Cyprus and archaeology go together like milk and honey. Little else is as evocative of a past by turns turbulent and romantic as the ancient ruins, which encompass theatres, temples and sanctuaries, tombs and entire towns. From Neolithic sites or Roman mosaics, Cyprus is an open-air museum to behold. To fully chronicle our 10,000 years of history would take more Web pages than we could count, but consider just a few of the highlights.
The Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia, 32 kilometres from Larnaka and 48 kilometres south of Lefkosia, has been part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List since 1998. The ruins are of an Aceramic village, with a vast assemblage of circular stone dwellings and instantly recognizable “wall,” almost 185 metres from start to finish, that splits the site into two sections. The apparently communal construction points to a high level of social cohesion and organization.
With its grand, instantly recognizable Greco-Roman theatre built into the side of a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the site of Kourion is simply spectacular. Its riches include the House of Eustolios, its extensive Roman mosaics visible from covered walkways, the Early Christian Basilica, the ancient Forum, the Nymphaeum, the public baths and House of Gladiators.
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the town of Kourion was founded by Achaean colonists from Argos, in Greece. The original theatre was a much smaller one, that has been dated to the 2nd century BC. It was remodeled during the second half of the 1st century AD, when Roman Emperor Nero reigned. The first Roman theatre was badly damaged in an earthquake in AD 77, but was reconstructed and enlarged to its present dimensions toward the beginning of the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117).
The Sanctuary of Apollo Ylatis (5th century BC), behind Kourion, is one of the largest, most significant historic religious sites in Cyprus. Apollo was a god of beauty, music, woodlands, prophecy and archery, and protector of trees, flocks and herds - and of Kourion itself. The site spreads out over 15,000 square metres.
Pafos has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1980. In addition to being a delightful town, one part of it, Kato Pafos (the lower town near the harbour) is home to the remains of the ancient city of Nea Pafos, now an Archaeological Park which contains among others the magnificent Roman mosaics in the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus, Orpheus and Aion.
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities oversees excavations on the island, many of which are carried out by the archaeological departments of leading American and European universities. Its activities extend to the conservation of artifacts, maintenance of ancient monuments, and more. Most of the sites on the island are open to the public and district museums in all towns as well as those attached to sites help put the excavations in their historical context. The Cyprus Museum in Lefkosia (Nicosia) houses the most extensive collection of Cypriot antiquities in Cyprus. Exhibits at the Cypriot Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum in New York feature many valuable artifacts essentially plundered from the island; the British Museum, the Louvre and other famous Museums exhibit superb collections of Cypriot artifacts..
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