Located at the crossroads of sea routes between three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – the island of Cyprus has long been influenced by a variety of cultures. Nevertheless, the works of different eras now and then reveal the completely original character of the Cypriot culture.
According to health-beauty-guides, the cozy Mediterranean island of Cyprus has always flourished. According to an ancient myth, the first for its permanent residence was chosen by the gods. True, the progenitors of everything that exists on Earth – the god Uranus and his wife Gaia – were a very strange couple. However, the Cypriots are not too inspired by the memories of this odious family. But they honor the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite, according to legend, born from sea foam near their island. Not far from the small town of Kouklia, you can see the ruins of the once majestic temple of Aphrodite. It was destroyed by the islanders themselves and generations of tourists who were looking for the mythical treasure of the goddess.
Near the city of Paphos, the historical and cultural capital of the western part of the island, is the Akamas nature reserve. Here Aphrodite, according to legend, equipped her bath for love meetings, and, of course, Aphrodite’s baths are included in the mandatory program of any group excursions or individual car trips. There is an opinion that everyone who plunges into this natural spring water pool acquires beauty for many years. However, the Cypriot authorities forbid swimming in a sacred place (the corresponding sign warns about this), apparently wanting to save numerous tourists from possible disappointment. However, nothing is said about washing, and visitors, especially women, use it.
In Cyprus, almost every city keeps the memory of some significant historical event. In Limassol, for example, in 1191, King Richard the Lionheart of England was married to Princess Berengaria of Navarre. The ceremony took place in the fortress chapel of the Kolkhoi castle, later converted into a prison.
However, the most important event in Limassol took place long before King Richard and had an impact on the entire course of the history of civilization. The fact is that, according to local residents, it was here that winemaking was invented. Even King Solomon in the “Song of Songs” glorified Cypriot grapes, and the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo wrote that Cypriot wine is the best in the world.
It is believed here that the grape press was invented and presented to the Cypriots by the god of sunlight, Apollo, the vine was planted by Aphrodite, and the first winegrower of the island became her lover. The press is still working in a vineyard near the village. The highest grade of Cypriot wine is namas or “commandaria”. In Shakespeare’s play, Mark Antony says to Cleopatra: “You are as sweet as the Namas wine of Cyprus.”
The ruins of the ancient city of Kourion are located on a steep 70-meter cliff, from where a surprisingly beautiful coastal landscape opens up. In ancient times, a high steep cliff served not only aesthetic purposes, but was also an insurmountable barrier to enemies. Ancient Kourion is the most famous archaeological site of Cyprus, the oldest city that died in the 4th century from a strong earthquake. Kourion was mentioned by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. It is believed that the settlement of Kourion in 1200 BC. founded by the Greek soldiers who participated in the Trojan War. Kourion was one of the many city-states of ancient Cyprus.
In 1949-50, during excavations in Kourion, an ancient theater was discovered. The theater of Kourion was built in the II century. BC, and after 400 years they significantly improved and expanded. Initially, it was a relatively small theater, on the stage of which the classical tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, as well as the comedies of Aristophanes, were staged. The theater, along with Kourion, survived a series of earthquakes in 77 AD, but was rebuilt and expanded again to its present size. The entire structure consisted of massive limestone blocks.
The theater accommodated approximately 3500 spectators, the theater building was decorated with spiral columns. The theater was used until the middle of the second half of the 6th century AD, until it was completely destroyed by earthquakes. The theater, like Kourion, was abandoned and plundered. Most of the seats, the aisle decorations, the magnificent stage construction and the amazing colonnade have disappeared. In 1961 the amphitheater was completely restored. Despite the fact that it lacks its former chic, the theater is quite functional. Currently, during the summer months, the theater hosts performances of Greek tragedy.
The beginning of the decline of Kourion, as one of the main city-states of the island, apparently, was laid by a devastating earthquake of the 4th century, and finally people left here in the 7th century, fleeing from the Arab conquerors. In the middle of the 19th century, a huge amount of historical treasures were taken from the island by foreigners.
On the site of former houses and Roman baths (terms) of the ancient city, mosaics of amazing beauty have been preserved. The images on them of fish and birds – symbols of early Christianity prove that the inhabitants of Kourion adopted Christianity around the 4th century BC. AD
Also of interest are the ruins of the “public house” – the house of Eustolius, dated to the 7th century AD. The building complex was built of limestone and consisted of more than 30 different rooms, including several swimming pools. Now only ruins remain from the former splendor, but the mosaics in the halls are surprisingly well preserved! This is something incredible – such beauty has survived so many thousands of years and has come down to us almost untouched, despite wars, natural disasters and the passage of time!
Sanctuary of Apollo (2 km from Kourion)
Apollo in the myths of the ancient Greeks and Cypriots is the son of Zeus and Leto, the brother of Artemis, the Olympic god. At the same time, he was a god – an arrowhead, sending death and disease. Apollo personified the Sun, and his sister Artemis – the Moon. Apollo combined many honorable and not very duties: the god-healer, the leader and patron of the muses, the patron of sciences and arts, the predictor of the future, the guardian of herds, roads, travelers and sailors.
Apollo Khilatsky was considered the patron of forests and forest animals and, at the same time, the city of Kourion. According to the ancient Cypriots, the fertility of the soil, the purity of the air, the stability of the weather, the climate, and the change of seasons depended on his mercy. The Sanktuary of Apollo Hylates did not have the worldwide fame that the temple of the goddess Aphrodite in Paphos enjoyed at one time. The temple in his honor was built in a beautiful place, and over the centuries it was rebuilt many times. The sanctuary has been known since the 7th century. BC, and what can be seen now was built in the 1st century. AD
Especially informative for archaeologists were excavations at the site of the garbage ditches of the sanctuary. An analysis of the ashes led to the conclusion that mainly lambs were sacrificed to the god. In one of the ditches, the priests regularly dropped offerings from believers, for whom there was simply no room in the temple: small clay figurines of animals and praying people. To earn their livelihood, the priests sold the sacrifices and cult accessories, just as crosses and icons are now sold in church shops.
An amazingly beautiful place sheltered this wonderful monument: slender and proud cypress trees tower around, languidly spread branches of lush exotic trees and shrubs; harmony reigns in this blooming “world”. It is as if nature comes to life here, here with all your being you feel immersion in a magical, fabulous space. Here the air abounds with amazing aromas, the spirit of bliss and tranquility hovers here, a state of spirituality and sublimity arises here, here you feel like a part of the almighty and beautiful nature.
You can enter the sanctuary either through the western (from the side of Paphos) gate, or through the eastern (from the side of Kourion). In front of the small temple there is a series of steps leading to the place where the altar used to be. This is indicated by the remains of several columns in a characteristic combination. As they say, only the priest had the right to approach this place and touch the altar. However, there were daredevils (either crazy, or desperate, or maybe something else, incomprehensible to modern man, pushed them to a fatal act), who nevertheless made it to the altar. A terrible punishment awaited them. According to the historian Stravon, those who dared to touch or approach the altar were thrown from the high cliffs of Kourion.
The image of the temple of Apollo is replicated on many postcards and even placed, as one of the most famous sights of Cyprus, on a box of Turkish delight.
Petra tou Romiou
Homer tells in the Iliad about the most beautiful flowering island of the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of which the most beautiful goddess of Olympus, Aphrodite, was born from the foam of the sea. At the foot of the Petra tou Romiou rock, emerald foamy waves have been beating for an eternity – it was here that “with a smile of the lovely Cyprida” came to earth.
The legendary birthplace of Aphrodite got its name – Petra tou Romiou – from one of the many exploits of the Byzantine hero Digenis Akritas. To drive away the Saracens, who were trying to take over the city, Digenis, according to his habit, began to throw huge blocks of stone towards the invaders. One of these blocks is called Petra tou Romiou (Greek Stone), it is located exactly at the place where, according to legend, the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite emerged from the sea foam.
Once bathed in the magical waves that gave birth to the goddess, lovers, according to legend, will never part. There is a belief that if you swim past this stone at night on a full moon, you can find eternal youth.
Petra tou Romiou is one of the most beautiful places on the whole island. The air here is transparent and pure; colors are unique, bright, rich; the landscape is great! Here the feeling of reality almost disappears, such a gentle, exciting beauty of the landscape seems ephemeral, fragile, like a dream, like a child’s fantasy. Having visited this wonderful place, you will give yourself unforgettable moments of bliss, tranquility, reverent admiration.
Kolossi Castle is one of the main attractions of Cyprus. The castle is located about 10 km west of Limassol. And the road to the castle passes through citrus plantations, framed by cypress alleys that protect delicate orange and lemon trees from the wind.
Initially, back in 1291, crusaders settled in these places, who in the XIV century. replaced by the knights of the Order of St. John (Joannites), better known in the world as the Knights of the Order of Malta. The Ioannites were engaged in the cultivation of sugar cane (the former sugar factory is located in the immediate vicinity of the Kolossi castle) and grapes. It is from here that the famous wine of Cyprus “Commandaria” is believed to have gone. This name, in fact, comes from the word “Commander” – the headquarters of the Johnites. Then the whole area in which this wine is produced was named after the name of the wine. Perhaps it was this wine that was treated to the guests at the wedding of the legendary King Richard the Lionheart and his beloved Berengaria of Navarre, who were married in Kolossi Castle.
The current castle was built in 1454, under the command of Louis de Magnac. The three-story tower of the fortress, almost 25 m high, has a wall thickness of more than 2.5 m. They entered the castle via a drawbridge and immediately got into the living quarters of the second floor. On the third floor were the chambers of the commander. Below, in the basement, there were wells.
The castle looks almost like new from the outside – the crusader fortification, erected under Richard the Lionheart, was later rebuilt. Inside it is completely empty – no exhibits, only photographs and covered with glass, so as not to scratch, the fresco “Crucifixion” on the wall to the right of the entrance. However, they already managed to scratch it pretty well.
The empty chambers located on the second floor look impressive, although not as natural as in the castle of Limassol. From the decoration they only have fireplaces with coats of arms. The belligerence of the castle is given by a drawbridge, through which, in fact, they get into it, the remains of a moat, a carved stone balcony and the coats of arms of the Lusignans and Jerusalem on the facade. In the courtyard of the castle, a giant cypress and a sprawling mahaerium tree, gnarled from old age, attract attention. There is an observation deck on the roof – from here you can clearly see the fields, vineyards, orange plantations and the road along which you arrived, and behind them – the sea and Limassol.
One of the most beautiful and revered monasteries in Cyprus is the Kykkos Monastery. On an almost sheer slope are the buildings of the richest monastery in Cyprus, which has experienced all the hardships and joys that have befallen the inhabitants of Cyprus over 900 years of its existence. The monastery had its own possessions even on the Black Sea coast, and in Cyprus the monastery is to this day the largest landowner. It is said that in 1821 the Turks who plundered the monastery took away gold and silver items from here on 16 camels. The history of the emergence of the monastery is unusual.
One day, the Byzantine governor of Cyprus, Manuel Vutomitis, while hunting in the Troodos, got lost and, wandering through the forest for a long time, met the old hermit Isaiah. The ruler asked the old man where he was and how he could return to the capital, but the hermit, who had retired from the world, did not answer. The viceroy got angry and hit the man of God. Returning home, Manuil Vutomitis suddenly fell ill with “shatika” (a kind of paralysis) and then, remembering how he treated the hermit, he sent his subjects to the mountains with instructions to bring him. As soon as Vutomitis asked for forgiveness from Isaiah, there was no trace of the disease. As a reward, the hermit took the word from Vutomitis that he should bring from Constantinople the sacred icon of the Mother of God – one of the three icons painted by the Apostle Luke during the life of the Mother of God herself. This icon is a kind of “portrait” of the Virgin Mary.
For a long time, Vutomitis did not dare to fulfill his request, as he was sure that the Emperor of Byzantium would never part with such a valuable relic. However, in the end, he went to Constantinople, taking the hermit Isaiah with him.
While they were in Constantinople and pondering how to convince the Emperor to transfer the sacred icon to Cyprus, the following happened. The only daughter of the Emperor fell ill with the same disease that had previously afflicted Vutomitis. The doctors were powerless, the girl remained bedridden. Then Vutomitis appeared before the Emperor and told him how he himself was cured of this disease.
The hermit Isaiah was immediately brought to the Emperor, and after his fervent prayer, the Emperor’s daughter fully recovered. To celebrate, the Emperor offered the monk any reward, but Isaiah only repeated his request. The Byzantine Emperor did not want to part with the icon of the Mother of God and was looking for an excuse to keep it. But when the same disease struck him, he had to do what the hermit asked.
The emperor sent Vutomitis and Isaiah to Cyprus with a promise to send a priceless relic. Meanwhile, he himself invited the artist to make a copy of the icon. When the Mother of God appeared to him in a dream, he realized that it was necessary to send the original to Cyprus and also sent money to build a monastery specifically for this icon.
The monastery was built in the Troodos forests, exactly in the place where Vutomitis met the hermit Isaiah. With the greatest care, the sacred icon was transferred to the Kykkos monastery, where it is kept to this day. The icon of the Mother of God, which is located in the monastery of Kykkos, has miraculous power. Anyone who comes to her with faith, she heals. This wonderful property of hers attracts many pilgrims here not only on the days of the celebration of Christmas and the Assumption of the Virgin. In 1795, the icon received a silver setting that covered the image, and since then no one has seen it. They say that the holiness of the image is so great that not every person can withstand it.
Stavrovouni Monastery is located 37 km from Larnaca on the top of a high mountain. The monastery was founded in the 4th century. AD Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena. She also gave the monastery a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Women are not allowed in the monastery.
There is a legend that the place where the monastery was built was indicated by the Lord himself. In the early spring of 327, a Roman ship was caught in a severe storm off the southern coast of Cyprus. It began to get dark. The helmsman and his two assistants barely held the helm, anxiously peering into the darkness in search of a harbor in which to take shelter from the storm. There was nothing suitable. The ship was on the verge of being thrown onto the rocks of the island by the raging sea. At that moment, someone vigorously shook the helmsman by the shoulder. He turned around in annoyance and saw one of the guards of the personal guards of Empress Helena, who was a passenger of this ship. (Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, was returning to Rome after a pilgrimage to Palestine).
– The Empress told me to tell you that she prayed to our Lord Jesus Christ and made a vow to found a monastery and five churches in Cyprus, if the Lord saves us during this storm. And she told me to convey that she knew for sure that her prayer had been heard.
The helmsman wanted to say something to this, but at that time his assistant shouted: “Land! Earth! I see a mountain! Instead of any caustic remark, the helmsman ordered to convey to the empress that the Lord heard her requests and it can be considered that they were saved. The ship will be safe soon. The helmsman knew this place very well, where you can hide from the storm at the mouth of the river, which flows into the sea near Mount Olympus.
According to legend, this is how Saint Helena arrived in Cyprus, making a long pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, she organized excavations at Golgotha. Guided by biblical texts and some other historical sources, we managed to find the burial place of Christ and even the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Before returning to Rome, Elena ordered the cross of the Lord to be sawn into two parts and took half of it with her. She also took the cross of the repentant and forgiven by the Lord robber Diaz.
On the way to Cyprus, during a storm, the empress had a wonderful dream in which an angel appeared to her and informed the will of the Lord – to build a monastery and leave in it a part of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. The next morning it turned out that the cross of the robber Diaz disappeared from the ship in the most mysterious way. And in the evening, travelers, seeing the wonderful radiance around Mount Olympus, found the ruins of a pagan temple at the very top and, in some incomprehensible way, the cross of Diaz that ended up there. So the Lord indicated the construction site of the Stavrovouni monastery. Since that time, the mountain itself has been called “Cross” (in Greek, “cross” is stavros).
In the village of Kouklia, built on the ruins of ancient Palea Paphos, is the most important sanctuary of Aphrodite in the ancient world. It was mentioned by the ancient Greek historian Homer. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here. Local beliefs ordered women in honor of Aphrodite to have sexual intercourse with an unfamiliar man at least once. It is believed that it was in the temple of Aphrodite that mass orgies took place. The tradition of such an unusual way of worshiping the goddess was brought to naught only in the 4th century. AD with the approval of Christianity with its stricter moral principles. The temple gradually collapsed. Under the Lusignans, the stone from its walls was used to build sugar factories.
The building consisted of two parts: the southern one was built by the Romans on the ruins of a Bronze Age building and was a wall surrounding a holy place with altars and an indoor hall located there. The other part, restored in the 1st c. BC. after the earthquake, included several halls and an open courtyard. Little remains of this part of the building: several bases of columns, part of the foundation and some parts of the mosaic from the Roman era.
In this area, small statues and pottery were discovered, which are kept today in the archaeological museum of Kouklia. The museum is housed in a castle built by the Lusignans. The greatest interest of visitors is, as a rule, a black polished phallic stone (a symbol of Aphrodite, love, fertility) and a unique collection of Cypriot syllabic and Greek inscriptions.