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Rediscovering Cyprus’ ancient heritage

ONCE SUMMER hits and the holiday mode sets in, islanders are inclined to head straight for the beach and lap up the sun as the highway fills with cars and just about every inch of sand down in Protaras and Paphos is packed with people crammed in like sardines.


But Cyprus isn’t just about sun and sea, with the island’s rich cultural heritage often not given the attention that it deserves. Away from the hustle and bustle of sea side resorts lie a whole host of spectacular archaeological sites that make for a great day out. And while many of us may not have visited any one of these ancient sites for a good number of years, there are still plenty of people who seem to make the effort to soak up our rich heritage, with visits to the Curium proving extremely popular.

Soulla and Charalambos Kyprianou are a married couple in their sixties who can’t seem to get enough of their visits to historic places of interest. “We recently visited Curium. We love the amphitheatre and that’s why we go as often as we can. Whenever we pass by an archaeological site we’ll stop and get down.”

“I’ve been to the Curium recently and it was great,” says 47-year-old Despina Koumas. “I love going to these kind of places because it’s also a part of my profession; I am a teacher. I just love traveling into the past.”

Lambriani Pavlou is also enthusiastic to learn more about days gone by. “The place of archeological importance I went to was Tamasos a couple of weeks ago,” says the 42-year old. “I took my young daughter because I want her to know the heritage of where she is from. Tamasos is definitely our favorite archeological place.”

Yianis Christou admits that he doesn’t get round to visiting such areas very often, but when he does, he thoroughly enjoys it. “The last time I went anywhere like this was about three months ago with work. We went to Chirokitia,” says the 46-year-old. “I really do love this place. It teaches us an important part of our history.”

Those who take on a more nonchalant stance on the matter tend to be the younger generation who remember the sites from their school days but haven’t made the effort to head back to any given place of interest. “The last time I went was with school and I don’t even remember where it was,” says 25-year-old Pavlos Lambrou. I haven’t visited a place like that since and am not particularly eager to.”

“It’s been a really long time since I last went. I remember I liked Chirokitia when we went on a school trip but I haven’t been back since,” says 19-year-old Natalie.

Curators and tour guides at various archaeological sites around the island however seem pleased with the turnout of locals, particularly at the weekends. While many might be inclined to think that the Curium ancient amphitheatre only fills with Cypriots when there’s a particular concert or theatre event taking place, the custodian is keen to point out that locals show just as much interest in the place as foreigners.

“They come along and bring their families and children,” says Katia Charalambous. “It’s important and I’m glad to see so many people come here because people living here need to know the history of their own island.” Some custodians working at other archaeological sites have however noticed that while some people do go along to the sites on a day trip, they don’t seem that keen on really taking in all the history associated with the place.

“Some come to see our sites out of curiosity or just to do something different and they don’t really ask questions or seem to want to really learn anything, some people care more about the island’s history and some people care less,” admits a representative from the Paphos Archaeological Museum. “The most enthusiastic seem to be families with young children and grandparents who bring their grandchildren on a day out.”

The Cyprus Antiquities Department are pleased to see some local interest and are keen on even more people embracing what our island has to offer. “But what I’ve noticed is that many locals wait until guests from abroad come to visit in order to for them to come down to an archaeological site,” says Andreas Constanti , a representative from the department who currently works on site at Chirokitia. “But what I can say is that there seems to be more of an interest than there was years ago. That probably comes down to the fact that somewhere like Chirokitia has raised its profile, now classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

Archaeological sites and monuments of interest

Chirokitia

The ancient settlement is often classed as one of the island’s most fascinating archaeological sites, dating back to the Neolithic ages. Known as one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean, it has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1998.


The round stone structures scattered around the slope of the hill in the valley of Maroni River near Limassol point to ancient village life and an organised functional society in the form of a collective settlement. The site was discovered in 1934 by Porphyrios Dikaios, director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities who carried out six excavations between 1934 and 1946.

Curium

The mount of Curium, on which the ancient city-kingdom developed, occupies a dominant position on the coast 4 km southwest of the village of Episkopi. With evidence of the earliest settlements in the area daring back to the Neolithic period, most ancient remains in the area of the ancient city itself are connected with settlements and tombs of the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Go along to the area and you’ll come across extensive ruins and including well-preserved mosaics.


Also of interest are the public baths, the Nymphaeum, the necropolis, the Fountain House, House of Gladiators and House of Achilles. The most spectacular site at curium is the Greco-Roman amphitheatre that has been completely restored used today for open air musical and theatrical performances.

Tomb of the Kings

The 'Tombs of the Kings' is the splendid necropolis in Paphops. It was built during the Hellenistic period (3rd century B.C.) to satisfy the needs of the newly founded Nea Paphos. Its name is not connected with the burial of kings, as the royal institution was abolished in 312 B.C., but rather with the impressive character of its burial monuments.


The 'Tombs of the Kings' was the place where the higher administrative officers and distinguished Ptolemaic personalities and the members of their families were buried. The necropolis was continuously used as a burial area during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Squatters established themselves in some of the tombs during the Medieval period and made alterations to the original architecture.

Paphos Mosaics

Located beside the Paphos harbour, the Paphos Mosaics are considered to be the finest moscaics in the Eastern Mediteranean. With many depicting scenes from Greek Mythology, the mosaics originally formed the floors of Roman noblemen’s villas dating all the way back to the 2nd century while many of these sights are still being excavated today.


Some of the houses where the mosaics are on view include the House of Dionysus, the House of Orpheus, the House of Arion and the Villa of Theseus. The House of Dionysos boasts 14 rooms covered in mosaics all made from small cubes of marble and stone. The Paphos Mosaics are part of a wider archaeological site that also includes as theatre and a castle. Some of the mosaics are in sheltered areas which provides some relief from the summer sun.

Author: Zoe Christodoulides | Source: Cyprus News [August 07, 2011]

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