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The Island of Cyprus

October 1999



Dan and I had a week on our own so..............

Welcome to Paphos, southwest Cyprus!

I had just finished reading a book called 'Beloved Physician' which was all about the life of Saint Luke and was now all fired up about visiting some of the places mentioned. Many Greek Cypriots living there have relatives in the U.K. A chance meeting with Moya, an old teaching colleague just a week before the start of this trip proved useful. Apparently, her family home had been in Paphos and her parents still lived there. We would only be visiting the 'Greek' side of the island as border patrols prohibit you from crossing into the Turkish part, but enough of politics.................  


We stayed in the 'Roman Hotel' which was situated across the street from the 'catacombs' in the archaeological area of town. The hotel itself was stucco work that had been painted to look old and there were huge frescoes on the wall. Our room was a mixture of fake 'Doric' columns and loud frescoes but once you turned out the light it was a room, like any other. Quite like this one here in fact!

It was quite useful to be close to all the major sites as this was not to be a beach holiday as such, although there are many beaches in the area, albeit rocky ones.

Nearby is the site of the early Christian Basilica. In the ruins of this 'Frankish Church' as it was later called, you can find the stone pillar on which, according to local tradition, Saint Paul was chained and flogged for preaching Christianity. 

For anyone who is interested, this account can be found in the New Testament, Acts 13, 1-13.

This same site still had the remains of an incredibly well kept mosaic stone floor.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind having a floor like this in my house............if only I could find the skilled workmen to do it. But maybe that's asking too much of British workmanship! After all, this floor was probably laid by slaves who didn't even have a tea-break, let alone 'choccy biscuits'.

We took a trip back to the small church on this site for the Sunday service and arrived early to get some more pictures. Although it was a very small building the inside of the domed stone roof was incredibly well preserved. The interior of the building was cold but 'cosy' with various icons adorning the walls. We were surprised at how many people packed into such a tiny space for the service!


 

This was the back view of the church. You can see the remains of the Basilica's Byzantine columns that have survived to this day!

It was hard to appreciate  that in this small part of Cyprus there was so much historical evidence, spanning so many different eras. It was much easier to understand how it had been in Biblical times, especially after you had walked around the ruins in the heat.

This view shows the ruined Byzantine foundations which formed the floor of the Basilica. As you can see the whole area would have been much bigger than the small church which is  standing there today.


Here is Dan sitting on top of the old Turkish fort in the harbour. In the background you can just see the lighthouse and surrounding areas where most of the famous antiquities like the mosaic floors can be found. This area is know as Neo or Kato Paphos as the town is some distance behind. Most of ruins of the mosaic floors were only discovered in 1962 when a farmer was ploughing the land here.


This gives  a better view of the working harbour front. The town of Paphos can be seen curving around to the right. This area is where the town has expanded to encompass the growing tourist industry and even though it now has its own airport which is further afield, Paphos has retained much of its old world charm which runs alongside its new world image of McDonalds and modern hotel  complexes. 


Every day  fishermen bring in their catch which tourists and locals alike eat at one of the  seafood restaurants along the waterfront or take home to prepare for the evening meal. The cuisine on the island is mostly Greek but many European dishes can be found due to its cosmopolitan history.


Here is one of the mosaic floors. This one was found in the 'House of Dionysus' which was believed to belong to a wealthy Roman citizen and dates from the late 2nd century AD. It covers an area of some 21,500 square feet encompassing many rooms displaying a variety of mosaic floors and passageways, each with a different theme. A lot of these rooms have been 'roofed' to keep of the elements. These floors are a major tourist attraction and have also attracted archaeologists from all over the world to come and 'dig' here. The original dig was funded by Russia who sent specialists to uncover these beautiful floors. Since then the Greek government has funded other digs. 


Here is the lighthouse as viewed from the pit of the Roman amphitheatre. The coastline here is very rocky and a lighthouse has stood on this spot since the time of the Ancient Greeks, when this whole area would have been part of the Acropolis. As you can tell by Dan's attire we did most of the sightseeing in this area on the same day!

One evening we took a romantic sunset tour around the bay of Paphos on an old sailing boat........... us and about thirty other tourists that is!
We were given sparkling wine to drink and then watched the sunset.........    

This is a better picture! We were then dropped off back in the harbour and went in search of a seafood restaurant where we could eat dinner. There are many to choose from along the waterfront. The only problem is which to choose! The Cypriots are really friendly and it is sometimes hard to say 'no thanks' when they invite you to sample their delicious menu..........especially when you have just eaten!


We rented a jeep and took a ride up to the small town of Polis in the north. On the way we passed Aphrodite's Rock at Petra tou Romiou.  Tradition has it that the goddess Aphrodite was born from the sea-foam here.

To the north west of Polis there are the Baths of Aphrodite. It was here that the goddess bathed and where she met fell in love with Akamas, the son of Theseus, who was a mortal. However, she was discovered and betrayed and so had to return to Mount Olympus and stay with the other gods.........and that must have been pretty boring I can tell you because we walked up Mount Olympus later in the week and all that is on top is an army base surrounded by so much barbed wire that there is no view across the valley!


There are also a lot of Orthodox churches in Cyprus. We stopped at one as we came back along the coast. They don't look much from the outside but the icon work inside is usually stunning. 

This was no exception as you can see. This rood screen shows all the major saints in bold colours on a gilt background. Simply wonderful! 


 

This picture was taken looking back towards the church from a small inlet on the tiny harbour. We walked out along the quay to watch for fisherman, but it was quite late in the day so no-one was around. We did manage to find a kiosk selling beer though so we were happy to sit in the October sunshine and let all this culture swirl over us............along with the local Greek 'taverna music' coming from the kiosk via a transistor radio!

One day we went up into the Troodos mountains to visit the Kykko monastery which had been home to (President) Archbishop Makarious III and the hills behind are now his burial place. It is reported to be the richest monastery in Cyprus and after our visit I would agree with that statement. They have the most beautiful wall icons I have ever seen. Here are a few of them.
This one depicts the story of Noah's Ark complete with dove and rainbow.
This one shows the story of the Good Samaritan.
This one shows the story of the Prodigal son.
They were absolutely fabulous and they covered all the walls in the upstairs inner courtyard. The monastery is also very famous because it houses a very famous icon which they received as a gift in the 12th century. It is an icon showing the Virgin Mary and is said to be an original work of Saint Luke, one of only three in existence today. It is however, considered too sacred to gaze upon and is concealed by a silver plate embossed with a picture of the portrait behind. Apparently this icon has 'rain making powers' and it is still used by the priests if and when needed. The building where it is housed has been burnt down on several occasions but the icon had miraculously survived each time.


I could not find any pictures of this particular icon but I did find a beautiful print of a mosaic by G. Keploa entitled 'Virgin Mary of Kykkou'. You need a day at least to visit this place because there is so much to see. They also close for a few hours midday so timing is essential. 

To get to Kykko you pass through the small village of Platres where it is worth stopping and looking around. There was a small craft fair there where you could buy souvenirs for a fraction of the price you would pay in the monastery but I had already been told that there was an excellent handcraft centre within walking distance of our hotel so I mostly brought postcards here.

On another day we visited the Tombs of the Kings and the Catacombs which were right across the street from our 'kitsch' Hotel. These tombs date back to the 3rd century BC and are cut into the rock as are the steps down. There are some steep drops at the edges of the tombs.............I would not like to walk around here late at night! There is nothing much regal about them now but they are definitely worth visiting for their sheer size alone.

Some of them are quite difficult to get into but Dan managed ok! Once inside they are striking in their austere splendor.


 

The whole area is still being excavated and care is needed when walking around. We spent a whole afternoon visiting these and then moved on to discover the Catacombs.
 

These were believed to be underground churches but they had pagan beginnings long before they were eventually dedicated to Christian saints. On the other side of the hotel there was a catacomb with an open court and chapel which dates from the 12th century. There is a damaged fresco on the wall which was first defaced by crusaders carving their names over it! A flight of steps leads to a holy well and as you ascend the stairs cut out of rock you come upon a tree that seems to be covered with handkerchiefs. Visitors were supposed to write a prayer or message on the handkerchief for someone who was unwell. I guess its a bit like putting a message into the cracks of the wailing wall in Jerusalem.


The island of Cyprus is a lovely place to visit especially if you keep away from the tourist traps like Aya Napa and Limassol. We had a great week exploring and were glad that the weather held out for us even in late October. It was pleasant most days and never rained which was a big plus. We never had a bad meal at any restaurant we visited and we never succumbed to the urge to eat kebabs or watch the Greek dancer balance 50 glasses on trays on his head...........although his act had been mentioned on a TV travel show as 'awesome'!

I would like to do this again sometime, perhaps visit another island like Crete or Rhodes. After all, life's one big adventure. 

So until then....................yamas! 

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Material Copyright © 2001 Dan & Jacquetta Holle