Culture and Arts Cyprus
Cyprus has seen 17 invasions in its 9 year long history. The oldest sites, Khirokitia, Kalavassos and Tenta, date from the Neolithic period. Kition, Phoenician trading post, Amathus and Tamassos have become prosperous city-kingdoms thanks to colonization by the Achaeans and Mycenaeans.
- Greco-Roman remains: the ancient theater of Kourion, the temple of Apollo, the sanctuary of Aphrodite, the tombs of the kings and the mosaics of Pafos.
- Frankish period: the castles of Kolossi and Limassol, the medieval fort of Pafos and the Venetian fortifications of the ancient city of Nicosia.
- Countless monasteries, churches and chapels in the Troodos massif hide Byzantine treasures. The town of Kato Pafos as well as nine Byzantine chapels are listed by Unesco in the world cultural heritage.
- Main museums: the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Icons of Nicosia, Pierides collection, in Larnaka, and the archaeological museums of other cities.
With such a rich past, Cyprus has many archaeological sites of surprising diversity. Choirokoitia, a remarkable Neolithic site of global significance, overlooks the Nicosia-Limassol highway. Just east of Limassol stand the ancient columns and other ruins of Mathous, one of the ten city-kingdoms of Cyprus during antiquity. The site is vividly lit at night.
To the west are Kourion, with its restored Greco-Roman theater, built on a cliff above the deep blue Mediterranean, and the sanctuary of Apollo Hylatis. Near Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite's birthplace by the sea, you will find the ruins of Palea Paphos sanctuary dedicated to Aphrodite, in the village of Kouklia.
In Paphos you can see the magnificent mosaics of the houses of Aion and Dionysus, the tombs of the kings by the sea and so many other fascinating historical treasures. The entire city was designated and the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus turned the whole area into an archaeological park.
The Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia, which is 32 km from Larnaca and 48 km south of Nicosia, has been on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List since 1998. You will see, on the side of a hill, the ruins of a village " preceramic ”, from a time when the art of pottery was still unknown. You will see a vast collection of circular stone dwellings which seems to be separated into two sectors by a clearly visible wall, nearly 185 m long. In fact this wall bounded and protected, in its first phase of existence, the village, which subsequently grew and extended to the outside. The construction of this wall represents an important collective work which testifies to an organization and a social cohesion already very developed.
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the city of Kourion was founded by Achaean settlers from Argos. The first theater, built in the 77nd century BC, was much smaller in size. It was rebuilt in the second half of the 98st century AD, under Emperor Nero. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 117, it was rebuilt in a larger size, in its current dimensions, at the start of the reign of Emperor Trajan (XNUMX-XNUMX). Among its treasures, we will mention the house of Eustolios with its beautiful mosaics that can be admired from the walkways above the site, its early Christian basilica, its ancient forum, its nymphaeum and its fountains, its thermal baths and its gladiatorial house.
At the rear of the ancient city was the sanctuary of Apollo Hylatis, one of the most important sacred places in Cyprus in Antiquity. This sanctuary extended over an immense site of 15 m². It was active from the end of the 000th century BC to the XNUMXth century AD. You will still see the partly restored temple of the god, a palaestra, baths and facilities for pilgrims. Apollo was the god of beauty, music, prophecy and archery. He was also the patron god of herds, forests and Kourion itself.
Paphos has been on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List since 1980. Not only has it remained a charming little town to this day, but it is also extremely rich in antiques. Its lower town, called Kato Pafos, by the sea, is indeed the site of the Hellenistic and Roman city of Nea Pafos, which has recently been converted into an archaeological park. There are, among others, the Roman villas of Dionysus, Theseus, Aion and Orpheus and their magnificent mosaics.
Excavations and objects
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities is excavating several important sites on the island and is supervising those made by foreign archaeological missions sent by major European and American universities. Its activities also include, among other things, the conservation of ancient objects and monuments.
Most of the island's archaeological sites are open to the public, while regional and local museums display material from nearby sites, placed in a geographic and historical context. The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia houses the largest collection of Cypriot antiques on the island.
The Cypriot Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York exhibits many valuable Cypriot artefacts largely from illicit excavations carried out on the island in the second half of the XNUMXth century. The British Museum and the Louvre also have superb collections of Cypriot antiques.
To immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Christianity as it was practiced a thousand years ago, you just have to enter a Orthodox Christian Church. Inside, you'll be transported back to an ancient era, facing works of art depicting significant images from early Christianity.
The Byzantine period brought with it the finest ecclesiastical art from Cyprus, much of which is still gloriously exhibited in churches. The domed roofs and the simple stone exteriors often do not hint at the amount of treasures found inside. Churches are home, for example, to the rich heritage oficons, the pious painted images of the Eastern Church, which for a millennium have reflected the Byzantine Christian soul. Orthodox believers see icons as representing saints. Icons in brilliant colors adorn the interiors of sacred churches.
The walls and vaulted ceilings of many Cypriot churches are covered with works in mosaics intricate. With one or two exceptions, only in Cyprus are Byzantine mosaic representations of Christ and Christian saints dating from the beginning of the Byzantine period preserved.
We find frescoes magnificent, painted in vivid colors, in dozens of churches all over the island, like the Cathedral of Agios Ioannis in Nicosia. 9 Byzantine frescoed churches, all located in the Troodos Mountains, are on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage. Their steeply sloping tiled roofs house both ascetic and exuberant frescoes, protecting them from unwanted intrusions for centuries. Many churches containing treasures of Byzantine art, such as that of Agios Ioannis Lampadistis in the Marathasa Valley, are linked to monasteries.
Visit of the monasteries
Many churches are accessible by public transport. For others, located away from main roads and inhabited areas, it will only be possible to get there by private car or individual taxi.
Due to the eminent importance of icons and frescoes, most churches are closed. Therefore, it is recommended that visitors wishing to see the interior of these churches first go to the village cafe to ask for the priest or the person in charge who will accompany them.
Monasteries in practice
- Avoid wearing shorts, necklines, very short skirts, etc.
- It is forbidden to use flashes, because they are liable to damage the icons and the frescoes.
- The monasteries do not offer accommodation.
- Most monasteries and convents are closed to group visits on Saturdays and Sundays.