by Katie Belle
Renowned as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, Paphos, in the south west of Cyprus, is a history lover’s dream. Having been inhabited 2,300 years, it’s no wonder the ancient city of Paphos was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO back in 1981 and that Paphos has now been named European Capital of Culture for 2017.
But there’s no need to wait until 2017 to discover all that Paphos has to offer. In fact, visiting now probably means you escape the crowds expected to throng to Cyprus in four years’ time.
All the historic sites in and around Paphos have a nominal entry fee of 1.70 Euros, apart from its biggest attraction, which is well worth the extra money for the fascinating insights into life here in ages gone by.
Our first stop is the Paphos Archeological Park, which sits at the end of Theas Afroditis Avenue. But once here, you can easily while away a whole day and still not discover all of its attractions, although we visit early in the morning to avoid the midday heat.
The highlights are undoubtedly the Paphos mosaic floors, which date back to the 2ndcentury AD, and are remarkably mostly intact.
The fantastical tales behind them transport you back to a time of Greek myths and legends. The House of Dionysus is thought to have belonged to a member of the ruling class or to a wealthy citizen of Paphos because of the many depictions of Dionysus, the God of Wine.
Particularly stunning is the mosaic depicting the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s writing. The two lovers in the mosaic planned a tryst in the forest. But, when Thisbe arrived, she ran away in fright when she spotted a tiger, leaving behind only her scarf. When Pyramus arrived, he saw the scarf stained with blood after the tiger had just killed some prey. Believing Thisbe was dead, he fell on his sword. Tragically, when Thisbe returned, she found her lover dead and killed herself with the same weapon.
Moving hundreds of years forward in time, yet only a kilometre away, the Medieval Castle of Paphos is also well worth a visit. Originally a Byzantine fort built to protect the harbour, it was rebuilt by the Lusignans in the 13th century and again by the Ottomans in the 16thcentury.
Today, if you’re in Paphos during September, the castle takes centre stage in the Aphrodite Festival, which presents a different opera every year, usually in the square just in front of this atmospheric fort. When we visit, a wedding has just taken place and the bride and groom, along with their guests are having their official photographs taken against this beautiful backdrop.
While Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is undoubtedly more famous, Paphos also has the Tombs of the Kings. Thought to have been built as the final resting places of Paphitic aristocracy, this huge site has the feel of an Indiana Jones or Lara Croft movie set.
Steep, uneven steps lead down into the burial chambers themselves, with the grandest tombs mirroring the houses of the living. They’re similar to tombs found in Alexandria, but without the crowds. We visit in the early evening – the site is open until 7.30pm in summer season – and watch as the lowering sun turns the carved rock from grey to gold. We can understand why Paphos’ great and good in centuries gone by would have chosen this as their final resting place.
Katie is the travel addicted blogger behind delightso.me. She believes that no matter where you travel, experiencing the culture and learning about local history can only make your adventures even more delightful.