Cyprus, although a small country, has a rich cultural heritage which is evident from the vast number of ancient monuments and sites, castles and forts around the island. The antiquities of Pafos, the Neolithic Settlement of Choirokoitia, as well as ten Byzantine Churches from the Troodos region are included in the official World Cultural Heritage list, thereby endorsing their importance.
Unfortunately, since July 1974. a significant part of Cyprus cultural heritage is under Turkish occupation and as result acquaintance with it is impossible. This heritage has been suffering deliberate and serious destruction, since the Turkish forces systematically aim at changing the demographic and cultural structure of occupied Cyprus.
The cultural heritage of a people is its most important asset, its identity and a sense of continuation through time. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and standing as it does at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa it has had a tumultuous history. The Mycenaeans Achaeans brought their civilization here, establishing the first Greek roots 3.000 years ago. Many others passed through, including Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans and the British. The apostles of Christ walked this land. The splendor of Byzantium, founded by Constantine the Great at Constantinople, encompassed the island of Cyprus. Here are prehistoric settlements, ancient Greek temples, Roman theatres and villas, Early Christian Basilicas, Byzantine churches and monasteries, Crusader castles, Gothic churches and Venetian fortifications. In the villages, old custom and traditions are still kept alive. Young girls still engage in lace-making in the beautiful village of Lefkara just as their grandmothers did before them. Potters still create wondrous anthropomorphic shapes to decorate their earthenware vessels at picturesque Foini and the sound of handlooms can still be heard in Fyti, home of attractive hand-woven materials, whilst, men in traditional baggy trousers, still congregate at the shop for a game of backgammon.
In Cyprus the 21st century rubs shoulders with a civilization 10.000 years old. There are festivals whose origins stretch back into antiquity; like Carnival and Anthestiria organized in honor of God Dionysus; at Kouklia, where the Temple of Aphrodite once stood, a church was known until a few years ago as The Church of the Virgin Mary Aphrodite’s. The aura of the Great goddess of Cyprus is still present in Pafos, and all over “the Sweet Land of Cyprus” in the beauty of the landscape, the mildness of the climate and the charm of the people. The immortal words of Euripides and Sophocles ring out on warm summer evenings at the Ancient Kourion Theatre and the Pafos Odeon during performances of ancient Greek drama.
And in September wine flows free and the spirit of Dionysus, god of wine and merriment, is present throughout the Wine Festival. The Mediaeval folk songs are still sung in Cyprus keeping alive the legends of Digeni, the unconquerable border guard of Byzantium, and of his beautiful Queen, Rigaina. In the narrow streets of the walled city of Lefkosia the coppersmith works with the metal as did ancestors 5.000 years ago. In the shade of old houses with their overlooking balconies, the flavor of the past lingers among the old typical stone houses.
In Cyprus the past lives by side with the present in a unique tapestry of living history.
Lefkosia (Nicosia) lies roughly at the centre of the island, with a rich history that can be traced back to the Bronze Age. It only became capital of the island in the 11th century AD. The Lusignans turned it into a magnificent city with a Royal Palace and over fifty churches. Today it blends its historic past brilliantly with the bustle of a modern city. The heart of the city, enclosed by 16th century Venetian walls, is dotted with museums, ancient churches and medieval buildings preserving the nostalgic atmosphere of years past. Yet this old heart is split in two, leaving Lefkosia the only capital city to remain divided by force. The new Lefkosia developed outside the walls, and became a contemporary and cosmopolitan business and cultural centre. Just a few miles away are enchanting places of interest such as Byzantine churches and monasteries, archaeological sites and charming villages.
Lemesos (Limassol) – Successor to two city-kingdoms and host to a Royal Wedding in the middle Ages, contemporary Lemesos stretches along the south coast. Proud of the spontaneous hospitality of its people, its archaeological sites, its mediaeval castles and its merry Carnival and Wine festivals, Lemesos is the island’s most important tourist and wine industry centre. Hotels, restaurants and night spots abound along the beach whilst close by lay the pine-clad southern slopes of Troodos with the picturesque wine producing villages, the idyllic mountain resorts and picturesque Pitsylia area.
Larnaka, a town with an easy-going pace, has strong links to the past. In the heart of modern Larnaka one finds remains of the ancient city-kingdom of Kition, reminiscent of its glorious days. The Mycenaean Greeks fortified the town with cyclopean walls in the 12th century while the Phoenicians founded a powerful kingdom here in the 9th century. Kition is the birthplace of the philosopher Zeno, founder of the Stoic School, and it is here that Saint Lazarus came to live after his resurrection. In the 18th century it became a commercial centre and the seat of the European consulates. The delightful Palm Trees Promenade, its fort, and its old quarters give Larnaka its unique character. The nearby salt lake is a favorite stop-over spot for thousands of migrant birds in winter, whilst on its edge in a tranquil setting stands a popular Muslim pilgrimage place.
The whole district of Larnaka has something special to offer the visitor, including Choirokoitia, the oldest Neolithic settlement on the island, Stavrovouni Monastery and the famous Church of Angeloktisti.
Pafos – the whole town is included in the official UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures of the world heritage. Wherever one treads in Pafos one comes across its glorious history which dates back thousands of years, when the cult of goddess Aphrodite who emerged from its seas, flourished in this beautiful part of the world attracting many visitors from inland and abroad.
Today, it is a growing harbor town, but in Hellenistic and Roman times it was the capital of Cyprus. Still under the spell of her Beauty-goddess, the area retaining her magic has remained intact by time. It seduces its visitor with its majestic landscape, lovely coastline, historical treasures and delightful villages where tradition is still a way of life. Kept in harmony with nature are divine mediaeval monasteries which lie peacefully in the Pafos heartland.
Paralimni – The golden sandy beaches of the free (non-occupied) Ammochostos district gently embrace the eastern corner of island. The popular holiday resorts of Agia Napa and Paralimni have been called a veritable paradise for anyone who loves the sea and water sports. The charming scenery includes the tiny fishing harbor of Agia Napa, the mediaeval monastery at the heart of the village and the windmills and small churches in the surrounding villages which spread out to the areas of Paralimni and Protaras. This region is the main potato producing area on the island, and is known as “red soil villages”. The villages of this area are equally known for their folk poets, who are regarded as the best on the island.
Troodos – nine Byzantine churches in the Troodos Mountains are included in the official UNESCO list of the World Heritage. These are: Stavros tou Agiasmati, Panagia tou Araka, Timiou Stavrou at Pelendri, Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, Panagia Podithou, Panagia tis Asinou, Agios Ioannis Lampadistis, Panagia tou Moutoulla and Archangelos Michail at Pedoulas.
The impressive Troodos mountain range with its idyllic forests stretches across most of the western side of Cyprus offering cool sanctuary in summer and opportunities for sports in winter. Famous Mountain resorts divine Byzantine monasteries and churches perched on mountain peaks or nestling in its valleys, as well as picturesque mountain villages clinging to terraced hill slopes make up the splendor of Troodos.
The area has been known since ancient times for its mines and in the Byzantine Period it became a prominent centre of Byzantine art, as churches and monasteries were built in the mountains, far away from the threatened coastline.