By Zoe Christodoulides and Alexia Evripidou
NOW is the perfect time to go out and reacquaint ourselves with Cyprus’ extraordinarily rich cultural heritage.
The weather is ideal for sightseeing, the Easter holidays provide the time and the events organised on and around the International Day for Monuments and Sites on Thursday April 18 provide the opportunity.
First established by UNESCO in 1983, the International Day for Monuments and Sites will be marked in Cyprus by a series of events in Paphos, Larnaca and Nicosia with photographic exhibitions, talks, guided tours and visits to monuments, heritage sites.
Highlights include a lecture on “War, disaster and the ‘reconstruction’ of cultural heritage”, co-organised by the antiquities department and the ministry of defence follow on 24 April in Paphos and a guided tour of Ancient Kition and a talk on “The Archaeology of Larnaca: recent discoveries” on April 25.
“Monuments and sites are tangible carriers of the memory of a part of the human experience. Thus, through their authenticity and integrity, they contribute to the commemoration and transmission of values which include history,” says a statement from UNESCO’s International Council on Monuments and Sites.
And nowhere is that more evident in Cyprus than in the three locations which have proudly made the UNESCO world heritage list to date: Choirokoitia, the whole of Paphos town, and ten intricately painted Byzantine churches in the Troodos region.
These, as well as Hala Sultan Tekke, Amathous Tychon, Kolossi Castle, Kourion and other ancient heritage places, will be open for visits all Easter weekend except Sunday.
One, three and seven day special entry cards for both the monuments and sites are available at the venues. .
Choirokoitia: Ancient hillside splendour
One of the best places on the island to get to grips with the ancient world simply has to be Choirokoitia, with its circular mud dwellings perched high on sloping hill between the towns of Larnaca and Limassol, and commanding views of the surrounding area. What makes these dwellings really special however is not their location, nor the way they look, but their construction date.
Erected in the Neolithic period and occupied between the 7th to the 4th century BC, they mark the earliest evidence of community dwelling in the country. The site is highly valued by archaeologists well beyond our shores and are touted as one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean.
Particularly highly regarded because of the evidence is gives of an organised functional society in the form of a collective settlement, a walk around the densely built houses will take you back to a time when hearths were used for cooking, and hunting was the main task each day. But farming and herding also took up much of the inhabitants’ time, with the prevailing opinion that “Choirokoitia” is a compound name consisting of the words “Khiros” (meaning ‘pig’) and “Kiti” (meaning ‘pen’), denoting a place where pigs were raised.
While the population of the village is thought to have never exceeded 600 people at any one time, they were exceptionally well organised and had already began to treat their living spaces in a fashion that set the groundwork for how we live today. The divisions within the houses give clear indication that areas were separated and designated for work, rest and storage. The fascinating civilisation vanished suddenly in the 4th century BC, and no adequate explanation has been given regarding its disappearance.
Paphos: From the cult of Aphrodite to other-worldly mosaics
With the whole town included on the official UNESCO list of cultural and world heritage, Paphos has often been likened to an open history book. It’s hardly surprising given that the town hailed as Aphrodite’s birthplace once stood as the centre of the cult of the goddess and of pre-Hellenic fertility deities.
To find out more about this cult, make a bee-line for Kouklia and the elaborate temple of Aphrodite which formed a centre of worship for the entire ancient Greek world. The most ancient remains in Kouklia date back to the 12th century BC. Pop into the adjacent Kouklia museum housed in the eastern annex of a Lusignan medieval mansion to get to grips with the extent of Aphrodite’s profound mythological significance.
The other side of Paphos features the Tomb of the Kings, an impressive necropolis rooted in mystery and intrigue with well preserved age-old underground tombs and chambers bringing to life an arid landscape. While it was actually high officials rather than kings that were buried here, it’s the magnificence of the tombs that gave the place its name.
Spread over a vast area, they date back to the 4th century BC, each tomb standing as a monumental structure carved out of solid rock and some decorated with imposing pillars.
Last but not least, the mosaics within the Paphos Archaeological Park are not to be missed. Famed as being among the most beautiful in the world, each has its own tale to tell about the ancient Greek world and its myths.
The mosaics inside the House of Dionysos are often cited as the most beautiful, and the restored Roman villa which dates back to the second century AD has been given its name thanks to the many depictions of the god of wine. It is believed the house belonged to a member of the ruling Roman class or to a wealthy citizen of Paphos.
Troodos: Saintly Byzantine Past
Most of us are familiar with the fact that just about every village in Cyprus boasts one or two churches, but what many don’t know is that the island is characterised by one of the greatest concentrations of churches and grandiose monasteries of the former Byzantine Empire.
With many of these located in the Troodos Mountains, ten have made the UNESCO world heritage list because of their exceptional architecture and their testimony to a rich cultural tradition, each one filled with artistic merit.
All are richly decorated with murals, and each one of them provides excellent insight into Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting in Cyprus while bearing testimony to the variety of artistic influences affecting the country over a period of over 500 years from the 11th to the 17th century AD.
From small and quaint rural churches like Ayios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St. Nicholas of the Roof) in Kakopetria, to imposing monasteries such as that of Ayios Ioannis (St John) Lampadistis in Kalopanayiotis, there’s much to capture the imagination.
Monday – Sunday: 8.30am – 7:30pm.
Open daily8am-4pm. Wednesday: 8am-5pm.
Monday- Sunday:8am -6pm
Tombs of the Kings
Tel: 26-306 295
Monday – Sunday: 8:30am- 7.30pm
The ten churches included in the UNESCO list are:
Ayios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St. Nicholas of the Roof), Kakopetria
AyiosIoannis (St. John) Lambadhistis Monastery, Kalopanayiotis
Panayia (The Virgin) Phorviotissa, Nikitari
Panayia (The Virgin) touArakou, Lagoudhera
Panayia (The Virgin), Moutoullas
Archangelos Michael (Archangel Michael), Pedhoulas
Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), Pelendria
Panayia (The Virgin) Podhithou, Galata
Stavros (Holy Cross) Ayiasmati, Platanistasa
The Church of AyiaSotira, Palaichori
For further information browse through the Department of Antiquities’ website: http://www.mcw.gov.cy/mcw/da/da.nsf/DMLindex_en/DMLindex_en?OpenDocument