ENCHANTING AND EXOTIC CYPRUS
Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love was born on Cyprus, according to Greek mythology. It is clear that she favoured this Mediterranean island giving it exquisite landscapes, a winsome climate and alluring beaches.
Greeks joined the prehistoric peoples of Cyprus 3,500 years ago, establishing roots that remains strong and have been enriched by the cultural imprints of various rulers: Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, Ottoman, British.
The latter took over in 1878, with Greek and Turkish cultures most prominent. Independence from Britain and the Republic of Cyprus was proclaimed August 16, 1960. The new constitution was unsatisfactory to the Turkish and in 1974 they took control of the north, forming the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The border cuts across the old historic part of Nicosia (aka Lefkosia) making this the only divided capital city in the world.
Our roving begins on the Greek side of engaging shops and delightful eateries. Always time for more soutzoukos; a traditional treat of almonds strung on a string coated with a grape juice/flour/sugar mix.
The Turkish side beckons.
We walk through the buffer zone manned by UN peacekeepers and join the checkpoint cue with our passports to obtain visas.
Ottoman flair abounds in colourful shops heaped with souvenirs and foodstuffs. Selimiye Mosque (formerly Saint Sophia Cathedral) rises in grandeur. In a nearby venue a Whirling Dervish engages in the physically active meditation developed in the early 1200’s by an Islamic mystic.
The theatre darkens and vocal incantations sound as the dervish rotates, his white skirt flaring as he whirls with closed eyes, yet he experiences no dizziness due to his deep meditative state based on this intriguing arcane philosophy.
We next find a small restaurant to sip scalding, sweet, thick, flavourful Turkish coffee before crossing back over….what could be better!
Two hours by bus brings us to Pafos (Paphos). It was the capital of Cyprus in antiquity, resulting in a wealth of archaeological wonders. The entire city is listed as a UNESO World Heritage Site!
In Kato Pafos Archaeological Park we begin with the villas once belonging to noblemen from 2nd to 5th centuries AD. The mosaic floors depicting mythological figures are masterpieces; Dionysus with wine goblet held high, warriors spearing beasts.
“This Roman governor treated himself well,” Rick says as we view the rooms and baths of the House of Theseus. An incredulous moment is treading along a pathway of tiles laid 2,000 years ago!
Another day we make our way to Agia Solomoni Church.
We move through the hauntingly eerie underground chapel carved out of limestone, originally a catacomb from the Hellenistic period. The rough rock is adorned with some 12th century religious paintings, now stained and faded.
Rick suddenly goes missing. I hear a splash and a yelp. Down a set of steps I find my husband standing in ankle deep water. He leaps back onto the bottom step in shocked laughter. The trickster liquid returns to its dark clear stillness, appearing like a solid slab of rock.
Waterlogged shoes a given, it’s off to the Tombs of Kings, so named for the grandeur of the acropolis which once held the remains of high ranking officials and wealthy families mostly from the Roman period.
The underground tombs carved out of rock range from simple ones for individual burials, to chambers with passages and large colonnaded tombs – a captivating walk back through time.
In the town of Larnaca, we find the famed Byzantine Church of Agios Lazaros (Saint Lazarus) …yes, the same biblical Lazarus who was resurrected from the dead! Religious persecution sent Lazarus fleeing to Cyprus in 33AD. Here he met Apostles Paul and Barnabas who ordained him the first Bishop of Kition (now Larnaca) for his remaining mortal years. His burial site was lost until in 890AD excavations revealed a tomb with the inscription “Lazarus the friend of Christ”. Shivers run down my spine as I touch the edges of the sarcophagus in the crypt.
The church above swells with woodcarvings, chandeliers, and striking icons, yet a silver box is the focus of all who enter. I wait my turn to gaze through its glass top at bone fragments. They were discovered in a small marble coffin under the altar during a fire restoration in 1972, and are believed to be relics of Saint Lazarus.
Our last day is one of leisure watching pink flamingos wade in Larnaca’s Salt Lake, then moving on to sit for hours where the velvety sand meets the sea… an Aphrodite worthy experience indeed!
PHOTOS Credit: Rick Butler
1. Nicosia cityscape
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