Cyprus may be a small country, but it is a large island the third largest in the Mediterranean. It is an island with a big heart - an island that gives it's guests a genuine welcome and treats them as friends.
With it's spectacular scenery and enviable climate, it's no wonder that Aphrodite chose the island as her playground, and since then, mere mortals have been discovering this 'land fit for Gods' themselves.
Cyprus is an island of beauty and a country of contrasts. Cool, pine clan mountains are a complete scene change after golden sun kissed beeches; tranquil, timeless villages are in striking contrast to modern cosmopolitan towns; luxurious beach side hotels can be exchanged for large areas of natural, un-spoilt countryside; yet in Cyprus all distances are easily manageable, mostly on modern roads and highways - with a secondary route or two for the more adventurous.
Most of all, the island offers peace of mind. At a time when holidays are clouded by safety consciousness, a feeling of security prevails everywhere since the crime level is so low as to be practically non existent.
Few countries can trace the course of their history over 10.000 year's, but in approximately 8.000 B.C. the island of Cyprus was already inhabited and going through its Neolithic Age. 0f all the momentous events that were to sweep the country through the next few thousand years, one of the most crucial was the discovery of copper - or Kuprum in Latin - the mineral which took its name from "Kypros", the Greek name of Cyprus, and generated untold wealth. The island's strategic position, its copper deposits and its timber attracted the first Greeks who came to the island over 3.000 years ago at the end of the Trojan wars. They settled down bringing in with them and establishing the Greek identity, language and civilization. Over the centuries Cyprus came under the sway of various rulers including the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, the successors to Alexander the Great and the Romans, before Cyprus became part of the Byzantine Empire. Later came the Crusaders, the Frankish Lusignans and Venetians, Ottomans and British.
Cyprus won its independence in 1960, for the first time in 3.500 years, but the Greek identity of language and culture has been retained. In July 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and since then 37% of the island in the north is being illegally occupied by Turkish troops who acted in violation of all principles governing international relations.
From the topmost point of Mount Olympus to the coasts and sweeping plains, Cyprus is nature's island. Many exquisite wild flowers grow in splendid profusion in springtime. Trees, shrubs and plants luxuriate in the Mediterranean sunshine all year round. Bright bougainvillea blazes vividly against white walls, reflecting its splendor in the crystal clear waters. Cyprus is also prized for its bird life, and the migratory birds that use the country as a stopover are eagerly awaited between seasons.
Due to the wonderful climate and variety of scenery, the island of Cyprus offers endless opportunities for nature lovers and outdoor sports fans. Activities such as angling, mountain-biking, hiking, gliding, golf, sea sports and yachting are but a few of the special activity holidays that the island of Cyprus offers.
With so many possibilities, Cyprus is a bird watcher's paradise ... an archaeologist's heaven ... a photographer's dream ...
It is probably no surprise with a history so long, that Cyprus is remarkably rich in culture. Its importance has been honored by UNESCO which has included nine of the island's Byzantine mountain churches and the entire town of Kato Pafos, Palaepafos and Choirokoitia in its World Cultural Heritage List.
Wherever you tread in Cyprus you are reminded of a strong tradition that is kept alive from generation to generation through the many events which are celebrated.
Hardly a week goes by in Cyprus without a celebration of some sort, whether it be a colorful festival or homage to a saint on one of the numerous 'name' days. The 'Panigiri', a traditional open-air fete, takes place mainly in the villages on the occasion of a saint's name day.
Easter, the most important Greek Orthodox religious event, is celebrated with solemnity, joy and hope.
Carnival is one of the best known Cypriot celebrations, along with 'Anthestiria' the Spring Flower festival, and 'Kataklysmos' - the festival of the Flood - which coincides with Pentecost. Throughout the year there are also exhibitions, concerts, drama and folk festivals. Cypriot culture is also reflected in the rich folk art of the island. Age-old crafts, handed down from one generation to another, are faithfully carried on to this day by skilful hands and nimble fingers, fashioning handicrafts, both decorative and useful, that would grace any home.
The Greek Orthodox Church has been the mainstay of religion in Cyprus since the 1st century A.D., and in a society where the church continues to play an important role, old style values have been maintained and the family unit retains close-knit qualities that keep colorful customs alive, and underline the warmhearted character of Cyprus.
Without a doubt, the 1000 year old capital of Cyprus should he on every visitor's agenda. It lies roughly in the center of the island, within easy reach of the other towns and a day in Nicosia will be a day well spent.
The old walled city is unique and definitely the place to head for first. Encircled by strong fortress walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century, the enchanting old city is scattered with buildings and monuments of historical interest as well as little shops, cafes and tavernas. The Nicosia Jewellery Museum, the Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage and the Municipal Arts Center, are all well worth a visit. The 'Leventis' Municipal Museum of Nicosia, with an imaginative presentation of the capital's history, was awarded the title '1991 European Museum of the Year'.
To walk through the old city is to step backwards in time. Narrow streets and old houses with ornate balconies jut from weather-beaten sandstone walls, and craftsmen in small workshops practice trades unchanged for centuries. 'La Tki Geitonia - Folk Neighborhood - is a pedestrian section which has been carefully renovated to evoke the atmosphere of past days. The two main streets of old Nicosia, Lidra and Onasagorou, are lined with shops of every type, and both streets are pedestrian - only.
Not to be missed, is the unique Cyprus museum, housing the island's most important collection of Cypriot antiquities and treasures from the neolithic age to the roman period. In contrast to these ancient finds is the state collection of contemporary art, and on the other side of town, just off the main Lemesos road, is the Cyprus handicraft center.
Another award winner is the renovated Pyli Ammochostou - Famagusta Gate - one of the original entrances to the old city, which won the Europa Nostra award for its restoration. Many old churches are to be found in this part of town, and other places of interest are the Folk Art and Byzantine Museums, the Archbishopric, the Cathedral of Agios loannis with its beautiful frescoes, the National Struggle Museum and the intriguing house of Chatzigeorgakis Kornesios - a fine example of 18th century architecture - which houses the Ethnological Museum.
Not far from these monuments is the infamous 'green Line' that divides the Republic of Cyprus from the illegally occupied area to the north. It has been in existence since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the island and claimed 37% of northern Cyprus as a breakaway pseudo-state that has since been recognized by no nation, other than Turkey.
The modern city that has developed outside the walls is a cosmopolitan center of business and culture. Nicosia is regarded as the shopping heart of Cyprus, with a variety of restaurants, discos and bars. Within easy reach of the capital are such historic gems as the 12th century painted churches of Asinon and Agioi Apostoloi at Pera Chorio Nisou, the regal tombs at Tamassos, the ancient city-kingdom of Idalion and the enchanting villages of Fikardou and Kakopetria.
Combining its roles as the second largest city, the island's main port, the center of the wine industry and a bustling holiday resort, Lemesos emerges as a spirited and cosmopolitan seaside town. Lemesos is a lively town largely due to the character of Lemesolians, a fun-loving lot. No wonder it holds the island's two top festivals, the pre - Lenten Carnival with fancy dress balls, parades and festivities and the Wine Festival in September, a wine extravaganza where wine flows freely for everyone to enjoy, courtesy of the local wineries.
Lemesos emerged out of two of the most important ancient city-kingdoms, Amathous, to the east of the town, and Kourion to the west, both of which are being extensively excavated. The magnificent setting of the ancient Kourion Theatre is used for summer concerts and theatrical productions.
In the Middle Ages, Lemesos hosted the marriage of Richard the Lionheart with Berengaria of Navarre whom he crowned Queen of England. Thereafter the Crusaders made their headquarters at the Square Keep west of the city, known as Kolossi Mediaeval Castle, where they fostered the making of wines, particularly the sweet dessert wine 'Commandaria' -the oldest named wine in the world.
Today Lemesos is a resort with a ten mile coastline, a busy shopping center, countless tavernas and restaurants and a night life to suit tastes ranging from modest to sophisticated. A visit to the places of interest would include Lemesos Castle, which houses The Cyprus Mediaeval Museum, the District Archaeological Museum, the Folk Art Museum, the Lemesos Municipal Art Gallery, and the Municipal Gardens.
Also in the vicinity are the placid Germasogeia dam, frequented by keen anglers, and the Salt Lake at Akrotiri, home of thousands of migrating birds in winter, and a stopover point for millions more as they wend their way to different climes in spring autumn. In nearby foothills, delightful villages continue the gentle pace of rural life.
Larnaca seafront is vaguely reminiscent of the continental promenade, with its line of mature palms and its languid air of sleepy charm. Cafes and tavernas line the area near the sea, making this a popular spot with visitors and Cypriots alike during the long summer. Nearby is the Marina, frequented by yachtsmen from all over the world. At the western end of the promenade is the town's 17th century fort, which now houses the Larnaca Mediaeval Museum.
As the home of the island's main international airport, Larnaca offers many visitors their first taste of Cyprus. One of the first sights is the beautiful salt lake, home in the cooler months to colonies of graceful flamingos and other migratory birds. Beside the lake, in a tranquil setting crowned by lush palms, is the Hala Sultan Tekesi, built to the memory of Prophet Mohammed's aunt.
Larnaca's links with Christianity go back to the very beginning, for the town's first bishop was none other than Agios Lazaros, who chose to live his 'second life’ there after Jesus had raised him from the dead. A church built in his name exists on the spot where his remains where said to be found.
Larnaca's District Archaeological Museum and the Pierides Foundation Museum exhibit particularly interesting antiquities. The town's marble bust of Zeno, after the philosopher who founded the famous Stoic School, bears testimony to another famous son. Also of interest is the ancient city-kingdom of Kition established by Mycenaean Greeks in the 13th cent. B.C., the Church of Agia Faneromeni, built over a rock cave dating from the 8th century B.C. and the 18th century aqueduct on the outskirts of town.
Stavrovouni, one of the oldest and most dramatically sited monasteries in Cyprus, founded by Saint Helena, is within reach of Larnaca. Perched atop a mountain it has stunning views in all directions. In accordance with the strict monastic tradition observed by this particular order, women are not allowed inside Stavrovouni Monastery.
Again within striking distance of Larnaca, is the Church of Panagia Angeloktisti which houses the 6th century life-size Byzantine mosaic of the Virgin Mary - one of the finest in the world from this period. A visit to the village of Lefkara, famed for the lace-like embroidery known as 'Lefkaritika' that was said to captivate Leonardo da Vinci, is also a treat. Further south, is the remarkable site of Choirokoitia, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, where excavations have yielded one of the most important Neolithic settlements found anywhere in the world.
Capital of the west and positively teeming with history is Paphos, site of the island's second international airport. The resort town has as its focal point a charming fishing harbor by Paphos Fort, lined with open-air cafes and tavernas that serve a tempting menu of the day's catch.
It was on Paphos shoreline that the mythological Goddess Aphrodite was born a legend that spawned a massive wave of cult worship from neighboring countries that lasted several centuries. The large rock that juts from the sea is known as 'Petra tou Romiou' - The Venus Rock - while the Baths of Aphrodite at Polis also echoes her apparent penchant for the island. At Palaepafos, Koukiia lie the remains of the Goddess's earliest Sanctuary.
Another 'first' for Paphos was its early recognition of Christianity. While under Roman rule in 45 A.D., it was here that Saint Paul converted the first ruler to the faith.
The legacy from its remarkable history adds up to nothing less than an open museum, so much so that UNESCO simply added the whole town to its World Cultural Heritage List. Among the treasures unearthed, are the remarkable mosaics in the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus and Aion, beautifully preserved after 16 centuries under the soil. Then there are the mysterious vaults and caves, the Tombs of the Kings, the Pillar to which Saint Paul was allegedly tied and whipped, the ancient Odeon Theatre and other places of interest including the Byzantine Museum and the District Archaeological Museum.
Geroskipou with its remarkable five-domed Byzantine church of Agia Paraskevi, and its Folk Art Museum is a village known for many years now for its special delight 'loukoumi .
Ago Neofytos Monastery, famous for its 'Encleistra', Enclosure, carved out of the mountain by the hermit himself, boasts some of the finest Byzantine frescoes of the 12th and 15th centuries. Chrysorrogiatissa Monastery makes its own range of wines using home-grown grapes. A small museum dedicated to Archbishop Makarios, first president of Cyprus, is found at Pano Panagia. From here it is a rewarding drive to the majestic Cedar Valley, home of the indigenous Cyprus horned sheep, the Moufflon.
Lempa village can be singled out as one with particular historic significance. In its pretty setting near the sea, Lempa's link with prehistory is the site of a chalcolithic settlement. Today the faithful reconstruction of several dwellings, gives an insight into chalcolithic life on the island.
Further north lies the resort-town of Polis, overlooking the beautiful Chrysochou Bay with its charming fishing refuge of Latsi. The relatively unspoilt state of the countryside and villages make the area a real delight for the walker and naturalist.
The low-lying scenery around Paphos, much of it cultivated with banana plantations and backed by the gentle foothills of the western Troodos range, has an attractively open quality to it. This is the gateway to the Peninsula of Akamas, a natural wilderness of incredible beauty with breathtaking gorges, spectacular coastlines and enjoyable nature trails.
Nothing could be more dramatically different from Mediterranean beach life, than the impressive mountain range that stretches across the center of Cyprus and reaches up to 1,952 meters at Chionistra, the highest point of Mount Olympus. Admiring panoramic vistas and breathing the cool, pine-scented air makes a heady change from the coasts and plains which are only a relatively short drive away.
There's plenty to see in these mountains. Nine of the many Byzantine churches are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for the exquisite art depicted in their icons, frescoes and architecture. Moufflon have been protected for a number of years in a huge natural reserve in the magnificent Cedar Valley, and nowadays these timid creatures can often be seen by visitors.
There are scenic walks to take, a great variety of interesting birds and flora to be seen, waterfalls and special picnic sites, and above all, there are villages of immeasurable charm to wander round, or simply to dally in and observe the unhurried pace of rustic country life. The mountain villages are absolutely charming and the people friendly and hospitable. Each village has a special crop, craft or product for which it is known - fruits such as cherries, apples or peaches, sweet specialties like soujouko and palouze, wines, zivania - a highly alcoholic vine by-product, rosewater, pottery ... the list is endless.
A stay in the mountains is definitely recommended. There you will enjoy the morning mist on the mountain peaks, cool air and breathtaking views that makes staying at one of the 'hillside' hotels a welcome break.
The higher slopes are thronged with sports enthusiasts throughout the year, so much for skiing as for hiking along the nature trails, which have clearly marked environmental features of interest. A number of interesting monasteries are scattered in the Troodos range. The largest and most famous is Kykko Monastery, with a golden icon of the Virgin Mary, allegedly painted by Saint Luke. Other monasteries worth visiting are Machairas and Trooditissa with its distinctive steeply sloped roof.
Shops are closed all day Sunday and on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. This refers to the larger shops there are many small kiosks selling groceries and other essentials that are open 24 hours a day every day.
Getting around The Island
According to Cypriot Law. the importation, possession and use of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, is strictly prohibited.