Situated in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of the republic of Cyprus has attracted visitors for ten thousand years. Owing to its location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, its cultural influences are diverse, with historic monuments dating back to the ancient Greeks and a modern 20th-century lifestyle with some vestiges of the colonial legacy left by the British; Stone Age ruins and Roman amphitheatres stand beside Byzantine churches, Venetian fortresses and Crusader castles.
While 2.5 million Europeans visit Cyprus each year, this island destination is relatively new to North American travelers. Warm hospitality is centuries old tradition with Cypriots, and one of the reasons why 40 percent of the country’s visitors are repeated.
Because of its geographic location, Cyprus is often part of a multi-destination package with Israel, Egypt or Greece. A number of major international airlines fly into two international airports at Larnaka and Pafos. Cyprus also can be reached by sea via the deep-water port of Lemesos, and the smaller port of Larnaka. Passenger ships depart in the late afternoon for arrival the following day at Haifa, Israel or Port Said, Egypt and other Middle Eastern and Greek ports. Several International Cruise Lines such as Princess, Holland America, Costa and many more, visit the port of Lemesos as part of a Mediterranean Cruise.
Cyprus has a wide range of accommodations with some of the most modern and deluxe hotels in the Eastern Mediterranean. In several villages, small traditional houses are being restored as part of the country’s agrotourism program. The country’s cuisine reflects the Mediterranean with its bounty of fresh fish and seafood. The Cypriot “meze” table, with up to 30 dishes, has been deeply influenced by Greek cuisine and is spiced with a more Middle Eastern flavor. Cypriot wine has been farmed for centuries and today a number of wineries produce top-quality whites and reds which are exported throughout the world. There is a vibrant contemporary arts scene and a number of internationally- recognized painters. Cyprus offers every kind of water sports activity, golf, hiking in nature reserves, skiing in the Troodos Mountains in the winter, charming unspoiled villages and some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.
LAND AND PEOPLE
A temperate climate prevails in Cyprus year-round, with summer temperatures in the upper-80s and the winter in the mid-to upper 50s, Fahrenheit. Dry summers average only one day of rain per month through the summer, five in spring and autumn, and 10 per month in December, January, February. Cyprus averages 340 days of sunshine per year.
The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus is located at the far eastern end, known as the Levant. Roughly the size of Connecticut, the country is 140 miles long and 15 to 60 miles wide, with a total of 3,572 square miles of land and 485 miles of coastline. It lies 60 miles west of Syria, 47 miles south of Turkey, and approximately 200 miles north of Egypt’s coast. By sea, Cyprus is a short distance from many Eastern Mediterranean ports, including Haifa, Alexandria or Port Said. Lebanon is nearby, and the Greek mainland and islands are within easy reach.
The island’s topography is a mixture of mountainous regions, cedar forests, cultivated
fields with orange and olive groves and vineyards, all surrounded by sandy beaches with some rocky shores. Rich soil produces bountiful varieties of wild flowers. The island attracts numerous migratory birds including various raptors and seabirds that nest in its high cliffs and beautiful greater flamingos that winter in the lakes and marshes.
Four distinct topographical regions prevail: in the north is Kyrenia mountain range, stretching from Cape Kormakiti to Cape Andreas at the eastern tip of the island , and characterized by craggy limestone rock towering over green valleys and ravines; the Troodos massif, densely forested; the hillsides of the region to the east and southwest, where the island’s vineyards flourish; and the Mesaoria Plain, stretching from Morphou to Ammochostos (Famagusta), bordered by the mountains to the north and the Troodos massif to the south.
A year-round population of 837,000 swells in the high season. The most populated regions are in and around the cities of Lefkosia (Nicosia), the island’s capital, with some 219,000 inhabitants, located roughly at the center of the island, and the cities of Larnaka (77,000) Lemesos (172,000) and the small seaside town of Pafos (51,300), all on the south coast.
The national language is Greek, and English is widely spoken.
Approximately 77 percent of the island’s population is Greek Orthodox with 18 percent Muslim; the remaining five percent is made mainly of Armenians and Maronites.
Because of its strategic location at the crossroads of the Levant, as the eastern end of the Mediterranean is known, Cyprus has for centuries been a coveted trophy gained and lost again by many nations. The oldest known settlements of Cyprus date back to 7000 BC, the Neolithic Age when civilization was beginning to develop on the island’s north and south coasts. The discovery of copper shaped the economic progress of Cyprus, in the Bronze Age, when trading developed with Egypt and the Aegean islands. The advent of the Mycenaean merchants in 1400 BC preceded the arrival of numerous Achaean Greeks, who brought with them their language, religion and culture.
With the Hellenization of Cyprus, the first city kingdoms of Pafos, Salamis, Kition and Curium were established. The cult of Aphrodite, said to have been born in Cyprus, flourished and prosperity continued, but conquering predators from Persia, Egypt and Assyria arrived between 750 and 325 BC, creating unrest until King Evagoras of Salamis unified Cyprus to make it one of the leading political and cultural centers of the Greek world.
Arriving from Macedonia in northern Greece, Alexander the Great claimed the island as part of his empire. The abolishment of the city-kingdom structure by the Ptolemies from Hellenistic Egypt completed the islands unification, and Pafos became the capital.
Then came the Romans, who held Cyprus from 58 BC to 330 AD. Christianity arrived with Saint Paul. Subsequently, a period marked by earthquakes causing widespread destruction, required the rebuilding of cities. The first early Christian basilicas were introduced during this period of reconstruction. In the Byzantine period of 330 to 1191 AD, the first monastery (Stavrovouni) was founded by Empress Helena, visiting from Constantinople, and during this period large basilicas were erected. The discovery in 488 of the tomb of Saint Barnabas led Emperor Zeno to grant full autonomy to the Church of Cyprus. Arab invasion of 647 began three centuries of attack, ceasing in 965 with expulsion by the Emperor Nicephoros Phocas.
Following the wrecking of ships belonging to his fleet, Richard the Lion-Heart claimed Cyprus and married Berengaria Navarre in Lemesos in the twelfth century, making her Queen of England. A year later Richard sold Cyprus to the Knights Templar, who resold it to Guy de Lusignan, the deposed King of Jerusalem.
In the three centuries of Frankish period that began in 1192 the Catholic Church prevailed over the Greek Orthodox Church, bestowing enormous wealth on the island, and generating great art and architecture. The city of Famagusta (Ammochostos) became one of the richest in the Near East, until the beginning of the Venetian period in 1489, when Catherina Cornaro, the last queen of the Lusignan dynasty, ceded Cyprus to Venice.
The Venetians fortified the island against the Ottomans, who nevertheless captured Lefkosia (Nicosia) in 1570, slaughtered 20,000 inhabitants and held Ammochostos under siege for a year. The Greek Orthodox Church was restored and the archbishop became the people’s representative to the Sultan. The outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, however, prompted the execution of Archbishop Kyprianos of Cyprus along with many prominent citizens. The Muslim minority of the Ottoman period acquired a Cypriot identity.
In 1878 Britain assumed administration, then annexed Cyprus in 1914 when the Ottomans, still former rulers of the island, went to war for Germany. In 1923, under the treaty of Lausanne, Turkey relinquished all rights to Cyprus, which was then declared a crowned colony by the British in 1925. Cypriot volunteer troops aided Britain in the Second World War, when the strategic position of the island made it a coveted stronghold. A national liberation against colonial rule was initiated in 1955 and lasted until 1959. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus became an independent republic.
Constitutional amendments proposed in 1963 led to rebellion from the Turkish Cypriot community, and Turkey threatened invasion. In July 1974 the military junta then in power in Athens instigated a coup against the Cyprus government and using that pretext, Turkey invaded and captured 37 percent of the island, generating the slaughter of thousands. Forty percent of the Greek population was uprooted and their homes and businesses seized. Since the invasion and up to the present, 37 percent of the island has been subjected to forced occupation by 85,000 Turkish mainland settlers and military. The occupation by the Turkish military has been condemned by international bodies worldwide, and the illegal regime is not acknowledged by the United Nations and European Community.
An independent republic since August 16, 1960, Cyprus has presidential system of democratic government with free elections held every five years for President and Members of Parliament. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied 37 percent of the island. A solution has yet to be found, despite ongoing talks since 1975. However, there have been no violent conflicts of fighting during this period. The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement. Cyprus is a full member of the European Union since 2004.
CITIES OF INTEREST
Lefkosia (Nicosia), the capital, is a walled city flanked by palm trees, and its narrow streets feature shuttered buildings leading to inner courtyards of palms and orange trees. In the old city center, buildings from the 1800s remain, but most people now live in modern apartments in the new part of town. Laiki Geitonia, the restored section of the old city has shops selling handicrafts and many traditional restaurants. A number of trendy bars, cafes and night spots have sprung up in the restored Famagusta Gate area. For its restoration efforts, line municipality, in 1984, was awarded the prestigious “Europa Nostra” medal by the International Federation of Associations for the protection of European Culture and Natural Heritage. The so-called Green Line running from east to west divides the city, with the Turkish occupied part lying in the north.
Sheltered by mountains, Lefkosia with its excellent, dry climate has long been the seat of lavishly decorated churches and the island’s foremost museums. Among them are the Cyprus Museum; the National Collection of Modern Art; Famagusta Gate, the city’s cultural center, and the House of the Dragoman Hatzigeorgakis Kornesios.
Lemesos (Limassol), with 172,000 inhabitants, has become the country’s main port, taking over from the now Turkish-occupied Famagusta. Surrounded by extensive citrus fruit plantations and vineyards, Lemesos is the venue of the annual Wine Festival, held in September, and the Arts Festival in July.
Lemesos treasures include the Museum of Archaeology; Limassol City Art Gallery; the Castle and Medieval Museum; Limassol Museum of Folk Art. Nearby to the south is Kolossi Castle, the ancient amphitheatre at Kourion and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. The archaeological site of Amathus lies to the east.
Larnaka, the country’s second port with 77,000 people, is on the site of ancient Kition, and important port in the pre-Christian times. The country’s main international airport is located here. The District Museum, Pierides Museum and Castle Museum house exhibit excellent collections. Lazarus, who Christ resurrected from the dead, is supposed to be buried in the church of St. Lazarus (Agios Lazaros) in Larnaka. Icons of the saint are carried through the streets in an annual procession along the Palm Tree Promenade on the Sunday before Easter.
Pafos, a smaller city of 51,300 with picturesque harbor, has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visited by the Apostle Paul, Pafos has renowned Roman mosaics in the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus, Orpheus and Aion. Opposite the harbor is a Venetian fort built in 1592, and the city stretches from there inland with a bustling array of restaurants and hotels in the newly developed area of Kato Pafos. The town’s major museums are the District Museum; Pafos Castle; the Byzantine Museum; the Museum of Ethnography and the Kouklia Excavation Museum.
Troodos lies at the foot of Mount Olympus, and the winter is the islands ski center. The village of Platres is the starting point for many nature trails around Troodos Mountains and the region’s carefully protected cedar and pine forests. The region is blessed with several important monasteries – notably Kykkos, the richest in Cyprus (and among the most celebrated in the Orthodox world), and 13th century Trooditissa with its many valuable icons. Ten Byzantine churches, including Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (in Kakopetria), Panagia to Araka (in Lagoudera) and Asinou (in Nikitari) are designated as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Ammochostos, at the southeast corner of Cyprus is a region of superb, sandy beaches and abundant agriculture. Major beach resorts with shops and discos are in Protaras and Agia Napa where a charming medieval monastery dedicated to Our Lady of the Forests stands in the middle of the village. White-washed Paralimni is the district’s administrative center and known for its open-air tavernas serving succulent grilled fish.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL SITES
The island’s major sites are:
• Kourion Site – Amphitheatre and House of Eustolios
• Kolossi Castle
• Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates
• Limassol Medieval Fort
• Amathus archaeological site
• Petra Tou Romiou
• Temple of Aphrodite
• Pafos Medieval Fort
• Roman Odeon
• Saranta Kolones
• Houses of Dionysos, Theseus, Aion
• Pillar of St. Paul
• Tombs of the Kings
• Hala Sultan Tekkesi
• Church of St. Lazarus
• Kykkos Monastery
• Trooditissa Monastery
• The Royal tombs in Tamassos and Politiko
ARTS AND CRAFTS
The following are Traditional crafts of Cyprus:
• Silver and gold jewelry
• Lefkaritika lace and embroideries
• Pottery and ceramics
• Carved wood chests in pine, walnut or cedar
• Wickerwork and basket-making
• Hand-made copper goods
• Artistically decorated gourds
Locally grown produce, cooked with aromatic herbs and spices form the basis of Cypriot cooking. Meze, short for Mezedhes (little delicacies), is the traditional Cypriot meal composed of a multitude of small, diverse dishes. Included on the menu might be: locally grown olives with a dressing of lemon, garlic, herbs and oil, dips of taramosalata, tahini, talattouri and skordalia, offered with salad (green or Greek with tomatoes, cucumber and feta) and pita bread; octopus in red wine; snails in tomato sauce; pickled cauliflower and capers with kohlrabi and salad; fresh sardines, red mullet and calamari with big lemon chunks; grilled halloumi cheese and lountza, the locally raised and smoked pork.
Specialties of the island also include kleftiko (slow-baked lamp), stifado (a hearty stew of cinnamon-scented beef and onion), halloumi (Cyprus’ famed local fresh cheese) and a variety of grilled fish from the Mediterranean.
Ethnic influences are diverse, and the flavors and techniques of Cypriot cuisine reflect a great culinary heritage with epicurean contributions from Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Italy and France.
• Carnival “Apokreo” Festivities-February 8th
• Green Monday-1st day of Lent-February 19th
• Greek Orthodox Easter-April 8th
• Anthestiria (flower Festivals)- May 6, 12-13th, 20th.
• Kataklysmos (flood Festival)- May 25-30th
• Limassol Wine Festival-August 28-Sept.9th
• Pafos Aphrodite Opera Aug. 31-Sept 2nd
Annual festivals are held in Larnaka, Limassol, and Pafos in the summer. Most village Festivals take place in August, while some are held in September and October, and revive old village customs with folk dancing, exhibition of flowers, art, photography and embroidery.
There are excellent facilities in Cyprus for:
• Swimming, Windsurfing, water-skiing, parasailing, other water sports
• Hiking, running
The official currency is the Cypriot pound, with an approximate exchange rate of one CYP=U.S $2.3
Valid passports are required. Citizens of the U.S. and Canada, most Commonwealth countries and most European countries do not need visas.
OFFICIAL PORTS OF ENTRY
Larnaka International Airport, Pafos International Airport and the port of Limassol.
Cyprus is on GMT plus 2 hours time zone, seven hours ahead of U.s. Eastern Standard Time. Clocks are changed for daylight savings time in the winter months.
Cyprus has an excellent network of modern roads. Roads signs are in English as well as Greek, making it very easy to drive around. Car rental requires only a valid driver’s license (not an international one). Motorcycle and bicycle rental is also available.
Driving is on the left.
Inner-city busses run daylight hours from Monday through Saturday, and regional busses run between towns. Intercity taxis, accommodating four to seven passengers, charge a set fare based on the destination (not the number of passengers). Most private taxis have meters.
From Sept. through June: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
Thursday 07:30-14:30, 15:00-18:00
July 1st-August 31st: Monday – Friday 07:30-14:30
Winter Period (Nov-Mar) Monday, Tuesday, Thursday up to 19:00 hrs
Wednesday up to 14:00
Friday up to 20:00
Saturday up to 15:00
Summer Period Monday, Tuesday, Thursday up to 20:30
Wednesday up to 14:00
Friday up to 21:30
Saturday up to 17:00