In 1878, the British Empire took over Cyprus from the Ottoman Empire. Since then there has been an ongoing dispute in the Republic of Cyprus between the Greek Cypriots in the southern part of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus (the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). In 1974, there was a failed coup attempt by the Greek military. Today, the United Nations maintains a buffer zone, the Green Line, between the two halves, which passes right through the capital, Nicosia, a city of 300,000 inhabitants. It is larger than both Limassol and Larnaca which are also amazing places to visit while in Cyprus – likewise with a fascinating cultural heritage and interesting things to see and do.
Limassol, throughout history also known as Neapolis and Theodosias, is with a population of 100,000 the second largest city in Cyprus. If you arrive at Cyprus by cruise ship, Limassol will likely be your port of entry to the island. It is a good point of departure for sightseeing around Cyprus, whether you go west towards Paphos, drive around Mount Olympos to the north coast, Kyrenia, and Nicosia, or head east to the Larnaca area to Cape Greco, Nissi Beach, Fig Tree Bay, Famagusta, and Salamis Ancient City.
Old Port Hotel hotel situated in the old, historic town of Limassol with the Old Port, marina, and Limassol Castle right opposite the property. It is a vibrant neighbourhood with many restaurants and bars.
Best Western Plus Larco Hotel hotel situated only 200 m from the nearest beach at Larnaca. The hotel features modern rooms, free parking, sauna and outdoor swimming pool (heated from November to April).
Limassol, or Lemesos in Greek, on Cyprus’s south coast is the second largest city in Cyprus after Nicosia. The area has been inhabited since ancient times when the cities of Amathus (Amathounda) and Kourion (Curium) existed. Excavations have shown that there have been people living here already around 2000 BC. Much later, when the English King Richard the Lionheart was travelling to the Holy Land in 1190 in the Third Crusade, he came to Limassol where he besieged and captured the city. As a result of invasions by conquerors, Amathus was in the end destroyed and abandoned. Subsequent to this, a turbulent time followed as Cyprus was first sold the Templars, then turned into the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus, and finally occupied by the Ottomans in 1570.
The arrival of merchants in Limassol from the 13th century resulted in a high level of prosperity and cultural development of the city. In 1489, Cyprus was sold to Venice, and the Venetians now made their mark on Limassol Castle.
When the Knights arrived at Limassol during the Crusades, they founded the medieval Kolossi Castle (Colossi).
Today, Limassol has a historical centre located around the Old Port and Limassol Castle, where Richard the Lionheart got married centuries ago during his Cyprus stay. The buildings now house the Medieval Museum of Cyprus, and the surrounding neighbourhood is a vibrant part of the city with numerous bars and restaurants. You will also find the 19th-century Cathedral of Ayia Napa. Moreover, Limassol is culturally thriving with an annual wine festival and several museums telling the story of the past in Cyprus.
One of the very interesting things to do in Cyprus is to visit the archaeological site of Amathus a few kilometres east of Limassol. The former settlement and city-kingdom dates to 1100 BC. Over the years several invasions took place at Amathus, including Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab invasions. Ultimately these invasions led to the decline of Amathus in the 7th century AD.
Ancient Amathus is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering a large area in the landscape. Sights at Amathus include the ruins of the ancient acropolis, the harbour, the agora, public baths, basilicas, tombs, as well as the Temple of Aphrodite. According to the myth, Amathus was the site where the Greek hero Theseus left a pregnant woman, Ariadne, and it became an important site of worship of Aphrodite-Astarte, deity of fertility and sexuality.
Two large, spectacular monolithic vessels, dating to the Archaic period, originally marked the entrance of the Temple of Aphrodite. One of these was brought to the Louvre in Paris in 1865, leaving just a replica behind at Amathus. Fragments of the other one can be found on the archaeological site where excavations are still taking place.
The other city-kingdom of antiquity in Cyprus, Kourion, is situated west of Limassol. Just like Amathus, Kourion has impressive archaeological remains. The Greco-Roman city was founded in the 12th century BC by settlers from Argos in the Peloponnese on a plateau overlooking the sea. However, a large part of the ancient city dates to the 8th century BC. The ancient constructions include a magnificent amphitheatre, dating to the 2nd century BC, with a capacity of 3,500 seats. It is still in use today and provides a stunning setting for special events.
For the culturally interested, a visit to Kourion is one of the obvious things to do in Cyprus since it is among the most impressive excavations on the island. Besides the theatre, the remains include the ruins of several basilicas, temples, beautiful intricate mosaic floors belonging to ancient mansions, a stadium, the House of the Gladiators, the House of Achilles, a Roman market, a stoa, as well as a palaestra.
Finally, Kourion’s Amathus Gate Necropolis is an imposing cemetery that in antiquity consisted of a larger number of tombs including sarcophagi. During the excavations, skeletons of at least 111 individuals have been detected, representing the period from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD.
An iconic rock, Petra tou Romiou (Rock of the Romans), also known as Aphrodite’s Rock, is a beautiful rock in the sea along the main road from Limassol to Paphos. The setting is the stunning scenery with its natural elements: the pristine blue water, the white rocks, and the pebbles and coarse sand.
According to the legend, the rock formation is a symbol of the birth of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and is thus her birthplace. From the viewpoint above Aphrodite’s Rock (Aphrodite’s Rock Viewpoint), you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding seascape.
Paphos is a coastal city in the southwest end of Cyprus. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, including the pearl Coral Bay north of the city, Paphos is an attractive place covering both cultural interests and fulfils any wishes to visit a charming and lively small harbour featuring both local restaurants and a harbour promenade taking visitors out to the old Paphos Castle.
The Paphos region has a plethora of attractions with a fascinating history, including shipwrecks, monasteries, and templar ruins such as for instance the Holy Monastery of Saint Neophytos the Recluse and the Foinikas Templar Knights Village inland.
The medieval Paphos Castle is situated in an idyllic setting with the sea as a backdrop. It was originally a Byzantine fort that both the Venetians and the Ottomans later left their mark on. There is an enclosed courtyard in the middle. Besides serving as a fort to protect Paphos, it was during the Ottoman period also used as a prison. The canons were removed in 1878, when the island was handed over to the British.
Paphos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ancient architecture and outstanding mosaics at Paphos Archaeological Park. Read more about the ancient Paphos, the excavations, and the Tomb of the Kings: Paphos – Top Archaeological Site in Cyprus.
A bit west of Paphos, near the Tala village, the Holy Monastery of Saint Neophytos the Recluse was built nearly a thousand years ago. It was founded by the monk Neophytos in 1159 after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He discovered a natural cave in the mountain and further excavated it to a small chapel, a retreat where he could live in peace as a hermitage without being persecuted. It is known as the Enkleistra. He carved out a bench, as well as prepared his future tomb in the cell. In the end there were three caves: the Cell, the Bema, and the Naos.
He spent his time writing and preparing manuscripts describing the history of the early crusades. The Bishop of Paphos ordained him as a priest in 1170, and he got a disciple joining him in his work. In the course of time, more monks followed – and it led to the construction of the Saint Neophytos Monastery 150 metres from the Enkleistra. A dome basilica was added in the 16th century.
Today it still exists as an inhabited monastery, but it is at the same time a museum where you can visit the Enkleistra with its beautiful frescoes, as well as the Monastery housing an ecclesiastical collection of valuable relics, including icons, manuscripts, and outstanding books. Paying a visit here is really one of the absolutely recommended things to do while in Cyprus.
It is definitely worth spending a few days in Larnaca (also written Larnaka) and this region of Cyprus. One of the most important sights is the 9th-century Church of Saint Lazarus. It is an orthodox church in Byzantine style that contains the tomb of Saint Lazarus having risen from the dead. Every year before Easter there is a procession in honour of the saint through the city. You can also visit Saint Lazarus Byzantine Museum.
Other sights include idyllic beaches surrounding the city, the Kamares Aqueduct, a historic landmark in Cyprus from 1750, as well as the great Larnaca Salt Lake. The lake is actually four connected salt lakes where you especially in winter can see pink flamingos, as well as a multitude of other migratory birds. As the second largest salt lake in Cyprus, it is an exceptional biotope for wildlife.
Hala Sultan Tekkesi is a lakefront mosque and pilgrimage site which was constructed between 1760 and 1817. The Islamic monument was built above Umm Haram’s grave. She was a woman who, according to the books, was the Prophet Mohammed’s aunt and a holy person. She died unexpectedly here in Larnaca in Cyprus – and immediately after, construction of the mosque was initiated.
Nicosia, the island capital, is in fact the capital of two ‘countries’ in Cyprus. As both the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, and the capital of Northern Cyprus (which is only recognised by Turkey), Nicosia plays the role of a divided city, even with a buffer zone, the Green Line, in the middle. The border separates the Turkish Cypriots from the Greek Cypriots. If you want to visit the northern part of Nicosia, you will need to cross this border in Cyprus.
Anyway, Nicosia is an interesting place to visit – multifaceted and colourful due to its diverse background and cultures, and there are both Turkish and Greek Cypriot food options! You will find lots of opportunities to see the local Nicosia since the city is not overrun by tourists. There is beautiful architecture, a walled town (the old town), and the popular Ledra Street with the Ledra Street Checkpoint in the UN administrated zone as a point to cross to the other side. The architectural styles in Nicosia include Cypriot colonial style, Cypriot Gothic style, neoclassical, Byzantine, Venetian, in addition to both Islamic and ultra-modern designs scattered across the city.
Nicosia is rich in museums, galleries, and cultural heritage. A museum telling the history of Cyprus and its past is the Cyprus Museum. The museum has a wide range of archaeological artefacts on display. Obviously, there are also many mosques in Nicosia, including the impressive Selimiye Camii, a present-day mosque converted from a 13th-century Catholic Gothic cathedral.
Nicosia is really an overlooked gem – with lots of fascinating sites to explore!
At Kyrenia Castle (Girne Castle in Turkish) you can get an insight into the history of Cyprus. The castle is today home to Cyprus’ fascinating shipwreck museum. It holds the world’s oldest shipwreck, a trade ship carrying a cargo of almonds and wine, dating back to 300 BC. Kyrenia is a lovely place, and the castle is a beautiful entrance to the town when arriving from the sea.
The 16th-century castle goes back to the 1500s, built to protect the port of Kyrenia. Kyrenia is older, though, dated by its Roman remains and its even older Greek traces. Hundreds of years later, it became a crusader fortification, when King Richard I conquered it on his way to the Third Crusade.
The Byzantines, the Lusignans, and the Venetians left their mark on the castle in turn – the latter by reinforcing the castle, including constructing a gatehouse, to resist any siege by the Ottomans. However, the Ottomans finally invaded Kyrenia Castle in 1571.
9 Things to Do in Cyprus: Limassol, Larnaca, Aphrodite’s Rock
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