kyriaki Church which holds regular weddings and St. Paul’s Pillar.
The Troodos Mountain Range is easily reached from the main town of Limassol and stretches through the center of Cyprus and offers much for those who love hiking, climbing and walking. Among the sights you can enjoy while trekking here is the picturesque village of Kakopetria where visitors can see Cypriot life as it used to be. There are several very old churches in Kakopetria and a broad variety of ancient artwork and architecture for history-minded travelers to enjoy. The Painted Byzantine Churches of the Troodos Mountains are recognised and protected by UNESCO which includes a complex of 10 monuments which are recognised as the largest groups of monasteries and churches and monasteries within the former Byzantine Empire. The ten buildings contain intricate murals and the buildings vary from small rural churches to the superior refinement of the St John
Lampadistis monastery. Here there is also the Kykkos Monastery, the best known on the island and the Tomb of Archbishop Makarios who was both the archbishop of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the very first President of the Republic of Cyprus until his death in 1977.
The highest point on Cyprus is Mount Olympus, aka Chionistra (not to be confused with the other Olympus) which rises to 1,952 m (6,404 feet and whose slopes offer superb views over the countryside and Mediterranean.
One of the most recognised cities in Cyprus is Limassol, aka Lemesos, which has been popular with tourists for many years. And with good reason too as there is much to see and do here. Travellers can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Curium with its Greek theatre, early Christian basilica, stadia that was originally 400m long and the sanctuary. In Limassol you can enjoy a traditional Cypriot mezze lunch before the afternoon sightseeing begins. Include the Crusader’s Kolossi Castle which was built first in 1210, take a stroll along the Limassol Promenade and hit the waterpark when it all gets too hot at the Fasouri Watermania. Cat lovers should explore the cat haven of Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats, Limassol Castle which was occupied as early as 1228 is also worth a stop.
The ancient Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia was occupied on this site from 7th to the 4th millennium BC. The site was granted World Heritage Status in 1998 and is today one of the single most important prehistoric sites in the entire east Mediterranean region. Choirokoitia has thrown up many important finds from the archaeological excavations which have provided much information on human society’s evolution through the ages.