I live and work in Cyprus, and I claim to know the Island fairly well. So I thought it would be a good point to start a destination feature. But that’s not the only reason to begin here – Cyprus is an island steeped in history and culture with a countless sites to see and cultural treasures to experience. Yet it has all the potential for a relaxing beach resort holiday, for those less inclined towards cultural exploration and adventure. In this article, I have put together some general facts about Cyprus’s history and some information on what to do or see, drawn from my own experience. Unfortunately, I can only cover a small percentage of what Cyprus offers in this article, but I hope it will nonetheless offer some useful information for those considering a visit.
Cyprus is the third largest island of the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia, and it is located south of Turkey and to the north west of Lebanon and Israel. Recorded human activity on the island dates back to the New Stone age and archaeological remains of a well preserved Neolithic village can be found in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Choirokoitia, situated near the southern coast of the island.
It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the numerous historical and cultural points of interest in Cyprus, but among its most important historical treasures, are the remains of the ancient city of Kourion, which lies just outside the city of Limassol and dates back to 4500-3900 BC. Here you can visit the remains of a 3rd century Roman Agora (market), the remains of the roman villa, The House of Achilles and the magnificent Greco-Roman Theatre, with its breath-taking views of the cost and remarkably well preserved mosaics. Kourion Theatre, is a site not to be missed – now fully restored, it is now used to stage musical and theatrical performances, as well as official events such as the opening ceremony of Cyprus assuming the rotating EU presidency in July 2011.
The capital of Nicosia, is frequently overlooked, boasts many cultural attractions, including the Venetian Walls built around the old town, Ledra street, the Cyprus Museum and the Ledra Palace Crossing, which is the only pedestrian access to the occupied north of the Island.
For those looking to enjoy a leisurely beach holiday without too much sightseeing, Cyprus again rates as an ideal destination. The major costal resorts of Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca, Ayia Napa and Protaras, offer accommodation options to suit every budget. The most luxurious resorts can be found in Paphos and the surrounding areas on the west side of the island. While there is a lively bar and club scene, Paphos tends to attract a lot of families and mature travellers and those looking to play golf.
The eastern resort of Ayia Napa, on the other hand, is where the majority of the island’s partying happens. By night the square with its many restaurant and clubs, bustles with activity until the early (or sometimes late) hours of the morning. By day, you will find the beaches busy with sun worshipers or tourists enjoying the many water sports available. It should be said that Ayia Napa boasts some of the best beaches on the island. Nissi beach, with its golden sand and clear waters, is probably the most popular beach, especially among young people and consequently gets very busy during the summer months. For those looking for a less hectic beach experience, Sandy Bay and Konnos Bay, which is also popular with locals, are probably the most obvious alternatives.
Cyprus has endured a troubled political past, which is far too complex to account for in this article, but, here is a brief history of the different periods of foreign occupations, up to the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent illegal occupation and resulting division of the Island which remains today.
Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans, Genoese, Venetians, Ottomans, the British and Turks have all sought to possess Cyprus at some point since around 330 BC, when Alexander the Great seized Cyprus from the hands of the Persians. Upon Alexander’s death, Cyprus became a colony of Ptolemy I and remained under Ptolemaic rule for the next 250 years. The Roman Empire was the next to annex Cyprus and aside from a brief period where it was gifted to Cleopatra of Egypt and then handed back to the Roman Empire. Aside from two destructive earthquakes, in 15 BC and 76 AD, Cyprus managed to enjoy prosperity and relative peace until the middle of the 7th century when the Arab raids began, with the destruction of Salamis and Kourion, forcing many costal settlers to move inland to avoid the repeated attacks.
Richard I is the next conqueror of Cyprus, who sells the island to the Knights Templer. They in turn are forced to sell it to Guy de Lusignan, the dispossessed King of Jerusalem, in 1192 and again Cyprus is allowed to prosper, with Famagusta on the east coast, rising to the position of one of the richest cities of the Near East region.
1489 brought the Venetians, who fearing an attack from the expanding Ottoman Empire, fortified the capital Nicosia with a circular wall complex. This impressive example of 16th century military architecture can still be seen today and divides the old (walled) town of Nicosia from the more recently established districts of the city.
Alas, the Venetian efforts to protect the city failed and Nicosia fell to the Ottomans in 1570 following a seven week siege. The slaughter of some 20,000 people ensued, before the Ottomans proceeded to take the last city remaining in Venetian hands, Famagusta, after an 11 month long campaign, by which time the death toll rose to 56,000. With Cyprus now under Ottoman rule, the Latin Church representatives are expelled or converted to Islam and the Greek Orthodox faith is restored under the Archbishop of Cyprus.
When the Greek War of Independence broke out, in 1921, however, the Archbishop Kyprianos was publicly executed in the walled city, together with 3 Bishops and 470 prominent Cypriots.
In 1878, the British assume administration of Cyprus and formally annex the Island in 1914, when the Ottomans enter the Great War on the side of Germany. The Treaty of Lausanne sees Cyprus officially declared a Crown colony. Hopes of the Cypriots eventually being granted self-determination are crushed, however, in the post WWII period, since Cyprus is considered a strategic asset by the British. Numerous attempts to find a peaceful solution to the problem fail and eventually an armed anti-colonial struggle for independence begins. The nationalist organisation EOKA’s official military campaign began in 1955 with simultaneous attacks on British controlled establishments, including Cyprus Broadcasting Station in Nicosia and the British Army’s Wolseley barracks. These were followed by a number of sabotage campaigns, military ambushes and the assassination of British soldiers. The struggle lasted until 1959 and in 1960 Cyprus was granted independence, with the exception of 2 Sovereign bases, Dekelia and Akrotiri, which remain until present under British control.
The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic and its many provisions, however, proved unworkable and acted as the basis for further conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, eventually leading to the 1974 invasion of Turkey and subsequent illegal annexation of 37% of the island. The continued occupation and numerous human rights violations by Turkey, has been condemned by the UN General Assembly and the Council of Europe, among other bodies. Yet after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nicosia remains today the only divided city in the world. The events of 1974 and repeated attempts to find a solution to the Cyprus Problem, continue to dominate the country’s politics.
Despite this troubled past, Cyprus managed to flourish economically, mostly due to a tourism industry which attracts an average of 2,400,00 visitors each year. In 2004 it joined the European Union and subsequently the Eurozone in 2008. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, following the rejection of the 2004 UN Referendum by Greek Cypriots, on settling the dispute and owing to its status as a Turkish occupied territory – it is recognised as a state only by Turkey – is viewed as legally a part of EU that is under military occupation.
Unfortunately, the Cypriot economy was hugely affected by the 2012 banking crisis, which led the Cypriot government to seek a €10 billion bailout loan form the EU. The deal was reached following the Cyprus Government’s agreement to restructure the country’s 2 failing banks, while imposing a one off bank deposit levy on these bank’s customers on savings over €100,000. Cyprus is the 5th EU state, following Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, to seek financial assistance and suffer austerity measures as a result. Positively, early indications are that the tourism industry has not been affected to the point that was feared, while the crisis has had devastating effects on the construction and property sector of the Island.
For Cypriots, the future currently remains uncertain. But for its visitors Cyprus remains an enchanting island, full of cultural treasures, glorious beaches and areas of unspoilt beauty, waiting to be discovered.
Feel free to ask questions or request further information!