Federation of Cypriot American Organizations

History of Cyprus

Cyprus is an island at the crossroads of many civilizations – from Neolithic cultures to ancient Greek and Roman and many more. Phoenicians,  Venetians, Alexander the Great,  Knights Templar. So many civilizations, that to properly examine them all would take the acumen of an archaeologist and many lifetimes. But sun-kissed and compact Cyprus can be explored in a much shorter time than that, with plenty of opportunity for stops at the beaches, vineyards, monasteries, museums, and tavernas along the way. One look at the blue swirl around Petra tou Romiou, or Aphrodite’s rock, and you’ll get a sense of why Cyprus attracted so many throughout the millennia.

The natural Mediterranean beauty of Cyprus attracted the attention of the dominant regional empires throughout history and even pre-history. Some of the Neolithic ruins in Cyprus give new meaning to the word “timeless.” In places like Choirokoitia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stone ruins of ancient human settlements date back 10,000 years. Copper was found on the island between 3900 B.C. and 2500 B.C., a discovery that would change the course of commercial and cultural history in the ancient world. In the geographic orbit of ancient Greece, it’s no surprise that Greek merchant and settlers (Mycaenaens and Achaeans) would establish Cypriot city-kingdoms, from 1650 B.C.-1050 B.C. One of these was Kourion, where today you can wander explore well-preserved ancient ruins. Fast forward in antiquity to 333 B.C. and Alexander the Great swept through, decisively albeit briefly: by 325 B.C. the Hellenistic Period had commenced, with the Ptolemies of Egypt in control. Pafos was their capital, and today the necropolis known as the Tombs of the Kings bears witness to this stage of the island’s rich past.

Pafos is also where you’ll find a treasure trove of ancient mosaics that date from Cyprus’s Roman Period, from 30 B.C.-330 A.D and important early Christian relics like St. Paul’s Pillar. Christianity gained a first foothold in Cyprus and was also a place from which it would be defended. Richard, the Lionheart, and the Knights Templar arrived in 1191, and in Lemesos (Limassol) you can visit the castle where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre. The Frankish, or Lusignan period followed, and in 1489, the Venetian Empire held sway. The fortifications in Lefkosia (Nicosia) are of solid Venetian construction. Ottoman and British traces are still visible in places throughout the island, too. As you explore Cyprus, the mosaic of myriad civilizations comes into sharper focus, because so much of world history began right here and continued every day.

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