Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and is located in the northeastern area of the Mediterranean Sea.
With a population of only 700 000, large areas of the island remain completely unspoiled.
However, as a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974, 37% of the island remains under Turkish rule. The so-called ‘Green Line’ border that cuts directly through the capital, Nicosia divides the country, now the last remaining divided capital in Europe.
Cyprus is an island steeped in history and has a rich cultural heritage. Visitors and tourists that travel to Cyprus have an overwhelming choice of ancient monuments and archaeological sites to visit. This is particularly so in Paphos, which has been included in UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Heritage sites.
The majority of the population is Greek Cypriot, and they follow the Christian Orthodox religion. The main language spoken is Greek but English is widely spoken, along with German, in the tourist areas.
The unit of currency is the Euro and all major credit cards are accepted.
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Although a small country, Cyprus has an almost overwhelming cultural heritage. Wherever you travel you will find ancient monuments and sites, churches and monasteries bearing silent witness to over 9 000 years of civilization and history. Cyprus stands at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe and this exotic mix is well-reflected in Cyprus’ cultural history.
History in Cyprus dates as far back as 7000 BC, the Neolithic Age, with settlements along the north and south coasts of the island.
After 1400 BC, the first Greeks came to the island, Mycenaen merchants, who started the Hellenisation of the island.
By 1050 BC Cyprus can be considered a Greek island, with the language, culture and religion of Greece well established. Cyprus has ten city-kingdoms and by 800 BC it is a flourishing and prosperous country.
From 750 BC Cyprus is conquered several times by Assyria, Egypt and Persia. In 333 BC Alexander the Great claims Cyprus for part of his empire. Cyprus continues to be part of the Hellenist Empire until 58 BC.
In 58 BC Cyprus becomes part of the Roman Empire. Saint Paul is converted to Christianity whilst in Cyprus and Cyprus becomes the first country governed by a Christian.
After the division of the Roman Empire Cyprus becomes part of Byzantium, with Constantinople as its capital.
In 1191 AD Cyprus is defeated by the crusader Richard the Lionheart. The island is then sold to the Knights Templar, who resell it to Guy de Lusignan. From 1192 to 1489 Cyprus is ruled under a feudal system and Catholicism becomes the official religion.
In 1489 control of the island passes to the Venetians who takes steps to fortify the island and build walls around the towns of Nicosia and Famagusta.
In 1571 Ottoman troops invades the island and Cyprus becomes part of the Ottoman Empire. Islam is introduced to the island and Catholicism is expelled. The Greek Orthodox religion is restored.
In 1878, under the Cyprus Convention, Britain assumes administration of the island although it remains part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1914 however, when the Ottomans entered the 1st World War on the side of the Germans, Britain annexed the island. In 1923 Turkey relinquishes all rights to Cyprus and in 1925 Cyprus is declared a Crown colony.
An armed struggle breaks out in 1955 against colonial rule, which lasts until 1960 when the island is granted independence.
In 1963 Turkish-Cypriot ministers withdraw from the Government in protest at proposed changes to the Constitution and Turkey threatens to invade.
In1974 the Greek junta instigates a coup in Cyprus against the Cypriot Government and Turkey uses that as an excuse and invades the island.
Cyprus’ colourful history is reflected in the rich cultural life in Cyprus today. Almost every week there is some sort of celebration, a festival, a wedding or a saint’s day (which are celebrated instead of birthdays).
Religious festivals are particularly significant in Cyprus and none more so than the Greek Orthodox Easter. This is the highlight of the religious year and is considered more important than Christmas. On Easter Saturday most Cypriots will be found in the church, attending midnight mass. There is a bonfire with an effigy of Judas outside the church and also fireworks. On Easter Sunday families sit down together to eat the traditional roast lamb lunch.
Springtime is also festival time with all the major towns hosting carnival parades. There are flower festivals with parades of flower-covered floats. The largest carnival is in Limassol, with its many floats, parades and other entertainment.
Kataklysmos is another important festival – the festival of the flood- and there are celebrations in every town, with open-air fetes, games and competitions.
Harvest time is time for the wine festivals, the largest being held in Limassol. Every year thousands of visitors go to the festival to enjoy the large range of food and wine on offer.
Whatever the season Cyprus never disappoints nature lovers. The mild climate allows visitors to enjoy the unique flora and fauna of this east Mediterranean island all year round. Visitors with an interest in geology may also make some interesting discoveries.
Cyprus – the changing seasons
In Spring time Cyprus is The varied Cypriot landscape. The Cyprus landscape displays a great variety of styles. The coast has large open bays and precipitous cliffs and rocks. There are sandy beaches and shingle beaches. The precipitous mountains are mainly tree-covered to their peaks. The rest of the island is fertile hilly country.
Summer usually lasts from May/June until the end of September. After the colourful spring time the summer displays the warmer gold yellow and brown colours of the arid, sun burned landscape. The few rivers that were flowing with water in spring are now dried up. The blue sky is a strong contrast to the bright yellow fields of corn. Spots of colour are provided by the blooms of pink and white oleander. Only the trees remain a magnificent green. They are a nice, fresh relief in the dust covered environment.
Autumn begins with the first rainfalls, usually about the end of September/beginning of October. Overnight the earth seems to wake up and becomes alive again. For the second time in the year the island delights nature-lovers with blossoms and blooms of many different kinds of flowers. Wild fields and grasses turn suddenly from brown to green. The air smells fresh and clean and the trees are a bright fresh green after the dusty summertime.
Winter at the coast appears little different to autumn. Some deciduous trees lose their leaves, the sea becomes rough and the sky can be cloudy. The rich yellow and orange of the citrus fruits, which are now ready to be picked, provide a splash of colour.
In the mountains it often rains and in the higher reaches snow falls and covers the landscape in a real winter dream.
The varied Cypriot landscape
The Cyprus landscape displays a great variety of styles. The coast has large open bays and precipitous cliffs and rocks. There are sandy beaches and shingle beaches. The precipitous mountains are mainly tree-covered to their peaks. The rest of the island is fertile hilly country.
Cyprus flora -‘ not just for botanists’!
Cyprus has very rich animal and plant life. More than 1750 different kinds of plants grow on this small 9251 km2 island. The calm Mediterranean climate and Cyprus’ position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa explain this great diversity of species. The local species number more than 120. There are also lots of companies that organize hiking tours.
The most famous Cypriot wild animal is the Moufflon. Visitors can see this shy mountain sheep in a large outdoor enclosure at Stavros tis Psokas, a large forest station in the Paphos forest. Flocks of sheep and herds of goats graze in the hilly landscape. In the wine-growing areas donkeys are indispensable working animals. In the forest there are many small animals such as foxes, rabbits, hares and squirrels.
The dry summer landscape is a natural home for lizards, chameleons and snakes. Nature lovers can enjoy watching these rare creatures taking a sunbath on a hot stone or suddenly crossing their path. Lara Beach is one of the few beaches in Europe where the rare sea turtles are still able to build their nests. Sometimes turtles can be seen in the daytime, swimming near the coast in the clear waters of the Mediterranean.
Off the coast of Cyprus live about 260 different kinds of fish. The underwater reefs near the coast are also a delight for nature lovers with sponges, corals, sea anemones and mussels. The clear water of the sea is very inviting for diving and snorkeling.
Many European birds spend the winter here in Cyprus because of its mild climate. This East Mediterranean Island is a handy stopover for migrating birds on their way to Africa. Other birds come here in the spring for their breeding season and then stay on for the summer. Little surprise then that there have been around 375 different kinds of birds counted in Cyprus. Ornithologists from all over the world come to admire the rich bird life particularly in spring and autumn. There are also several species of indigenous birds in Cyprus.
There are many excellent value products to be bought in Cyprus and all the main towns offer busy shopping centres and bustling markets. There are also Cyprus Handicraft Centres in all the major towns, offering a wide selection of locally produced items. Shops are closed all day Sunday and on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. However, in the tourist areas, shops usually stay open late in the evenings and all day Sunday.
In particular, Cyprus is noted for its leather goods, especially jackets, handbags and shoes; for handmade lace, and for high quality jewellry. Spectacles are very good value, often being offered at substantially lower prices than in Europe. Visitors to the mountain village of Lefkara will be able to see the villagers hard at work making their traditional lace and filigree silver products. In the other mountain villages good buys include homemade honey and sweets such as sujouko and palouze, which are made from grapes.
Ceramics are also very popular, with potteries in all the major towns offering a wide selection of brightly painted pots, plates and other gift items. High on many tourist shopping list is the famous Cyprus Delight, and visitors can visit the many workshops around the island that produce it, for a free taste and to see how it is made.
Cyprus is also well known for its wines and many wineries and breweries offer tours around their premises. Specialties of Cyprus include Cypriot brandy, the famous dessert wine, Commandaria, the orange liqueur Filfar, and Keo beer. Many locally produced spirits are also available and are much cheaper than well-known brands.
The mild climate in Cyprus means that sports enthusiasts can enjoy sporting activities all year round.
Golfers can choose from two golf courses near Paphos. The Tsadha Golf Club is situated near Tsadha village about 12 km north of Paphos. It is an 18 hole course which plays to a par 72, total length 6 050 metres.
The Secret Valley Golf Course is located between Paphos and Limassol, about 18 km from Paphos. It also plays to a par 72 and is 6 300m long.
Hiking is a very popular pastime in Cyprus, due to the large areas of unspoiled countryside. Many specialist companies offer excursions and these are an excellent way for tourists to discover Cyprus. In addition there are numerous sign-posted trails all over the island.
Sea sports are also very popular due to the calm and clear waters surrounding the island. All nature of water-sports can be pursued including water-skiing, scuba diving, wind-surfing and sailing. Trained instructors are also on hand to offer assistance and tuition.
Water-lovers will also like to try Water Park near Ayia Napa. “Waterworld” has a large number of slides, an activity pool as well as a children’s pool.
Although most people consider Cyprus a summer resort, winter sports can also be enjoyed in the brief Cyprus winter. The high Troodos mountain range sees some heavy snowfall enabling skiing from January often until March.
Traveling from Cyprus
Many tourists decide to spend their holidays on Cyprus, this beautiful and natural island in the east Mediterranean, not only because of it’s beauty and history, but also to take the chance of short trips or Cruises to nearby places like Israel, Egypt or to the Greek islands. Many tour operators offer for example 2 or 3-day trips with a complete sightseeing program.
Places To Visit
Nicosia and surroundings
- Tombs of the kings in Tamassos: Tuesday – Friday 09.00 – 15.00 Saturday – Sunday 10.00 – 19.00
Limassol and surroundings
- Castle of Kolossi: June – September: daily 07.30 – 19.30 October – May: daily 07.30 – 17.00
- Archaeological site Kourion: June – September: daily 07.30 – 19.30 October – May: daily 07.30 – 17.00
- Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis: June – September: daily 07.30 – 19.30 October – May: daily 07.30 – 17.00
Larnaka and surroundings
- Archaeological site Kition: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 (In July and August closed in the afternoon)
- Hala Sultan Tekkesi: June – September: daily 07.30 – 19.30 October – May: daily 07.30 – 17.00
- Choirokitia, Neolithic age settlement: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Saturday – Sunday 09.00 – 17.00
Pafos and surroundings
- Medieval castle of Pafos: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 Saturday – Sunday 09.00 – 17.00
- Tombs of the kings: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Saturday – Sunday 09.00 – 17.00
- Pafos Mosaics: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Saturday – Sunday 09.00 – 17.00
- Palaia Pafos – Aphrodite’s Temple: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Saturday – Sunday 09.00 – 16.00
Where else to go Nicosia and surroundings
- Church of Bishop Agios Ioannis: Monday – Saturday 08.00 – 12.00 14.00 – 16.00 (during the R.C. Mass)
- Famagusta gate – cultural centre of the City of Nicosia: Monday – Friday 10.00 – 13.00 16.00 – 19.00 (from July to August) 17.00. – 19.00
- Mosque of Omeriye: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 12.30 13.30 – 15.30
- Cyprus Centre of Artcraft: Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 15.00 17.00 – 23.00Sunday 10.00 – 16.00
Limassol and surroundings
- Art gallery of the City of Limassol: Monday – Friday 08.30 – 13.30 Mo, Tu, We, Fr 15.00 – 17.30 (June – September) 16.00 – 18.30
Churches and Monasteries
When the apostles Paul and Barnabas arrived in 45/46 AD in Cyprus, the island then became the first Christian community outside Israel. Today small chapels, churches and monasteries testify to nearly 2000 years of Christian cultural life all around Cyprus.
The monastery of Ayios Heraklidhios, near the archaelogical site of Tamassos(about 20 km west of Nicosia), was founded about 400 AD on the grave of the holy Heraklidhios. Nowadays a convent of nuns lives in the old monastery.
Ayios Yeoryios Alamanos
About 15km northeast of Limassol there is the monastery of Ayios. Yeoryios Alamanos. Makarios III founded this convent. Today the nuns mainly work as nurses.
About halfway between Larnaka and Limassol, near the famous village of Lefkara, there is the monastery of Ayios Minas. This convent has existed since 1670. Nowadays the nuns run the monastery painting and selling religious icons
About 10 km north of Paphos, near to the main road to Polis there is the monastery of Ayios Neophytos.
In Paphos district, about 40 km east from the main road to Polis, there is the idyllic monastery of Chrysoroyiatissa. This monastery is famous for its excellent wine.
At the top of a mountain about 1318 m high, in the north west of Troodos, stands the richest and most splendid monastery in Cyprus, Kykkos Monastery. Kykkos was founded in the 11th century but unfortunately it has been burned down several times and there are no reminders of the original building, in contrast to the other Cypriot monasteries. Near this famous monastery is the monument to Archbishop Makarios III, the first president of the Republic of Cyprus.
About 40km southwest of Nicosia on top of the Machairas mountain (1423 m), stands the secluded monastery of Machairas. Machairas is a popular place for excursions,Machairas Monasteri not only because of the quiet atmosphere of the monastery, but also due to the museum of Giorgios Afxentiou. Giorgios was a Cypriot freedom fighter who fought against the British colonial power . Giorgios Afxentiou died after defending himself in a nearby hideout.
Near the Nicosia-Limassol highway at junction number 11, Kornos, there is the monastery of Stavrovouni . Standing at the peak of a conical mountain (688 m), this is probably the most traditional and strictest monastery in Cyprus. Even today women are not permitted to enter. As legend has it, a piece of wood of from the holy cross of Christ has been saved in the monastery and is held in a silver cross. This cross has been stolen many times in the past.
About 5 – 10 km from Platres, is the small monastery of Trooditissa. This monastery is a popular place of pilgrimage. Prayers to the holy Icon of Virgin Mary give hope to childless couples who wish for a child.
The Byzantine heritage of Cyprus is obvious in many chapels and churches. Often these beautiful and mystical places are difficult to reach by public transport. To avoid any damage to the internal decoration of these churches, they are often closed. The best thing to do is to ask in the nearest coffee shop or one of the locals for the key!
Nicosia and Surroundings
- Archaeological Museum: Monday – Saturday 09.00 – 17.00 Sunday 10.00 – 13.00
- Byzantine Museum and Art gallery: Monday – Friday 09.00 – 13.00 14.00 – 17.00 Saturday 09.00 – 13.00
- Museum of the national fight: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 15.00 – 17.30
- Leventis Museum of the City of Nicosia: Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 16.30
- Ethnology Museum – The house of Chatzigeorgakis Kornesios: Monday – Friday 08.00 – 14.00 Saturday 09.00 – 13.00
- National Museum of modern Art: Monday – Friday 10.00 – 17.00 Saturday 10.00 – 13.00
- Jewellery Museum of Cyprus: Monday – Friday 10.00 – 16.30
- Cyprus Museum of mail and stamps: Monday – Thursday 10.00 – 12.00
- Historical Museum of Cyprus coin systems: Monday – Saturday 09.00 – 13.00 17.00 – 19.00
Limassol and surroundings
- Archaeological Museum of the Limassol district: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Saturday 09.00 – 17.00 Sunday 10.00 – 13.00
- Museum of Cyprus medieval in the castle of Limassol: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Saturday 09.00 – 17.00
- Museum of popular art: Monday – Friday 08.30 – 13.30 Mo, Tue, Wed, Fr 15.00 – 17.30 (June – September) 16.00 – 18.30
- Archaeological Museum Kourion: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 (in July and August closed in the afternoon)
Larnaka and surroundings
- Archaeological Museum of the Larnaka district: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 (in July and August closed in the afternoon)
- Pierides Museum: Monday 09.00 – 13.00 15.00 – 18.00 Saturday 09.00 – 13.00 Sunday 10.00 – 13.00
- Medieval Museum, Castle of Larnaka: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 17.00 Thursday 07.30 – 18.00
- Lefkara, Museum of traditional embroidery and work of silversmiths: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 16.00
Agia Napa and surroundings
- Marine Life Museum: May – September: Monday – Saturday 09.00 – 14.00 Monday and Thursday 16.00 – 18.30
Pafos and surroundings
- Archaeological Museum of Pafos district: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 15.00 – 17.00 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 Saturday – Sunday 10.00 – 13.00
- Byzantine Museum: Monday – Saturday 09.00 – 12.30 Monday – Friday 14.00 – 17.00 (June – September) 16.00 – 19.00
- Ethnographic Museum: Monday – Saturday 07.30 – 14.30 Monday – Friday 14.00 – 17.00 Sunday 10.00 – 13.00 (May – September) 15.00 – 19.00
- Geroskipou, Museum of folk art: Monday – Friday 07.30 – 14.30 Thursday 15.00 – 18.00 (not open in July and August)
Cyprus provides tourist accommodation for all tastes and requirements, ranging from luxury hotels, capable of satisfying the most demanding guests, hotels offering facilities for thematic activities for those seeking special interests and local colour, tourist villages for those who love the picturesque, hotel apartments with all comforts for the independent, villas with private pools for the solitary, and simple family units for those who seek company. For nature lovers there are camping sites.
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