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Cyprus
An Island Coveted by the World!

Published in the Spring 2006 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Text & Photos: By Lise Giguère (l.giguere@videotron.ca)

Since the days of antiquity, the story of Cyprus has been a very eventful one. Even though its many invaders left their mark to the point where today the entire country it is a veritable open-air museum, they could not alter the essential charm of this beautiful isle.

A Coveted Island!

Cyprus is the third larger island of the Mediterranean. It lies at the crossroads of the East and the West, the North and the South. Its ideal climate (360 days of sunshine a year), its rich and fertile ground and its legendary copper deposits, made it an extremely coveted island in all of recorded history.

By turns, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans, Lusignans, Venetians, Ottomans and British all ruled over Cyprus. Each of them left their imprint behind: the British rule of driving on the left; Romans temples; Venetian walls; Neolithic encampments; Medieval castles; and the many other remnants of empires past. Every day, archaeologists unearth the long-lost secrets of this fabled land, many possibly dating back as far as 10,000 B.C.

All of its invaders contributed to the drastic changes in the architectural and cultural landscape of Cyprus, but none could have imagined that one day the island would be divided into two by a “green line” (the Attila line), a demilitarized zone 180 km long.

No Cypriot forgets the day in July 1974 when Turkey invaded their island. Some 200,000 of them were driven from their homes and stripped of their goods when these modern-day  invaders took possession of 37% of the territory located at the northern end of the island. In that coup d'état, nearly 6,000 people were found dead and the traces and ultimate fate of the 1,619 who disappeared, including 50 children, are still being actively sought.

“I was 5 years old,” our guide Christine remembers. “I will never be able to forget the thousands of parachutists that I saw falling from the sky. Nothing I have ever experienced since that day can ever compare to that.”

Visiting Cyprus is a dive into ancient history, but it’s also a stark realization of the insanity and corrupting nature of power. During a long or short stay on Cyprus, you will undoubtedly find yourself enthralled by its fascinating history and mythology.

Ancient & Modern History

Located at the center of the island, the old city of Nicosia is separated by the “green line.” This makes it the latest “sacrificed capital”, according to a sign posted near the border delineating the Greek and the Turkish parts of Cyprus.

To understand the pain, anger and the sadness of Cypriots, two stops are essential for any visitor. The first is the Ledra Museum Observatory in Nicosia located atop the Shiakola Tower on its 11th floor, where telescopes and explanatory plaques (in several languages) make it possible “to see” the division of the island. The second is the extraordinary Museum of Cyprus, which displays the most important collection of antiquities and treasures from the Neolithic era and those of the period of Roman occupation.

With its many museums, its Artisan Centre (founded in part to assist the refugees from the north, who found themselves without homes and employment in 1974), its Cathedral with its superb frescos, its Famagusta Gate (one of the original entryways to the ancient city), its pedestrians-only zone, its many quaint historic churches, and its small shops where craftsmen have practiced their trade for centuries, Nicosia offers the visitor a memorable lesson in culture and history.

Lemesos

While traveling to the southern end of the island, you pass through the coastal cosmopolitan city of Lemesos, a popular stop for Mediterranean cruise ships. Lemesos is a resort town boasting some 16 km of virgin coastline. It’s also the center of the Cyprus’ wine industry and the host of two important annual celebrations that are close to the heart of Cypriots -- the Carnival in February and the Wine Festival held in September.

In Lemesos, you will also revisit the medieval world by way of the Lemesos Castle (Limassol), where Richard the Lionhearted married Bérangère de Navarre to make her Queen of England, and Kolossi Castle, where the Knights Templars established their headquarters and manufactured the amber-colored dessert wine Commandaria, which is still produced today, according to its original recipe.

Intriguing Mythology

On the western coast of the island, in the town of Pafos, you’ll find the house of Dionysos (the God of Wine) with its intriguing mosaics that were preserved buried under the ground for over sixteen centuries. Here, you can also visit ruins of the Sanctuary of Apollo, as well as the sites devoted to the Goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite.

According to legend, it was indeed on the coast of Pafos that Aphrodite first appeared in the small cove next to the large rock called Petra Tou Romiou. As the presumed place of her birth, today it is a much-visited spot. Equally popular are the Lovers’ Fountain, where she bathed, and the Bath of Aphrodite, where it is said she seduced Adonis. Just like the vestiges of her old haunts, the love goddess seems to have left lasting traces of her every move on her Cyprus birthplace.

A Varied Landscape

The coastline that surrounds Pafos is protected by the Troodhos, an impressive mountain range whose crowning glory is the 1,951-metre Olympe Mount. It’s covered with snow in winter, but its many footpaths allow year-round panoramic view of its waterfalls and forests of cedars and pines, oaks and cypresses. In its foothills lies fertile land covered with vineyards, carob trees and olive groves.

While following the seaside road, you’ll find many small villages, where the inhabitants grow grain and citrus fruits (lemons, oranges and grapefruits). This region is also known for its picturesque verdant valleys.

Heading in the direction of the Akamas Peninsula in the Northwest, the landscape changes again. Here you find virgin and uninhabited territory, with immense rock formations, which in certain places rise to 100 metres, and completely secluded beaches.

One of these beaches, Lara Beach, has been environmentally protected since 1978. It is an incubation center for the reproduction of two species of particularly vulnerable sea turtles, the green turtle and the loggerhead turtle.

The distance to cross this small but extremely interesting island is fortunately rather short, and so is the trip to get there. This is why, a mini-cruise to Cyprus is such a beautiful add-on to a holiday in Greece (two days sailing), Egypt (13 hours) or Lebanon (10 hours).

 

Some Facts About Cyprus

  • Each year, Cyprus welcomes more than 2,5 million tourists, predominantly from the UK.

  • Tourism is the main industry of the island, then agriculture, mainly potatoes, lemons and oranges, but also wine.

  • Best time to visit Cyprus: May, June, September and October. In January and February, the temperature varies between 15C and 17C and there may be a few days of rain. March and April is the time when the wind carries the dust from the deserts of Libya and Egypt, which seems like mist, but leaves a sandy taste in the mouth. July and August are a very hot 39C.

  • You need to count 11 hours of flight from Montreal. As well, there are waiting times in airports. Cyprus Airways (wwwcyprusairways.com) offers daily air flights to Larnaka, Cyprus from the majority of the large Canadian cities, via London, Amsterdam or Athens, as well as frequent connecting flights from Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris.

  • In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and 37% of Cypriots found themselves under Turkish domination. At the time of this event, 200,000 Cypriot Greeks were relocated (a third of the population). Several monuments and antiquities of Cypriot cultural heritage were either demolished or damaged.

  • The official languages are the Greek and Turkish. However, English is spoken almost everywhere on the island and one easily finds people who can express themselves in French.

  • An excursion to the northern part of Cyprus (under Turkish administration) is no problem. However, visits for tourists are only authorized between 8 am and midnight.

Reading Recommendations

It is essential to read up on Cyprus before going there. To this end, you will find reliable and enlightening travel guides on Cyprus in most bookstores.

Bitter Lemons, a novel about life on Cyprus written by British author and poet Lawrence Durrell in 1957, would also inspire you to venture onto this enchanting island.

 

Acknowledgements

This trip was made possible thanks to the collaboration of Cyprus Tourism Organization (www.visitcyprus.org.cy)

For More Info:

Cyprus Tourism Organization (US)
13 East 40th Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel.: 212-683-5280
Fax: 212-683-5282
Email: gocyprus@aol.com
Official Website: www.cyprustourism.org

Cyprus Tourism Organisation (UK)
17 Hanover Street 
London, United Kingdom
W1S 1YP
Tel.: 020 7569 8800
Email: informationcto@btconnect.com
Website: www.visitcyprus.org.cy

High Commission for Cyprus 
2211 R Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel.: 202-462-5772  Fax: 202-483-6710
Email: cypembpow@sysnet.net or
cypembwash@earthlink.net
Official Website: http://kypros.org/Embassy

 

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