Mediterranean island has unique position at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East
By Sandra Scott
With its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has been the crossroads between three continents from the time of Aphrodite.
Cyprus was the first country visited by apostles Paul and Barnabas on their mission to spread Christianity, crusaders stopped on the way to Jerusalem, and today tourists enjoy all of the aspect of Cyprus.
According to legend, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born from the foam in the waters offshore of the city of Paphos. There are several places on the island associated with the goddess, including the beautiful beach where Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology), emerged from the sea. West of Polis is the grotto Aphrodite used for secret trysts with her many lovers.
Long a holiday destination for Europeans, Cyprus is virtually unknown to travelers from the Western hemisphere. Many come to enjoy the beaches. With 400 miles of coastline, there is a beach for everyone. The “Blue Flag,” an exclusive eco-label awarded to beaches meeting a strict criterion, has been awarded to 49 of the country’s beaches.
Cyprus has accommodations suitable for every pocketbook from a hut on the beach to a temple of luxury that would please even Aphrodite.
Resorts are full-service, offering a plethora of water sports, golf, fine dining with shopping, museums and historical sites nearby.
Cyprus has an agritourism program that encourages restoration of traditional houses so they are equipped to receive visiting guests. It is the perfect way to get in harmony with Cypriot lifestyle, stop to smell the jasmine, enjoy nature trails, visit historical monasteries and meet the locals at the local tavern. At certain times of the year it is possible to ski in the morning and laze on a sunny beach in the afternoon.
For history buffs, history is everywhere. Currently Cyprus has three UNESCO World Heritage sites with other sites on the waitlist, plus new archeological discoveries are common. Choirokoitia, dating back to 6800 BC, is a neolithic site with reconstructed round stone huts that give evidence to a relatively sophisticated lifestyle for the time. At the archeological sites near Paphos there is a stunning collection of intricate and colorful mosaics. The House of Dionysus, so named because of the mosaic featuring Dionysus, the god of wine, contains the most famous mosaics. The house was large and palatial detailing the level of wealth in Cyprus during the Roman era.
Not far away are the underground Tombs of the Kings, which seem to have been influenced by the Egyptian. The Medieval Castle and Museum in Lemesos was built in the 14th century over a Byzantine castle and has been occupied by various groups through the ages.
The fortress is where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria in the 12th century. Saint Paul’s Column is a historically significant religious landmark situated in Paphos. According to local accounts, this was the place where the apostle Paul was tortured when he first arrived on the island to preach Christianity. Due to the column’s association with Saint Paul, the site has held immense religious significance and several churches were built close to it over the ages.
The Troodos Mountains is home to Mount Olympus — at 6400 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest point on the island. In the Troodos Mountains there are ten Byzantine churches with exquisite murals, all on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It is where Aphrodite made her home with the 12 Olympian gods. The ski season in the Troodos Mountains is between January and April with four ski lifts and eight alpine ski runs.
Dating back 1000 years, the capital Lefkosia (Nicosia) is both old and new. Located in the heart of the island, the city that was once enclosed by a star-shaped Venetian fortress wall and moat. The Cyprus Museum has displays that spans over seven thousand years. Interestingly there are terra cotta figures, while smaller, they predate those in Xian, China. The city has many high-end shops, boutiques and handicraft stores.
The island’s unique position at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East has added exotic dimensions to the island’s cuisine that make it particularly varied and delicious.
Sample several of the great dishes with meze which consists of as many as 30 small plates of food, from savory dips and vegetables to a wide range of fish and meat dishes. Much more than hors d’oeuvres, the meze often comprises the heart of a meal itself. In some restaurants and taverns you can choose to order seafood meze or meat meze. Enjoy a meal with one of the island’s fine wines. Cyprus wines are considered some of the most ancient ones in the world. Their production started in 2000 BC. Try Commandaria, a sweet dessert wine, which is considered to be one of the oldest wines in the world. Don’t miss the chance to watch a show of traditional dances.
To visit only a valid passport is necessary. Cypress is part of the EU so the Euro is used and, even though Greek is the official language, a higher percentage of Cypriots speak English than any other European country.
Sandra Scott along with her husband, John, traveled the world for over 50 years. With John’s passing, Sandra has moved to Oswego and continues to travel.