Cyprus is a fantastic place with immense historical heritage and divided into few parts due to the quite recent events an has been on my bucket list for a long time, and finally we’ve made it there! 10 landmarks are clearly not enough for covering the Island of Love, so let’s start with the first part, and I hope the second will follow shortly!
Important: As you probably know, there are still British troops remaining here as a part of the United Nations peacekeeping force: part of Cyprus has been occupied by Turkey since 1974 and this part is called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and recognised only by Turkey (no surprise). Nicosia, Cyprus’s capital, is divided by two because of that! Technically, we crossed the border between the UK (there are still British military bases in Cyprus) and Cyprus at least 6 times so far but there are no customs and no security, but the UN buffer zone lies between Northern Cyprus and the rest of the island.
1.Birthplace of Aphrodite
Cyprus is primarily known as the island of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of beauty and physical love. Petra tou Romiou, or the rock of Aphrodite, is the legendary place where Aphrodite appeared from seafoam! The ancient story behind it is quite tense as she was born from the genitalia of god Ouranos as per Hesiod.
It’s a very nice seaside area with a pebbled beach and a few picturesque rocks, and in summer, some people swim there too (it’s said that if you swim around the rock three times, you’ll find your true love)! People still make wishes to find love on this site too, and modern technologies intervened in this experience too: you can take a photo of a digital Venus there too!
There’s a convenient parking area just above the beach with a shop, showers and changing facilities.
2.Ancient city of Amathous
Ancient city of Amathous, a short drive from Limassol (or Lemesos, see below), is one of the gems of Cyprus for history and archaeology nerds – although not that many things are left from it. The traces of human activity go back many centuries, and it’s been inhabited / controlled by Eteocyprits (pre-Greek population, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans until it was eventually devastated by Arab raids in mid-7th century.
Amathus was a royal city with one of the main sanctuaries dedicated to Aphrodite: Cypriot goddess was worshiped here as early as the 11th century BC! Now it’s one of three sites making the Aphrodite’s cultural route with two others being Palaepaphos (Kouklia) and Kition (Larnaka).
You can see the remnants of the Temple of Aphrodite (1st century AD) if you climb high on the hill! Its legendary founder was Cinyras, the father of Adonis, famous lover of Aphrodite. Some legends also say that pregnant Ariadne (who helped Theseus escape the labyrinth with the Minotaur) died here during labour – unless she became Dionysious’ s wife on Naxos.
This city played an important role later on too, and now you can also explore different sides of its heritage such as the remnants of Agora with beautiful columns, the Acropolis, and the Early Christian basilica (7th century). Best museums of the world including the British Museum and the Louvre have exhibits found in Amathous too!
Archaeological site of Kourion is better known by the visitors than Amathus (see above), and there are more landmarks on display too including stunning floor mosaics. Once a rich and prosperous city-kingdom, known throughout the Hellenistic, Roman and Christian periods, it’s been destroyed by earthquakes on multiple occasions.
However, there are plenty of things to see left (make sure you have time to explore all of them as they are not located very closely to each other). Among others, there are House of Eustolios with baths and mosaics, ‘Earthquake house’ (where several skeletons of earthquake victims were excavated), nymphaeum (a sacred space dedicated to nymphs), baths, Roman Forum / Agora (centre for the social and commercial life).
At the end of the route you’ll find House of Achilles and House of the Gladiators (private house or a public palaestra). The oldest excavation site there is a pyramidal structure dating back to the 4th century BC.
The most famous gem of Kourin is the Greco-Roman amphitheatre which is now fully restored.
Choirokoitia, or Khirokitia, often stays off the tourist radar however it’s a huge mistake. It’s a UNESCO designated World heritage site dating back to 7th-4th millennium BC!
The remnants of a few large Neolithic villages there shed light on the ancient civilizations and especially the social interaction of prehistoric humans. The site was discovered in 1930s and the most notable exhibits there are round stone huts. You can climb the hill to explore different parts of this archaeological site, learn about the history of excavations and observe the restored huts too.
5.Salt Lakes and its flamingos
There are two main salt lakes you can visit in Cyprus: Larnaca salt lake that is actually three interconnected lakes and large Limassol Salt Lake, or Akrotiri Salt Lake. Larnaca salt lake is just a few minutes away by car from the Larnaka airport – and probably you’ll see it from your plane when you arrive in the country!
Akrotiri Salt Lake is technically located on British territory but you can go there without any additional customs. Both lakes have a very special flora, and if you’re visiting in the right season, you might be lucky to see flamingos in their natural habitat! Flamingos stay in Cyprus from Nov till March so only a few are left now, and I’ve spotted only one lonely flamingo on Akrotiri Salt Lake.
We had much more luck with Larnaca lake where there were dozens of those gorgeous birds (and this reminded me of the Galapagos islands where we saw flamingoes too).
Medieval Kolossi castle might look small to the modern eye however it used to be a very important edifice. The original castle was built in the beginning of the 13th century and is likely to be named after its first owner Gerunus de Colos. Kolossi castle was a military stronghold of Knights of St. John (or Hospitaliers, you’ve read a lot about them in my Maltese articles!) who took part in the Crusades to the Holy Land.
The current castle is a rebuilt version of the older building dating back to the 15th century, and reconstruction took place under the orders of Commander of Kolossi, Louis de Magnac. For a short period of time it was controlled by Tampliers but returned under the control of Hospitaliers. Finally, the castle was destroyed after the Ottoman invasion of Cyprus.
Now you can explore a few floors of the keep and the adjacent territory with a small garden, sugarcane mill, tiny garden – and famous vineyards of Commandaria wine are quite close too!
7.Holy monastery of Nicolas of the Cats
This is probably the most unusual monastery I’ve ever been to: Holy Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats! Originally the monastery was founded in 325 and the cats were brought here to fight shakes under the guidance of Saint Helena.
Later on, the monastery was rebuilt many times and after decades of neglect nuns started living here in 1983, and the love for cats thrived – and you can even buy them food in a special vending machine (strong Asian vibes out there!)
8.Hala Sultan Tekke
Did you know that one of the most important religious sites of Islam is located in Cyprus? It’s Hala Sultan Tekke mosque that is constructed above the tomb of Umm Hiram bint Milhan, the aunt of the prophet Mohammed and one of his companions.
The building sitting on the shore of picturesque Larnaca lake dates back to 1760-1817 and is surrounded by a lovely quiet garden with many cats living there.
There are also the remnants of an ancient settlement located on the site of the mosque.
Pissouri is the most charming quiet Cypriot village sitting on the top of a hill – we popped in there for dinner at the O’Vrakas taverna.
Head to the main square with a grape fountain, get a glimpse of amazing views of Cyprus, eat local halloumi and of course don’t miss local cats, they are the sweetest!
Limassol, or Lemesos, concludes my first part of my guide to Cyprus! It’s a big lively city (there are even a few Starbucks cafes!) with a Marina area and the old port with a great selection of restaurants and Molos, Prokymea park (a large seaside park).
We spent a few evenings there and were not disappointed. Limassol castle (medieval castle but rebuilt in 1590 by the Ottomans) is where King Richard Lion heart wed his fiancee in 1191, and another landmark to see is Cyprus Medieval Museum.
There are quite a lot or religious sites as well such as Agia Napa Cathedral, Panagea Katholiki Church and Agios Georgios Havouzas Church.
Where to stay in Cyprus?
We stayed in the Parklane Limassol Resort and Spa, and this was one of the nicest hotels I’ve been to.
It has quite a large territory with an artificial beach and many pool facilities, a playground and kids park, quite a few restaurants, a fantastic spa called Kalloni and as far as I understand a Dior cafe lands there later this year on the site of its Nammos restaurant.
Hope you liked my blog!