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Cyprus - A cultural tour

Cyprus– The Island of Aphrodite is “going cultural” Join Lyssiemay Annoh on a cultural tour

The Kourion Theatre Kolossi Castle

Most Britons and perhaps anyone else who thinks of Cyprus may only seek to visit the country for sun, sea and meze. I am not surprised because before I visited Cyprus, I also considered it as a beach scene and perhaps this is what the Island is primarily renowned for. This assumption is still accurate because after all it is an island.

Nevertheless, it is not an ordinary island – these 22,000 square miles of land has more to offer than fascinating coastlines and beaches. Today, Cyprus, the home to the Temple of Aphrodite prides itself in historical and archaeological importance. Its harbour was the first built during the days of Alexander the Great and was rebuilt in 1592 AD. The island has such a long history. My Cypriot historical and archaeological adventure starts from Pafos (or Paphos as it sometimes spelt) which was the capital of Cyprus in Roman times. Pafos is also the port for the Polymus visiting shrine of Aphrodite. I flew into Larnaca via Cyprus Airways (Larnaca hosts the Island’s international airport; from here, I drove toward to Pafos. Even before I checked into the Paphos Amathus Beach hotel I knew that Pafos is a very interesting city culturally because it has so much to offer. The strikingly beautiful Paphos Amathus Beach hotel which is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, welcomes you into its surroundings in the most remarkable way that it makes you look forward to your visit. The views from the hotel are simply “to die for”. The Amathus has conference facilities, spa and wellness facilities, a variety of 7 restaurants and bars, a large swimming pool, games and sea-based activities, golf opportunities, boutiques and mini-markets.

The Paphos Amathus Beach Hotel

On day one of my cultural tour, I visited the Agios Neofytos Monastery and the Egkleistra. This Monastery which was founded at the end of the 12th Century is the brain child of Cypriot hermit and writer Neofytos. In the monastery's church, an ecclesiastical museum houses icons, manuscripts, holy utensils, old books, ecclesiastical garments, various religious objects, jewellery, a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery and old maps. The Egkleistra, an enclosure carved out of the mountain, contains some of the finest Byzantine frescoes dating from the 12th to 15th centuries.

There are also well-tended gardens and a shop where you can buy fresh Melissovouno honey.
I later travelled to Statos village to visit the Kolios winery and managed a spot of tasting of some of the local wines.

Seeing Cyprus as a cultural destination is so fascinating. The island is very rich in civilisation and culture. A visit to the archaeological museum in Polis to the spot where once stood the ancient city-kingdom of Marion brought back an important commercial centre in the classical and Hellenistic times. Today, it stands as a museum and home to some interesting collection of antiquities which were discovered in the region.
All these exploration wets your appetite so I stopped by the Moustakallis restaurant in Polis Chrysochous in Paphos for a typical Cypriot 'meze' lunch. A Cypriot ‘meze’ meal is a feast so ensure that you have an empty stomach when you start to eat one up. The meal which comes in a series of courses, offers a good variety of the recommended nutritional balance for anyone; a perfect balance to help you to continue your visit especially as there is so much to see in Paphos. I still had to see the roman mosaics at the villa of Dionysus before dinner (assuming that my large lunch would have been digested before 8pm!). The House of Dionysus was a Roman villa, probably dating from the 3rd century AD. The mosaic floors are considered among the finest in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Day two and I have already recovered from my awestruck experience and I was heading to the Omodos village via Agios Nikolaou to visit the picturesque square, the church of the Holy cross and the old wine press. It had to be done especially if I did not want to leave Cyprus with only half knowledge of its cultural heritage. Legend has it that this wine-producing village which can be admired for its gravel-paved central square and its rich architecture accepted the Christian faith around 150 AD. One night, the inhabitants saw a great fire and after search of the area, discovered a small cross hidden in a cave. A chapel was build near the cave and with the passing of time a monastery was built to accommodate the pilgrims who sought cure from the Holy Cross. The history of the Monastery of the Holy Cross is long and dates back to 327 AD when Agia Eleni (Saint Helen) visited the island.

The Coral Beach Hotel

Surely, with all this richness in culture and heritage, I was beginning to think that Cyprus must have some skilled handicrafts as well so I visited the Agros village which is the main village of the Pitsilia. Here the locals put their skills to perfect use. I was introduced to a rosewater and candle shop as well as a preserved fruit and sweets shop. Fresh fruit jam has never tasted so good. I later awarded myself another Cypriot lunch at Koilada Tavern. I must confess that I was not expecting to eat another ‘‘‘meze’’’ but I did! I made a mental note to choose something else on the menu next time. While I was doing so, I thought I would try out another hotel too to see if they were all as good as the Paphos Amathus Beach hotel. So day three saw me checking into Leptos Coral Beach Hotel at Coral Bay which was in the opposite direction. After all they say opposites attract. It was different but just as nice and can you guess what I had for dinner? Another ‘meze’ – a different selection this time. Cyprus ‘mezes’ come in different varieties; meat, fish, seafood, chicken, vegetables…. Well I thought one more ‘meze’ will not do me any harm before I headed off to Lemesos where I had a rendezvous with an ancient city kingdom and a Medieval Castle.

Mosaic from the House of Eustolios

It is day four and my first stop was at the ancient Kouron site. After paying an entrance fee of 1.70 euros you are introduced to one of the most spectacular archaeological sites on the island, Kourion was an important city kingdom where excavations continue to reveal impressive new treasures.

Noted particularly for its magnificent Greco - Roman Theatre, Kourion is also proud home to stately villas with exquisite mosaic floors and an early Christian Basilica among other treasures.

Originally built in the 2nd century B.C., Kourion’s awe - inspiring theatre is now fully restored and used for musical and theatrical performances. The House of Eustolios, consisting of a complex of baths and a number of rooms with superb 5th century A.D. mosaic floors, was once a private Roman villa before it became a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. The Early Christian Basilica dates to the 5th century and was probably the Cathedral of Kourion, with a baptistery attached to the north face. The House of Achilles and the House of the Gladiators also have beautiful mosaic floors. The Nymphaeum, dedicated to the water nymphs, is an elegant Roman structure.The 2nd century A.D. stadium is located outside the main Kourion site, about a kilometre to the west on the right hand side of the road to Pafos. Also impressive is the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, situated about 2.5 kilometres west of the ancient city.

After a lesson in archaeology I headed off to Kolossi, a village on the outskirts of the city of Limassol. It is built close to the imposing castle which bears the settlement's name. The Kolossi Castle held a great strategic importance and contained production of sugar, one of Cyprus' main exports in the middle Ages. The original castle was possibly built in 1210 by Frankish military when the land of Kolossi was given by King Hugh I to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers) and the present castle was built in 1454 by the Hospitallers. Besides the Hospitallers, other dwellers in the castle include Richard the Lionhearted, and the Templars. Lunch was at the Mageiron Tavernaki and I remembered not to order a ‘meze’ – chicken and French fries it was! A woman had to be allowed some few indulgences every now and then.

Petra tou Romiou

My final destination was to visit the Aphrodite Hills Golf Course but I had to pass by Petra tou Romiou – the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite. A visit to Cyprus will be meaningless without this stopover. The Petra Tou Romiou or the Rock of Aphrodite (as known in English), is a scenic place, located

off the old Pafos-Lemesos road. It's a popular tourist spot, for its breathtaking view of the sea, and more famously the birth place of Aphrodite.

Legend has it that this is the Rock from which Aphrodite mythically arose from the foams in the sea. It is widely believed that at the time when there existed only Ge, the Earth and Ouranos (Uranus), Ge asked one of her sons, Cronos (Kronos) to mutilate his father (Uranus). Obeying these instructions, Cronos proceeded to cut off Uranus's testicles and throw them into the sea. From the sea arose white foams, from which a maiden arose, the waves first taking her to Kythera and then bringing her to Cyprus. The maiden, named Aphrodite, then went to the assembly of gods from Cyprus.
Hence, the Romans widely referred to her as Venus. It is also said that Digenis Akritas, a Greek superhero, threw a large rock to secure the Saracen ships and this rock today stands as the Petra Tou Romiou leading to the above translation as the Rock of the Greek. Aphrodite widely attracted a cult following in Pafos, which was then crushed by the Romans. This is evident from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, in Old Pafos, a beautifully excavated site. It is important to note that Aphrodite was known for lustful love more than romantic love.
My main aim for dropping by the Aphrodite Hills Golf Club was for coffee and to see if I could invest in one of its luscious properties; but the views were simply delightful and after all that historical, cultural and archaeological experience, I was more enchanted by its Spa features than anything else.
Nevertheless, the centrepiece of Aphrodite hills, an ambitious new £150 million, 580 acre development a mile or so inland from the south coast of Cyprus, is a magnificent 18-hole championship course which was laid out by the leading American golf designer Cabell Robinson and opened in October 2002. Its retreat Retreat Spa though is a haven for the senses. It has a total of 24 treatment rooms and a dedicated expert team of therapists. The Spa offers a comprehensive selection of over 100 luxurious treatments including face & body, massage and hydrotherapy to name a few. The Retreat also offers guests a stunning infinity edge pool with exceptional views, a juice bar & restaurant as well as fragrant relaxation gardens with loungers and day beds. The heart of the spa comprises of the Greco Roman inspired thermae; a series of progressively warmer heat rooms tempered with cooling showers. I am sure you will not believe me if I said that I did not have time to sample any of these spa delights – all I got was a trip round the 18-hole championship course in a baggy and then I had to rush off for my final dinner at the Alantida Restaurant before I returned to London the following day.
Day five – final day and I was all packed up to return to London. I had a burning question though, what was I going to say to anyone who asked why I had visited the Island of Aphrodite and not found lustful love? It took me only two seconds to answer the question. My answer – I found romantic love with the cultural, historical and archaeological Cyprus!

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Executive Traveller 2003