So back in January 2020, I booked a trip to Cyprus, Malta and Lebanon. Of course we all know what happened in 2020 so … trip postponed. In 2021, I tried to go to again, but Cyprus and Lebanon were experiencing COVID outbreaks so I only travelled to Malta. In 2022, I had already planned to go to the Open in Scotland … so here it was September of 2023 and I was finally able to get on a plane and travel to Cyprus and then will continue on to Lebanon.
The trip to Cyprus was looooong. First I had a 10 ½ hour flight on Wednesday to Heathrow, with a 6 hour layover, which turned into almost 8 hours because Heathrow is a sh*t show and it takes forever to receive clearance to takeoff. As a result, my midnight arrival into Larnaca turned into 2 in the morning and by the time I cleared customs and collected my luggage it was 2:30. Then I had a 1 hour and 40 minute drive to Paphos (or as the locals say, Pafos). I arrived at my beachfront hotel at 4:20 a.m. Friday. Ugh. As a result, I slept until 11:30, got some lunch and fell asleep on my lovely deck overlooking the Mediterranean. So glad I built in a rest day.
Anyway, with travel out of the way, it was time to explore Cyprus. My guide, Lenia, arrived at 9:00 a.m. and we set off for a tour around Paphos. First up was the Archaeological Park of Kato Pafos, a UNESCO World Heritage Sites containing the Paphos Mosaics dating to the 2nd to 5th centuries AD depicting numerous scenes from Greek mythology. The mosaics were discovered in 1962, after a farmer ploughing his field accidentally unearthed one of them. Now the mosaics were located in villas of Roman noblemen and are identified as the House of Dionysus, the House of Theseus, the House of Aion and the House of Orpheus.
We visited the House of Dionysus first, which kind of spoiled me because the mosaics were located in a covered building with ramps surrounding the mosaics, making it very easy to see the mosaics covering what was once the entertainment area of the villa.
Upon entering the building, the first mosaic on the left hand side was the “Scylla” mosaic made out of pebbles and dating to the 4th or early 3rd century BC. (Yea I know, I said the mosaics dated from the 2nd to the 5th centuries AD, but this mosaic was the exception having been found underneath another mosaic. So the owner of the villa had built on top of an old home.). The mosaic depicted a sea monster who was part woman, part fish and part dog.
As we wandered around, we encountered a mosaic depicting the four seasons, a mosaic depicting hunting scenes, a mosaic depicting a man, Hippolytos, reading a love letter from his step mother Phaedra with Cupid by her side, and a mosaic named the Triumph of Dionysus for which the house is named.
After spending some time wandering around, we went back outside in the heat and humidity (man was it hot) and hit the House of Theseus, named after the oldest mosaic located in the villa depicting the Ancient Greek hero brandishing a club against the Minotaur. In addition, to the Theseus mosaic, there were mosaics featuring Poseidon and Amphitrite and Achilles´ first bath. The amazing thing to me is that these gorgeous mosaics are simply sitting out in the open with no protection. (There were other mosaics on site, but they have been covered up with pebbles. Apparently efforts to construct a building similar to the House of Dionysus have not been successful.)
Now besides the mosaics, the incredible thing about the House of Theseus was its size. The place was enormous covering a massive site and included Roman baths and well preserved Roman columns. The house was believed to be the residence of the Roman governor of Cyprus and was occupied until the 7th century AD.
After wandering around for a bit and hanging around the Roman columns (they were spectacular), we moved on to the House of Aion, which has the most spectacular mosaic of five figural panels depicting: the newborn Dionysos; Leda and the Swan; the beauty contest between Cassiopeia and the Nereids; Apollon and Marsyas, and the Triumph of Dionysos. Fortunately, this site is also covered.
We did not visit the House of Orpheus and instead opted to take a heat break and take a ride to St. Paul’s Pillar. It was actually within walking distance, but at this point, we needed a break from the heat so ride in the car it was.
Now St. Paul’s Pillar is located on the site of 4 churches: an early Christian basilica dating to the 2nd century AD; phase two of the early Christian church stating to the 6th century AD, a 13th of 14th century Gothic church and the 15th/16th century Ayia Kyriaki Church. Legend has it that St. Paul was captured by the people of Paphos, tied to the pillar, and flogged thirty-nine times. Now there is no way of knowing if this is true or not, but in Paul’s writings he does mention being flogged five times during his life …. So maybe it is true.
Anyway, after the brief stop at St. Paul’s Pillar, we got back in the care and drove through the touristy party of Paphos past more restaurants and bars than I could count, before turning towards the coast and to the next stop: the Tomb of the Kings. Now the name is a misnomer because there are no kings buried here. Instead, it is believed that the families of high-ranking officials and prominent citizens from Ptolemy’s reign over Paphos. The tombs are believed to date back to the 4th century BC and are carved of sold rock. Some of the tombs feature Doric columns and frescoed walls (although the frescos are VERY hard to see.)
The walk to the tombs (which front the Mediterranean) took us through a sandy, rocky path (with no trees) where we eventually encountered the first and perhaps most magnificent tomb featuring the previously mentioned Doric columns. This tomb was something else. I took a walk down the stone stairs to get a better look, before walking back out and wandering around past partially collapsed tombs.
The other tomb that was particularly interesting was a square shaped tomb that contained the remains of a newborn baby. It is unknown what the baby’s rank was, but the baby must have been from an incredibly important family because there was no other person buried at the site. I took a walk down the stairs to take a look at this one as well and it was beautiful with arched entryways to the square box burial chamber. After wandering around the burial chamber, I climbed the stairs back out and sat and chatted with Lynia about Cyprus burial customs. They make a special bread that can only be made using pans and cooking utensils dedicated to making the bread. When making the bread you cannot do anything else and the bread is eaten by guests at the church during the service.
Anyway, by now, it was 12:30. I was hot and hungry (not much shade at the Tombs of the Kings) so we headed back to the waterfront where Lenia dropped me off and said she would be back for me in an hour. Perfect. I wandered around a couple little shops (scored my Christmas ornament … the streak continues) and stopped for a mango smoothie and grilled octopus while I listened to a British couple argue about the merits of vegetarian food. (LOTS of Brits on the island).
At 1:40 Lenia picked me up and we were off to the north along the inland road to Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite’s Rock), the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite. The drive initially gave me a bit of pause because we saw smoke on the horizon and ultimately passed a grove of trees on fire (YIKES). Careless smoker no doubt. The fire department was on the scene and by the time we came back the fire was out, but damn people! The area is tinder dry, the wind is blowing and it only takes one little spark and wham … fire.
Anyway, as we left the fire behind, the drive took us through olive groves and little vineyards and past the second largest dam in Cyprus before we wound our way past the Aphrodite Hills golf course (apparently very exclusive) and then along the coast to Aphrodite’s Rock. We initially stood on a hillside overlooking the rock before driving a little further down the road where we parked and I hiked down the stairs to the beach to get a close up look at the mythical birthplace. According to the legend, the Aphrodite (the ancient Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty) was born of the sea foam, rose from the waves and was escorted on a shell to this particular beach. Now you may or may not want to believe this, but I can tell you that the beach was absolutely gorgeous.
I ended up sitting on the rocky beach for a bit before walking back up the stairs. Lenia and I decided to go to one more stop: the monastery of Ayios Neophytos founded in the late twelfth century by the Cypriot hermit and writer Neophytos. The Engleistra (which I was told is a place of seclusion built into the rocks) apparently contains some of the most gorgeous Byzantine frescoes from the 12th and 13th centuries so I was up for one last stop.
We retraced our drive, this time taking the faster express way, and then wound our way through the hills of Upper Paphos along a tree lined road overlooking the Mediterranean and past these quirky outdoor cooking ovens people use during religious holidays before finally pulling into the stone monastery.
We first visited the Engleistra where Ayios Neophytos was originally buried and where the gorgeous frescos were painted. Unfortunately … NO PICTURES so the best I can do is two pictures provided to me by Lenia. I will say that the frescos really were beautiful. The Engleistra consisted of three parts: the Church of the True Cross, the Cell of Neophytos, and the Refectory. The refectory and the cell were in pretty good shape, but the Church of True Cross had a fire and the frescos on the ceiling had, for the most part, been destroyed.
We then moved on to the church that was believed to have been built in the 16th century. And judging by the ancient olive tree beside the church, they may not be far off. Anyway, we wandered around the little Greek Orthodox Church, and viewed the remains of Neophystos, which had been relocated to the Church along with numerous icons (meaningful religious artifacts) and some gorgeous frescos on the south wall, including a series of painting depicting the nativity. Again, NO PICTURES. Gesh.
Anyway, after the church visit, I was done in. We headed back to my hotel for some rest (my left foot was killing me … some heavy set jackass stepped on my foot in Heathrow and didn’t even bother to stop) and I needed to put some ice on it. Tomorrow, I am off for a day on a boat in the Mediterranean.