So today I left Paphos and my lovely waterfront hotel and headed northeast. My ultimate destination was Limassol, a port city about midpoint on the island of Cyprus. However, before Limossol, it was back to taking in Roman ruins. And first up was the Temple of Apollo Hylates. However, before we took to the highway, Lenia had Panicos stop at Arsinoe, a small family run Loukoumi shop. Loukoumi is a traditional eastern Mediterranean dessert better known as Turkish delight (but don’t call it that in Cyprus). I fell in love with the concoction during my visit to the country that shall not be named and have tried to buy the fabulous mixture every time I am in this part of the world.
Anyway, Loukoumi is has only three ingredients and is made by mixing sugar, starch and water. The concoction is then heated to a jelly like consistency. The mixture is then removed from the heat, placed in forms, covered in powdered sugar and left to cool. The forms are then cut into squares and doused with more powdered sugar and boxed. Loukoumi is often flavoured with rose water, almonds, pistachios, vanilla, banana, orange, and yes, even ouzo.
We took a quick tour of the very small production area before getting down to the good stuff … tasting. Ultimately, I opted for a couple boxes of the pomegranate and pistachio flavour and a couple boxes of the ouzo flavour. YUM!
So with my loukoumi purchased, we began the drive to our first real stop … the Temple of Apollo Hylates … but wait. Lenia was suddenly telling Panicos to turn around. Lenia had spotted something she wanted me to see. Turns out there was gentleman standing by of a series of clay ovens in front of a small residence/business making kleftiko, a very traditional dish in which lamb or goat is wrapped in parchment paper with potatoes, then covered in foil. The clay oven is filled with wood or charcoal and warmed for 3 ½ hours. Foil then covers the charcoal or wood and the foil covered meal is then shoveled in the oven. The oven is closed and then sealed with mud and left for 5 hours. At the end of the process you have what I am told is a tasty meal that is popular with the locals.
The gentleman was apparently preparing the meal to sell later in the day and had a stack of lamb and potatoe foil wrapped packages. He was kind enough to let me watch as he covered the coals with foil and then threw the foil wrapped packages into the oven trying ever so hard not to burn himself (he jumped once so I think the oven got him). He then closed up the oven and sealed the oven with mud. It was pretty cool to see this traditional meal prepared by a pro.
Anyway, after the cooking demonstration, we finally, finally set off for the Temple of Apollo Hylates near the ancient city of Kourion. Now Apollon Hylates, God of the Woodland, was the protector of Kourion and it is believed that he was worshipped at the site from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. His sanctuary was an important religious centre and underwent many extensions and alterations in different periods and in particular during the Roman period. The majority of the monuments that I would be seeing today are from the 1st century AD and include Apollo’s Temple, the Kourion Gate (entrance), the Pafos Gate (other entrance), pilgrim halls aka dormitories where pilgrims could stay, the palaistra (where athletes exercised and played games), a bath complex, and a circular altar (dating back to the earliest period) where animals were sacrificed.
So after we arrived, Lenia gave me the rundown on the site and then suggested I wander around and enjoy. And boy did I ever. I think Lenia thought I got lost in what is actually a pretty small site. I wandered up the stone stairs past the palaistra and then over to the two remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo before passing the circular alter and then taking some time at the baths. Pretty standard Roman baths with a changing area, the frigidarium, or cold room; the caldarium, or hot room and the tepidarium, or lukewarm room. Now how did they heat the rooms you ask? There were fire chambers, which carried hot air through the hypocausts (ceramic pipes), travelling up through specially-cut flues, through the walls, and beneath the terracotta tiles of the floor. Bloody amazing!
I then wandered back up the staircase past the palaistra again and took in the pilgrim halls which had a myriad of pillars still standing. I then ended the walk by going to the far end of the site to the Pafos Gate, with its semi-circular staircase and standing Roman columns. Maybe my favourite part of the site.
I walked back towards Lenia and noticed for the first time the number of stone pots and slabs of stone with intricate designs carved into the stone laying around the site. I had been so busy looking at the buildings, I had forgotten to look down. So … I took another wander around the site to make sure I had not missed anything below eye level.
Once I was satisfied I had seen everything there was to see, we walked back to the car in what was now sweltering heat. The A/C never felt so good!
So next stop was to the ancient city of Kourion, about 1.5 km to the east. And of course, we could not go strait to the site. Lenia insisted we stop at the stadium, a former Roman site dating to the 2nd century AD where pentathlon sports took place (javelin,high jump, wrestling, running and long jump) took place. Now the site was destroyed in the 4thcentury AD and there is not much that remains other than the walls, but the remains did allow me to visualize the long, narrow stadium.
Anyway, after the brief stop, it was on to Kourion. Once at the site, we walked up the hill and sat under a covered bench in the only shade around while Lenia told me about the site, which dates to the 5th century BC, is located within the British base and sits atop a limestone cliff nearly 100 metres high along the coast of Episkopi Bay. The city was eventually destroyed in a severe earthquake in 365 AD.
The site consists of numerous well preserved and restored buildings, which include the Agora (market), a Christian basillica dating to the 5th century AD, a bath complex, a small temple, the Nymphaeum, dedicated to the water nymphs, some early Christian homes and two villas named the ‘House of Achilles’ and the ‘House of the Gladiators’, with their names derived from the scenes depicted on the mosaics located in the homes.
And of course, a few hundred meters from the main site is the House of Eustolios, which was originally a private villa that was turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period and the magnificent Greco-Roman theatre – the site’s centrepiece – which was built in the 2nd century BC and extended in the 2nd century AD.
So with a little knowledge about the site, Lenia turned me loose. Now, I quickly realized the heat and humidity was going to do me in as I wandered the site, without a lick of shade in sight, but I tried to ignore it as I wandered around as I had spent literally three years waiting to see this place.
Anyway, I began at the basillica, a fairly well preserved site with two incredible arches and amazing views to the ocean. There were baptismal chambers, a bishop’s palace and colonnades and on and on. Once I finally finished walking around the basillica, I moved away from the main site and walked past the Christian homes to the House of the Gladiators and the House of Achilles. Now for the life of me, I could did not see any gladiators in the mosaic on the floor of the House of Gladiators, but in the House of Achilles, Achilles was most definitely visible in the mosaic, which by the way, was vivid and quite well preserved.
I then reversed course (since I was at the end of the site) and returned to the area of the baths, which were HUGE in comparison to what I saw at the Temple of Apollo. I then walked to the Nymphaeum, which was not particularly impressive, before walking across the Roman Agora, which dates back to the early 3rd century, with additions made later on, during the Early Christian period. The remnants of the marble columns that were found on both sides of the porticos were the most impressive aspect of the Agora.
Now at this point, I wasn’t sure how much more heat I could take, but I was damned if I was going to miss out on the House of Eustolios and the Theatre. So I found Lenia and we set off down the path and up yet another hill to the, thankfully, covered House of Eustolios’, which was originally a private villa that was turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period.
The highlight of the House of Eustolios was the four panels of beautiful, 5th century mosaic floors in the central room, a Christian mosaic and a bathing complex that is located on a higher level, which contained cold baths (frigidarium). On an adjacent area, the remains of the hypocausts (the pipes) – which heated the medium room (tepidarium), and the hot room (caldarium) – could be seen. Ceramic clearly lasts forever!
We then crossed over toward the Greco-Roman theatre and it did not disappoint. It was gorgeous and fully restored to its former glory. A significant portion of the theatre contained original stonework and it was truly, truly spectacular. I ended up sitting down and taking in the views before finally meeting back up with Lenia for a rest inside the visitor center (thank God for A/C).
Around 1:30 we left Kourion and headed to the Castle of Kolossi for what was supposed to be our last stop of the day. The Castle was originally built in the 13th century and then rebuilt in 1454. The building consisted of three rooms on the basement floor that was used for storing grains and other food products. The first floor consisted of two rooms, which were believe to be a dining room and a prayer room with drawbridge for a front door. The second floor consisted of two rooms with fire places and the top floor consisted of a watchtower.
Now I have no idea how I climbed the 100 plus steps to the top, but somehow I managed to take in all four floors before walking back down the stairs and telling Lenia I was done. At this point, she suggested we stop for a late lunch and then do a quick little tour of old town Limossol (where I am staying for the next three nights). I agreed figuring that lunch might give me a second wind, but damn I was exhausted.
We reached old town Limossol and wandered down to a little restaurant where we had salad and pita sandwiches with fabulous grilled chicken. And while my feet were telling me it was time to shut it down, I decided to let Lenia show me a bit of old town.
We wandered over to the Limossol castle, which is believe to have been originally built in the 10th or 11th century and has had multiple rebuilds over the years. The castle is now used as a museum housing remains of the economic, social and religious life of Cypriots from the 3rd century to the 18th century. The museum included weapons, armory, tools, lamps, jewelry, coins, ceramics and, my favourite, headstones. And why headstones? They were incredibly intricate pieces of art. Plus there was one with a skeleton that cracked me up.
Anyway, after wandering around the three floors of the castle, Lenia and I took a walk down the narrow streets of old town Limossol passing tavernas, old homes, a former caravanserai and a Turkish hamman.
We stopped for some ice cream (I think Lenia could see I was fading) before we walked to my hotel where Panicos had brought my luggage. Now I have no idea how far I walked today, but it must have easily been 10 miles (maybe more). I was exhausted and am now looking forward to spending a little less time walking tomorrow as we go to visit the divided capital of Cyprus … Nicosia.