Standing on the wooden gantry, a gentle zephyr sighing through my hair, I looked down at the two thousand year old building site, with awe. At my feet lay the magnificent mosaics of the House of Dionysus, Kato Pafos. But the most amazing thing was; up until that point, I had no idea the ruins even existed.
I’ve always loved history and I was an ace at Latin. How did I miss it?
I could amo amas amant until the cows came home and once amused the entire class by mispronouncing the Punic Wars, dubbing them the Pubic Wars. (Though having watched a bit of Spartacus – Blood and Sand – last night, maybe I was closer to the truth then I realised.) Despite this, it wasn’t until I started researching Cyprus for my trip and delicious stay at the Anassa hotel in Polis, I had no idea that Cyprus had archaeological ruins, let alone world heritage status, ones.
The World Heritage Archaological site is set in a large site down by the harbour in Kato Pafos, and it is well worth a visit if you’re in Cyprus. It was only about 20 deg C when I visited, but I can imagine it would be sweltering on a hot summer’s day. Take water. And a portable tent. In fact just hire people to walk alongside you fanning you with palm leaves and proferring grapes.
Which is no doubt pretty much the lifestyle of the original residents, if their impressive mosaic floors and stunning wall art is anything to go by. And what’s amazing is that you can walk around the mosaics, they are all carefully restored and displayed right at your feet! Amongst some of the most beautiful mosaics are found at the House of Theseus – one of the first sites on the path that leads from the entrance building. The artistry is incredible! How long would that have taken the original artist?
Not far from the House of Theseus’ mosaics, is this stand of columns which are incredibly inspiring – still standing after all these years! I was amazed that you could get so close to them, they weren’t even screened
Of course, I had to sit on one of the benches at the Odeon. The Hunger Games wasn’t screening the day I visited, but despite this lack of technological wizardry, I still think my mythology-mad daughters would have loved the site.
Knowing that the persecuted early Christians hid in these notches (spaces not large enough to be called caves) in the stone, was sobering.
Kato Pafos played a huge role in the early years of Christianity – it was here that St Paul the Apostle received his 39 lashes, and where he later converted the Roman Proconsul to the early faith in 45 AD.
Again! Who knew?
I spent at least three hours wandering around, but still failed to see everything, and certainly didn’t get out to the Tombs of the Kings. But my time at the site was reflective. I wandered alone in my thoughts, from dig to dig, quietly picking my way down dusty paths lined with wildflowers.
Reading about how these Cypriots people once lived made me feel incredibly mortal. No doubt they once felt so powerful and so sure of their civilisation that they could not have envisaged anything less than eternal. Until they fell. Or the earthquake and wiped them out, or wars tore the nation apart.
They may not have had the internet, or smartphones or space exporation, but they did have plumbing and art, theatre and music. The people who lived there, then, lived pretty much the same way we live now. They loved, and made love, and had children and made food, and drank too much wine, and worked, and wondered ‘ is there a better way to do all the above.’
Yet the poignancy hangs like a flag over the site; It’s almost like a shrine to the human spirit. No matter who invaded or what disaster nature or human enemy flung in their direction they kept on keeping on. Surprisingly for the Cypriots this list of invaders and rulers is a long list that includes: –
Mycenaean Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greek Ionians, Macedonians, Egyptians (again), Romans and Byzantines, Arabs, English (Richard the Lionheart), French Lusignans, Venetians, Ottomans, Turks, British during the WWW11 and then finally a bid for independence by Greek Cypriots which was put down by the UN and a republic ruled by Britain, Turkey and Greece.
Until 1974 when the pro-democratic Greek Cypriots flouted the peace keeping agreement, and in response to the civil unrest, Turkey invaded North Cyprus. Cyprus remains to this day a divided island, with Greek Cypriot Republic in the South and the North controlled by Turkish forces.
Reflecting on Cyprus’ history as I picked through the archaeological remains of those long-past days, I couldn’t help marveling at the Cypriot spirit. That, in itself, is more than enough reason to make a detour from the hedonistic beaches of Coral Bay, to Kato Pafos.
Where: World Heritage Archeological Site, Kato Pafos, Cyprus
Cost: Minimal about €4
Tips: Allow at least three hours, wear good walking shoes and take lots of water.
Disclaimer – I was the very thrilled quest of Thanos Hotels at their magnificent Anassa resort in Polis. All opinons represented in this and other posts about Cyprus are my full frank own.