Published: September 1st 2011September 1st 2011
The most famous landmark of Cyprus
This blog covers two visits to Cyprus, two weeks in the spring of 2010, and eight days in the early summer of 2011. In both cases, I was accompanying my wife who was going there for business. We used an apartment in Limassol as our base, and took several day trips from there to the different sites around the island. During these visits I managed to see most of the regions of the island, with the exception of the Famagusta and Karpas regions in Northern Cyprus, and the Akamas Peninsula in the Republic of Cyprus. We used a mix of public transportation, car rental, and organized tours for getting to places; Cyprus is not a place where one can get to most attractions by public transportation, although the bus system is good for trips between towns.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
The island of Cyprus is usually seen as the typical sea-and-sun destination, of the Mediterranean variety. While Cyprus does offer this kind of holiday and many (or most) tourists visit Cyprus for this reason, it is also a particularly rich region in the historical and archeological sense, particularly so for a small island (although not so small relative
Ruins of Kourion
One of the best preserved classical sites in Cyprus
to other Mediterranean islands at 9,251 sq km, third largest after Sicily and Sardignia). It also has quite a range of natural landscapes for its size, including mountains that are high enough to be snow-covered in the winter, forests, salt lakes, and a beautiful, diverse coastline which includes sandy beaches and sheer cliff drop-offs, and combinations of these.
The reason for Cyprus’ archeological and historical richness is due to its location of strategic importance, as a portal between the Middle East and Europe. This, combined with a natural endowment of copper, a mineral which was key to one of civilizations’ most important phases, the Bronze Age, ensured it would have a strategic value disproportionate to its size. In fact, copper gets its name from the island, which indicates both the metal’s importance in ancient times as well as the historical relevance of Cyprus. And so, Cyprus became host to a whole series of civilizations, beginning with the first agricultural societies which came over from the Middle East’s “fertile crescent”, just a hop across the sea from Cyprus. Cyprus’ importance continued through the ages, with Mycenean Greek, Classical Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish (Crusader), Venetian, Ottoman Turk, and finally British
civilizations all leaving their mark on the island. Lastly, in 1974 Turkey invaded the northern third of Cyprus under the justification of protecting Turkish ethnic minorities and established The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, only recognized by Turkey. Visitors nowadays however are able to cross freely between the North and South only by presenting their passports at the border.
HIGHLIGHTS OF CYPRUS
Venetian and Crusader Forts and Fortifications: These are the most conspicuous of Cyprus’ archeological/historical sites, as many are located within town boundaries and are in very complete shape. Some of the best examples are: Limassol Castle, Kyrenia Castle, Othello Tower in Famagusta, Kolossi Tower near Limassol, the walls and fortifications surrounding Nicosia and Famagusta, and the castles on the Kyrenia Range.
Classical Archeological sites: the sites of Kourion, Kea Pafos, and Salamis are the most important Classical-era remains on the island. Kea Pafos is notable for its Roman mosaics, Kourion for its theatre and location on a sea-viewing promontory, and Salamis for its gymnasium where several well-preserved Hellenistic-era sculptures were found.
Byzantine Churches and Monasteries: Several of these are UNESCO-listed, particularly those in the Troodos mountains, and contain beautiful, well-preserved and colourful Byzantine-era frescos
in their interiors.
Beaches and Coast Formations: Including Aphrodite’s Rock (the most famous beach in Cyprus), the Agia Napa sea caves, Cape Greco promontory, and remote sandy beaches on the Akamas and Karpas peninsulas.
Nature Trails: Particularly in the Troodos Mountains and Akamas Peninsula regions, but also in several places along the coast. Many form part of Europe’s mega-trail system.
Mountain Villages: The cities and towns on the coast are not particularly attractive, but there are some very nice villages in the Troodos Massif and Akamas Heights areas.
Underwater Archeology: For those who have a scuba-diving license, several ship wrecks and some classical ruins can be seen off the coast of Cyprus.
Possibly the tourist “capital” of the Republic of Cyprus, Limassol is not an attractive town, but is probably the most convenient as a base to explore the island, due to its location in the center-south, as well as its good road links with all other towns in the Republic of Cyprus. It also has an extensive beach-side promenade fronting a long beach that, while not particularly beautiful, is very convenient to the sun-and-soak crowd that frequents the island. The promenade
Sea-side Promenade, Limassol
Promenade crossing the Amathous ruins
is also chock-full of cafes, restaurants, shops, and night clubs, particularly in its so-called “tourist-area”, where the hotels and tourist apartments are located. Where historically Cyprus has been a hotspot for British visitors, increasingly tourist facilities are catering to Russian tourists, which by some accounts currently constitute about 70% of tourism to the island, and are projected to increase in proportion. Signs in Cyrillic and Russian language are heard everywhere, so that effectively the Republic of Cyprus is trilingual, with Greek, Russian, and English being spoken, in different combinations, by visitors and locals.
The beaches along the promenade are no great shakes, having dirt-color (yet clean) sand and for the most part not being particularly wide, but they do have calm, clear waters protected by breakwaters and offer plenty of facilities.
At one end of the tourist promenade, is Limassol’s old town center, whose highlight is the Limassol Castle, which is a very interesting and atmospheric place to visit. This medieval castle was built by the Byzantines around 1000 AD. Around the same period, a chapel was also built there. Richard the Lionheart is supposed to have married his fiancée Princess Berengaria of Navarre on this site after
Old Town Limassol
her ship was grounded nearby in 1191 as she accompanied him to the Third Crusade, on his way to Holy Land. The Castle was used as a prison between 1790–1940 and it now serves as a medieval museum. The collection that the museum provides covers the era of 400 - 1870 AD. A visitor can see numerous exhibits: cannons, wood carvings of the 17th and 18th century, paintings and tombstones, statues, suits of armour, coins, terracotta, metalware and pottery, glass and marble articrafts. The top floor has a terrace with views of downtown Limassol and the sea.
Not much else remains from this or other historical periods in downtown Cyprus; there are a couple of churches, a mosque, a hammam (Turkish bath), as well as the shell of an old Carob Mill which is currently occupied by an exhibition space and a restaurant/bar. However, recent efforts to clean up the city center accidentally uncovered more archeological structures so it remains to be seen if there will be more architectural heritage to be explored in Limassol’s Old Town. Other than this, the Old Town’s main function is as a commercial center, with plenty of shops, a central market, and offices
catering to both tourists and residents.
At the eastern end of Limassol, at the other end of the tourist area, are the ruins of the classical city of Amathous, not as complete as other archeological sites on the island, but located on a slope facing the sea, literally spilling onto the water (some of the ancient town’s port facilities have been found underwater), they provide a beautiful backdrop for a sea front walkway well worth a stroll or a jog. Other beach-front promenades well worth a walk are the long promenade that begins at the old port and has a park and benches, and the section in front of the Amathous Beach Hotel. Here are a couple of views of the seaside promenade that runs in front of the Amathous ruins – the walkway is literally over the sea, and you can view sections of walls jutting out from the cliffside next to the walkway.