With Cyprus steeped in a rich history and culture, it often comes as a surprise that many locals don’t actually know which of our island’s treasures are on the revered UNESCO World Heritage list. In this light, we here at My Cyprus Insider decided to put together a simple list that should help point you in the right direction when you’re looking to visit some of the country’s most famous historic sites, as well as some background info that you may not be familiar with.
1. Paphos town
With the whole of Paphos a designated UNESCO Heritage site, this is the place where history buffs are totally spoilt for choice. But there are some sites that really take pride of place, with the Paphos Mosaics perhaps wearing the gold crown as one of the most famous archaeological sites in the vicinity, renowned well beyond our island’s shores. Head to the area to see old restored Roman villas adorned with impressive colourful mosaic floors portraying images from Greek mythology. The mosaics date back to the 2nd and 3rd century AD.
Then there’s the Tombs of the Kings, an impressive necropolis built between the 3rd century BC and 3rd century AD, with the site home to over 100 tombs that punctuate the arid landscape. Although officially named Tombs of the ‘Kings’, they are actually believed to be the tombs of Paphian aristocracy and important officials.
To find out more about the highly eroticised worship of Aphrodite, the Ancient Greek Goddess of love and fertility, a day out in Kouklia and the Sanctuary of Aphrodite should also be top of the list, with the museum situated beside the sanctuary giving great insight into the profound mythological significance of the Goddess. The remains of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite date back to the 12th century BC while a great number of writers, including Homer, once referred to the sanctuary as the most revered temples in the world.
Paphos Mosaics, Kato Paphos, within the grounds on the Paphos Archaeological Park.
Winter hours (16/9 – 15/4): 8.30am – 5pm. Tel: (+357) 26-306217. Summer hours (16/4 – 15/9): 8.30am – 7.30pm.
Tombs of the Kings Avenue, Kato Paphos.
Winter hours (16/9 – 15/4): 8.30am – 5pm. Summer hours (16/4 – 15/9): 8.30am -7.3Opm.
Tel: (+357) 26-306217
Sanctuary of Aphrodite, Kouklia Village.
Winter hours (16/9 – 15/4) Monday – Sunday: 8.30am- 5pm. Tel: (+357) 26-432155. Summer hours (16/4 – 15/9) Monday – Sunday: 8.30am- 7.30pm.
Want to catch a glimpse of the remains of the very first recorded permanent housing on the island? Then make a beeline for Choirokitia, high on a looming hillside just off the Nicosia- Limassol highway, officially in the Larnaca district. Once you head up the hill, you’ll spot distinctly marked out cylindrical stone and mud dwellings constituting an extremely impressive example of the initial establishment of sedentary communities on the island and the development of an original civilisation: the Cypriot Aceramic Neolithic.
These communities originated from the neighbouring mainland and settled on the island at the end of the 7th millennium B.C. bringing plants and animals with them, unknown until then to Cyprus. Needless to say, this UNESCO site has seriously contributed to our current understanding of human society and evolution.
Opening hours: Winter (16/9 – 15/4)
Monday – Sunday: 8.30am – 5pm. Summer: (16/4 – 15/9) Monday – Sunday: 8.30am – 7.30pm.
Tel: (+357) 24-322710
3. Troodos painted churches
It’s not just visitors to the island but also locals that often don’t realise just how special and treasured the island’s religious heritage really is, with a whopping ten churches on the official UNESCO Heritage List. Nestled within the greenery of the Troodos Mountains, they were built and painted between the 11th and 16th centuries, made from ‘unfinished’ local stone.
But its once you step inside these quaint buildings that the real splendour comes, as you’ll find yourselves ogling at colourful frescoes depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, saints and sinners and, interestingly enough, portraits of the earthly patrons and ladies of the church. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, the images can be overwhelming at first. To really appreciate the artistry on display, stop a minute, catch your breath and then, slowly, take in all the grandeur.
The UNESCO Church Check List
1. Agios Ioannis Lampadistis, Kalopanayiotis
2. Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, just outside Kakopetria
3. Archangelos Michail, Pedoulas
4. Metamorfosis tou Sotiros, Palehori
5. Panagia tis Assinou (Forviotissa), Assinou
6. Panagia Podithou, Galata
7. Panagia tou Araka, near Lagoudhera
8. Panagia tou Moutoulla, Moutoullas
9. Stavros tou Agiasmati, Platanistasa
10. Timios Stavros, Pelendri