Where some people see palaces, cities and temples, others see piles of rocks. Archeology might not be something for everybody. However, it is hard to visit Cyprus and ignore its impressive archaeological sites completely. This article sketches some historical context that might help you to visualize Roman live that took place thousands of years ago under the same sun, with the same ocean view.
Cyprus has an ancient history and a huge range of archaeological sites covering all the eras of human settlement on the island.
Among the most ancient is the Choirokoitia site. Dating back some 7.000 years, this prehistoric site would be the hardest to visualize since it’s most removed from our frame of reference. Luckily there are some reconstructed buildings to help the imagination along.
The buildings were established by the Cypriot Aceramic Neolithic people, the first inhabitants of the island who came to the island around the 7th millennium BC, more than 9.000 years ago. There are a couple of signs along the path to help explain what is known about these people and the world they lived in. The site is just of the highway running from Nicosia to Limassol and easy to access. Also read our review of the Choirokoitia UNESCO World Heritage site.
Limassol has two ancient sites on opposite ends of the city. At the eastern end of the city lies the smaller site of ancient Amathus. This location is probably more appreciated by archaeology lovers. The place is relatively small but offers some visual appealing parts e.g. a couple of erected columns in the back. Here you also find a water basin, some streets with water plumbing still visible and intact. Wherever you go you’ll see pieces of pottery and roof tiles laying around and you can try to puzzle a pot back together. The site lays along the coastal road into the city and is easily accessible.
At the western end of Limassol, past the old crusader castle of Kolossi, you’ll find Kourion. The most photogenic archaeological site of Cyprus. Positioned on top of a cliff, the site has some stunning views across the sea with pillars and amphitheatres in the background. Kourion has numerous in situ mosaics of great quality. The ancient amphitheatre gives you a magnificent view of the sea and the nearby lowlands.
When you come upon the main concentration of ruins and the lonely pillar, you stand at the edge of a cliff looking out across the sea and towards some nearby cliffs. Together with the occasional palm tree, it’s easy for anybody to dream away here. Whether its’ back to ancient times or just of Mediterranean life in general. There is some information available at the site, but most is left to the imagination.
In Paphos archaeology and 21st Century life are much more intertwined than in Limassol where the sites are outside of the town. Here everything lies within walking distance from its old city centre and harbour. The medieval castle overlooking the harbour is built with the stones from the next door ancient ruins of Paphos. The archaeological park lies just behind the harbour along the coast. The park is stretched out and has a couple of interesting points. The main attraction is the villa of Dionysus, partly restored to cover the stunning mosaics inside. It gives a rare insight into upper-class Roman living. Every floor is covered in mosaics and the subjects range from Mythology and hunting scenes to simple geometric shapes. Other noteworthy sights are the amphitheatre, ancient catacombs and the ruins of another crusader castle destroyed by an earthquake.
Tombs of Kings
More catacombs are to be found along the town together with the ruins of an ancient basilica. Most of these sites are linked to early Christianity, dating all the way back to Petrus spreading the word in the first century AC.
At the northern edge of town lie the tombs of the Kings. These are not really tombs of kings, but of wealthy citizens. If you ever wanted to feel like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones, this is the place to visit, especially early in the morning when you’re all alone. Walking around looking for the different tombs to discover since there is no real guidance available. Some tombs are not more than holes in the ground, while others are like underground temples. The site lies along the coast and is covered by seaside shrubbery, just out in the water lies a ship, run aground some time ago, all things combined give this place a very special vibe.