Cyprus: Introduction

  • © mano,

    © mano,


Aphrodite, the beautiful goddess of love, is said to have been a Cyprus girl. This sunny island in the furthest east of the Mediterranean is truly an adequate home for a beauty expert, with its long dream beaches, crystal-clear waters, and wild and dramatic coasts. Two striking mountain ranges define the landscape; Gothic cathedrals, Turkish mosques, Byzantine monasteries and crusaders’ castles characterise its culture. If it wasn’t for this big ugly scar cutting right through the island and right through its vibrant capital … a border drawn up by force in 1974. While the border is omnipresent in Cypriots’ minds and emotions, as a foreign visitor you’ll hardly be aware of it, allowing you to spend a relaxing Mediterranean holiday as peaceful as anywhere else.

Coming from the southern coastal resorts to the island metropolis of Nicosia, travellers will nearly invariably get off the bus at the nearly 500 year-old city wall or park their hire car in the wall ditch, or might stay night in a hotel on the 4km (2½mi)- long wall surrounding the entire Old Town. The city hall, dating from British colonial days, can be found on one of its bastions and is flanked by the colourful flags of countries in the EU that Cyprus has also been a part of since 2004. From there, Lidras Street leads as a straight-as-a-die pedestrian street into the middle of the Old Town.

Cross-border traffic is part of everyday life

Small modern shops present enticing displays of shoes, clothes and jewellery; street cafés, restaurants and ice cream parlours are always busy. At one of the street corners a bingo player has been inviting passers-by to a game every evening for decades. All of this reflects everyday Cypriot life. But after 600 m the normality stops. This is where visitors pass a Greek-Cypriot border post, to walk a few yards through the buffer zone controlled by UN soldiers. On the other, the Turkish-Cypriot side, they’ll have to show their passports and fill in an immigration form. After that, everything is normal again, the historical buildings as pretty as in the southern part. And yet, a bit different – the locals here are Muslims instead of Christians, speak Turkish instead of Greek, have a different passport and a different government. Yet the people here also like to sit in street cafés and throw dice in the same board game, which some call távli, others tavla. Different, yet the same.

In the three large cities on the southern coast – Limassol, Lárnaka and Páfos – you won’t feel the division. They seem modern and well-looked after. English is spoken in nearly all the hotels, restaurants and shops. Menus and signposts are bilingual. The coasts of Cyprus are varied: miles of sandy beaches fringe nearly the entire eastern coast north of Famagusta and the southern coast at Lárnaka; there are sandy coves at Agía Nápa and west of Páfos, near Limassol and also in the north near Kerýneia. Pebble beaches line the coast at Pólis.

Monasteries and crusader castles

Every part of Cyprus has its own mountain range. At 1026m (3366ft) high, up to 6km (3½mi) wide and 100km (62mi) long, the Kerýneia mountain range in the northern part borders the coast looking towards Anatolia. With its bizarre needlepoint peaks, dramatic rock faces and striking rocky knolls, the landscape appears alpine, while the Tróodos mountain range in the south, despite its 1951m (6400ft)-high Mount Olympus and a circumference of 60km (37mi), looks more like a low, green mountain range. In the many valleys of the Tróodos range fruit and nut trees thrive; wine is grown up to altitudes of over 1000m (3280ft). While three crusaders’ fortresses attract visitors to the Kerýneia range, the Tróodos mountains are filled to the brim with monasteries and barn-roofed churches – so called for shape of their tiled roofs, typical for Cyprus. Over 20 of them still boast medieval wall paintings, with many of them listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Driving through the mountain valleys, you’ll come across abandoned villages again and again, where Turkish Cypriots used to live up until 1974. After the Turkish invasion in July 1974 and the subsequent division of the island, they left the area. Lasting one month, the war had its origin in the putsch against president Makários III, instigated by the Greek military dictatorship with a view to annexing Cyprus to Greece. The Turks intervened in order to prevent this from happening. In the wake of the war, over 150,000 Greek Cypriots fled from the Turkish-occupied north to the south, while over 45,000 Turkish Cypriots left the south to settle in the north.

Relaxed serenity is what Cypriots value most in life

A small café in the Tróodos village of Kakopetriá is called ‘I Galíni’, roughly translatable as ‘pleasant serenity’. Sitting here on the terrace at one of the tiny tables above the roaring brook, sipping a small Cypriot coffee, conveys precisely that feeling so important to many Cypriots as something to aspire to. As a traveller, you’ll also experience it when you mingle with the visitors market in the cafés in front of the market hall in Limassol’s Old Town, or if you go for an evening stroll between palm trees, beach and street cafés along the sea promenade of Lárnaka.

What Aphrodite appreciated most on her island were the hidden corners

Sometimes, the beaches line tiny bays such as Fig Tree Bay or Kónnos Bay in Protarás, often they extend along the coast for miles and open up as wide as a football field, with fine sand or colourful pebbles. Paragliders sail through the air dangling from their parachutes, divers descend to sea caves and shipwrecks. Cyprus is a great place for sports, offering a good variety on dry land too, with signposted hiking trails and mountain bike ‘stations’, several golf courses and a number of riding stables. At night, the dancing fever knows no bounds: Ayía Nápa is considered the clubbing mecca of the eastern Mediterranean, while in Limassol in particular you can experience first hand how the locals party in music clubs and traditional taverns.

Aphrodite, however, appreciated more the quiet, calm places of her home island of Cyprus. Far from the beach of Pétra tou Romíou, where she rose from the waters for the first time, and Páfos, the location of her most important sanctuary, she met her lover Akamás in a small spring pool at what is today Pólis to spend hours tenderly caressing right by the sea. To sit here on a restaurant terrace, enjoying fresh fish and a glass of Cypriot wine, looking out over the wide bay at the sea, gently aware of the light carob tree groves on the slopes around you, transports even the most stressed holidaymaker into the calm world that Cypriots aspire to – pleasant serenity.

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