Cyprus is one of my favourite destinations. I just love the friendly local culture, gorgeous coastline and delicious cuisine (halloumi – yum!). But I tell you what else – there’s also over 9,000 years of history waiting to unravel before your eyes.
If you’re not an amateur historian don’t worry, neither am I. But these are sights really worth seeing, whether you want to give the kids a history lesson, or set up a memorable day trip with plenty of photo opportunities (making you look highly cultured on Facebook, I might add).
Tomb of the Kings
A visit to the Tomb of the Kings in Paphos will make you feel like a real-life Indiana Jones! A vast necropolis (a large, historic cemetery) dating from as early as the 3rd Century BC, it would certainly be easy to let your imagination run wild with images of booby traps and treasures. The name “Tomb of the Kings” however, might be a tad misleading. There are no kings buried here, but don’t let that disappoint you – it’s named as such simply because it’s so darned impressive.
These tombs tunnel through the underground landscape, opening into an incredible atrium. Fragments of surviving frescos give a hint of the splendour that once surrounded the Paphos elite after their deaths. Unfortunately looters have whisked away most of the treasures, but the site retains an eerie, imposing ambience that will send a shiver down your spine that’s nothing to do with the shade from the Cypriot sun.
While you’re here, it’s worth remembering that the whole of Paphos is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore, particularly the beautiful, historic port.
Why not treat yourself to a villa with a little extra style during your Cyprus holiday? The contemporary Villa Sapphire in Paphos, or the chic Villa Michelle Marie a short distance up the coast in the popular beach resort of Coral Bay are both great choices.
If you can only choose one historical site to visit when in Cyprus then the Kourion Ruins should be top of the list. When I say “ruins”, what I mean is breathtakingly preserved, jaw dropping excavations that have only just scratched the surface of this once vast and productive city, originally built around the 2nd Century BC.
My personal favourite area to visit is the Greco-Roman theatre, where you can sit yourself down on one of the seating “steps” and look out across the sea. I’ve never timed my holidays well enough to take advantage, but it’s been fully restored and is used for what must be wonderful open air theatrical and musical productions.
You can also get a sense of just how prosperous this city became from the villas that remain, with beautifully preserved mosaic flooring. The most popular include the House of the Gladiators, the House of Achilles and the House of Eustolios, which contained the local baths. The names rather give away the wonderful scenes you’ll see, depicted in thousands of tiny coloured tiles.
There’s also the remains of the Sanctuary of Apollo Ylatis with its iconic and surprisingly enduring columns, but there is plenty more to see besides to satisfy even the most insatiable amateur historians.
If Kourion has piqued your curiosity for Cypriot history, about 35 minutes away via Limassol you’ll also find the Amathus Ruins – once the site of Cyprus’ most ancient town.
It was a flourishing community with its wealth built from a strong grain harvest, copper mining and sheep farming. However it was also a spiritual community and the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite is its principle attraction.
It’s pretty poignant actually to stand there and imagine it in its heyday. Now it’s a vast expanse of stone floors, crumbled walls and lonely columns overlooking the Mediterranean with an air of silent stillness.
The nearest villas to the Amathus Ruins can be found just a 30 minute drive away in Pissouri Bay, including Villa Ithaka, which boasts stunning sea views.
It’s worth reminding you that not all Cypriot history is ancient. A small village found in the centre of Cyprus – Agios Sozomenos – bears the scars of an unfortunate past and a battle of cultures between its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot residents. Beginning in 1964 and epitomised by the Turkish invasion of 1974, the result was the unsettlement of its inhabitants and the desertion of the village.
I found the atmosphere here strangely haunting. The buildings should be typical – a school, the houses – but they’re now crumbling mud-brick shells that seem much older than they actually are. More preserved is the 16th Century Agios Mamas Gothic church with its beautiful stone arches, nave and aisles. Despite the village’s poignant history, it’s definitely worth a visit to remember its existence as a once peaceful part of Cyprus.
When visiting central Cyprus, why not stay at Villa Constantina on the east coast? It’s a beautiful property within walking distance of the restaurants and bars of the Pernera area of Protaras.