It is no coincidence that the ancient Greeks believed that Aphrodite, the Venus of the Romans, was born from the sea of Cyprus. The charm surrounding the third largest island in the Mediterranean is made up of many pieces, starting with the corners of unspoiled nature that characterize the coastal and inland landscapes. And more. Cyprus boasts a complex history and identity due to its peculiar location that makes it a connection between the West and the East: from archaeology to religion, from architecture to gastronomy, from beaches to hiking and biking itineraries, the southern side of the island offers a multi-coloured territory to be discovered. The Smart Way of the Republic of Cyprus is divided into three interconnected paths that enhance the excellence of the archaeological heritage by connecting to a single, bewitching thread: Aphrodite’s traces.
Before exploring them, it is worth dedicating at least two days to the capital, Nicosia, rich in cultural treasures and Mediterranean suggestions. For a first meeting with the goddess of beauty, let’s go through the entrance to the Archaeological Museum of Cyprus: the famous Aphrodite of Soli is among the most viewed finds of the rich exhibition documenting the island’s civilization from the Neolithic to the early Byzantine period (VII century AD). Wandering around the numerous churches, mosques, historical palaces and traditional buildings – including Hamam Omerye – the tour of the city culminates with a visit to Cyprus Handicraft Centre and to one of local taverns of the old town market. The Laiki Geitonia district is worth a visit, with its concentration of cafes, restaurants and boutiques.
The ancient kingdom of Idalion
Leaving Nicosia, the route heads south to the city of Dali.
The archaeological site of Idalion is located here, one of the most important kindoms of the antiquity, funded in 1100 BC by the Achaean king Chalcanor, and flourished until the middle of the V century BC. Its strategic position between the copper mines in the interland and the ports of the eastern and southern coast contributed to the prosperity of the settlement. Here, according to mythology, the god of war Ares killed out of jealousy Adonis, the lover of Aphrodite. The palace of Idalion boasts a collection of around eight hundred inscriptions, many of them in the Phoenician language (along with some Greek examples, in the Arcado-Cypriot dialect): among the most significant documents there is the Idalion Tablet kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, engraved on both sides and dating back to the Phoenician domination, around the V century BC. After a visit to the Museum of Ancient Idalion, the walk continues through the narrow streets of the town, up to the church of Agios Andronikos, in the heart of the historic center; it is worth taking a break for the traditional snacks that someone traces back to the Phoenician era: koupes, a street food made of on meat, onion, parsley and spices.
From Dali, heading south to the coast, we reach Larnaca area with the archaeological site of Kition, an ancient city-kingdom founded by the Mycenaean Greeks in the XIII century BC, and dominated by the Phoenicians in the IX century. Kition prosperity was strictly linked to its port, core of the commercial traffic of many agricultural products exported to the eastern Mediterranean, to Egypt and the Aegean Sea. The remains of the Temple of Aphrodite testify that the goddess of beauty was also worshiped in these shores.
The seaside town of Larnaca expands across the extensive Finikoudes promenade. In the hinterland, the Church of Agios Lazaros and the ancient Turkish district of Skala. The itinerary continues towards the south-eastern part of Cyprus, to Ayia Napa, a characteristic fishing village, which today is a lively tourist destination.
In Astarte’s cradle
The second proposal focuses on Aphrodite’s legendary birthplaces, discovering the links between her myth and that of Astarte, the Phoenician deity of fertility.
From Larnaca, heading to the west, you reach the village of Khirokitia (IX century BC), an important prehistoric site, recognised by UNESCO in 1998. After that, there are Lemesos (or Limassol), the first seaport of Cyprus, and a few kilometers away, the village of Erimi with the Wine Museum, a tribute to the oenological tradition of the island which boasts 5500 years of history; nearby there are the prehistoric settlement of Sotira and the medieval Kollosi castle, headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller.
To the east, the ancient Amathus, one of the largest sites consecrated to Aphrodite, where remains of shrines and temples dedicated to the goddess are still visible.
According to the myth, the Temple of Aphrodite in Amathus was founded by Amathus, the son of King Aerias. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, was abandoned by her lover Theseus, on her way back from Crete to Athens, after having helped him kill the Minotaur.
To the west of Lemesos, on Episkopi Bay, Kourion archaeological site rises. Perched on a hill overlooking the sea, it dates back to the XIII century BC. Do not miss the Greek-Roman theatre of the II century BC, the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates and the Paleo Christian Basilica.
Along the southern coast, at about forty kilometres west, the next step is “Aphrodite’s Rock” or “Petra tou Romiou”, the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite from the sea foam, where Cronus had thrown Uranus’s genitals. In the nearby village of Kouklia, it is possible to have lunch in one of the many local taverns scattered in the historic centre. Try the traditional meze, a rich meal made of numerous courses that blend the traditional flavors of the island. The temple of Palaepaphos, one of the most revered in the ancient world, included in the UNESCO world heritage list, dedicated to the goddess of beauty stands near Kouklia.
Another place to visit is the village of Geroskipou and the sacred gardens of Aphrodite, a large area of splendid gardens dedicated to the goddess, now replaced by the modern village renowned for its Cypriot delicacies.
Finally, Paphos, selected as European Capital of Culture in 2017 for its role of bridge between different cultures. A melting-pot of which many traces are still visible. The Tombs of the Kings, a vast sepulchral area famous for the majesty of the tombs, and the Archaeological Park of the same name, famous above all for the mosaic floors of its homes are noteworthy.
The sacred waters of Aphrodite
From Paphos, along the coast heading north, the third proposal offers the unspoiled nature of the Akamas peninsula, protected by the national park of the same name. Do not miss the Avakas gorge, an unspoiled paradise for hiking lovers, and Lara bay, where green turtles (Chelonia Mydas) and Loggerhead (Caretta Caretta) lay their eggs.
On the northern side, the Baths of Aphrodite, a swimming pool carved into the rock. Here, according to the legend, Aphrodite took a bath and met her beloved Adonis. Tradition says that taking a bath here helps you stay young.
Finally, the last of the 10 city-states of Cyprus, known as Marion (renamed Arsinoe during the Hellenistic period), rich in gold and copper at the centre of trade with Athens.
From Paphos, a road leads inland to the Troodos Mountains area. Monks, outlaws, political activists, idle rich and, recently, skiers and hikers: the Troodos Mountains have always welcomed different groups looking for refuge, protection, asceticism or just a contact with nature. Near Mount Olympus – the highest peak of the mountain range (1952 msl) – there is a well-equipped visitor centre with maps and information on available routes (Artemis path, Persephone path, Atalante, Caledonia etc.). There is also a popular ski resort equipped with downhill slopes served by five ski lifts.
The Troodos Mountains hold some of the most significant evidence of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art: 10 religious buildings (nine churches and a monastery) where the contrast between the simple forms of Cypriot rural architecture and the rich interior decorations stands out. At the end of the route, the path to the east leads back to Nicosia.
A Smart Way allowing you to get in touch with the Cypriot culture between past and present, with a population who have a great desire to tell you about its history and identity.