This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Star’s travel section on Sept. 30, 2001.
Island of Love, birthplace of Aphrodite, has unique place in world history as the crossroads of three continents
By Ed Odeven
It’s easy to fall in love with Cyprus, the birthplace of Aphrodite and the Island of love.
Breathtaking landscapes, divine cuisine, hospitable people and cultural landmarks make Cyprus a splendid place to visit time and again.
Situated at the crossroads of three continents — Europe, Asia and Africa — Cyprus has a unique place in history that has been well preserved with a diverse collection of monuments and literature that offers compelling glimpses into the ways of life since ancient times around the Mediterranean Sea.
This is evident in the wealth of archaeological artifacts on display throughout the island’s fine museums. For example, take a trek to downtown Nicosia to the Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage, which houses coins dating from 600 B.C. The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia features pottery carved during the Neolithic Period and the early Bronze Age. Also displayed are statues erected in the days of Alexander the Great; many sculptures of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and Zeus; as well as clay figurines depicting warriors on horses and chariots.
Sadly, this Mediterranean paradise has been unable to avoid political turmoil.
Cyprus gained independence and a brief period of tranquility in 1960 after a war with Great Britain. In 1974, Turkey invaded the island, which resulted in the mass exodus of Greek Cypriots from the north to the south and to foreign countries, especially the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia. Turks seized Greek Cypriot lands and properties and created the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Coincidentally, the only nation in the world to officially recognize it is Turkey, which maintains a constant military presence on the island.
U.N. peacekeeping forces monitor the ebb and flow of people (tourists can cross beyond the restricted zone; however, Greek Cypriots are not allowed to enter the north, and Turkish Cypriots cannot enter the south) between the separate capitals, both of which are in Nicosia.
A sign near the border describes the situation clearly:
“Nicosia: The Last Divided Capital in the World.”
Despite the overcrowding and development and commercialization of the southern two-thirds of the island by the Greek Cypriots since Turkey’s military occupation began, the appeal of the island remains.
Here’s a sampling of the island’s true treasures:
Visit the heart of the ancient walled city in Nicosia and instantly receive a crash course in Cypriot culture — the essence of the island’s real appeal. Good food, good drink, good conversation.
This district of small shops, restaurants and bars is a gathering place for the city’s tourists, students and easygoing folks who enjoy people watching, relaxing, sipping coffee and engaging in a spirited game of pilotta, a popular card game, or backgammon.
Stop by one of the many family-owned hole-in-the-wall establishments or larger taverns with plenty of outdoor seating. Local specialties include heaping piles of mouth-watering kebabs and gyros stuffed into hot pita bread with generous side orders of rice or salad.
After a hearty meal, a casual stroll through the district offers an opportunity to purchase standard tourist souvenirs such as postcards, T-shirts and hand-crafted figurines, as well as a wide assortment of music cassettes from local musicians singing traditional “bazouki mouziki” or contemporary Greek pop tunes.
Smiling ice-cream vendors on bicycles stop along the main thoroughfares to fill your order: a single, double or triple scoop of local delights.
Located on the western coast of the island, Paphos is most famous for the nearby Petra Tou Romiou, or “Aphrodite’s Rocks.”
According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was born from the waves. The remarkable beauty of this locale still has a special romantic appeal to the locals and foreigners who visit.
The St. Neophytos Monastery, erected in the 13th century, is another popular landmark. The monastery showcases a mix of frescoes painted by monks centuries ago and Old World architecture. Photographs are not permitted inside the monastery in an effort to preserve the relics.
While traversing the windy country roads just minutes from the sea, one can see contemporary and ancient Cyprus blend into a fascinating montage of modern existence. Old villas and farms are dispersed throughout the hilly countryside, with the elderly tending to their sheep and goats, while never developments are adorned with satellite dishes and fuel-injected automobiles.
Within minutes, the scenery changes from rocky mountains to glorious green hills to sea.
Famous for a picturesque coastline and sparkling see-to-the-bottom blue water, the beaches of Ayia Napa are the island’s top attraction for summer visitors.
This small southeastern town has been transformed into a hot spot for late-night partygoers with the allure of trendy nightclubs, bars and discos. The former fishing village is also an excellent place for water skiing, boating and fishing.
In nearby Protaras, a quick jaunt by ship north of Ayia Napa, sea caves sizzle in the spotlight and offer excellent opportunities for taking spectacular photos.
An approximately 45-minute drive from downtown Nicosia, Lefkara is a charming village well known for its artisans, particularly lacemakers (gold and silver).
Modernization may have brought electricity and indoor plumbing to the village, but the extremely narrow roads serve as a constant reminder of the previous mode of transportation: donkeys with loads balanced on their backs.
Wisely, many visitors park their vehicles and opt for a leisurely hike through the hilly village.
Highly recommended is purchasing a bottle of Commandaria, a local after-dinner wine that has been made here since the 12th century.
Eager to converse with tourists in English, countless Cypriots are fond of asking the island’s visitors: “How do you find Cyprus?” or a slight variation.
Very well, thanks.