Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and perhaps most famously in historical terms, it is the home of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. There is evidence of human settlement that stretches back over 12,000 years. Consequently, it’s full of historical sites to explore, many of which have been exceptionally well preserved by the hot and generally dry Cypriot climate. Flights to Cyprus take around four hours making it an easily accessible holiday destination. Despite its title as the third largest island in the Med, Cyprus is relatively small which is ideal for visitors wanting to see as much as they can in a shorter space of time. There are over 170 sites which could be considered historically interesting; we’ve put together a list of our top five.
Khirokitia (also spelled Choirokoitia)
Khirokitia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features the remains of a settlement that dates back to the Neolithic period. Although it’s unclear when the site was first inhabited, it appears it was abandoned quite suddenly circa 6000BC. Khirokitia was finally fully excavated in the late 1970s and some of the original buildings have been reconstructed to give visitors an idea of what it would have been like. It’s estimated that the village was never home to more than about 600 people at any one time and they existed primarily from subsistence farming.
Location: Choirokoitia (nr. Tochni)
Transport: Car, Coach Trip
Dates back to: 6000BC latest
Bellapais is a village located in the Turkish controlled northern part of the island near Kyrenia and although tensions exist between the two states, travel between them is rarely a problem. The abbey at Bellapais was built in the 13th Century by monks of the Premonstratensian order who were primarily of French descent. The abbey itself is similar in style to those that can be found in Western Europe and is definitely worth visiting, even if just to marvel at the scale of the place. There are no regular bus services to Ballapais so you will have to use a hire car or a taxi. If it’s the latter, agree the fare before setting off.
Location: Bellapais,Kyrenia. Northern Cyprus
Cost: 9TL (Turkish Lira)
Dates back to: 13th Century
The Tombs of the Kings
Another UNESCO world heritage site, the tombs of the kings is named as such because of the grand architecture and scale of the buildings, not because any royalty were ever buried there. Remarkably well preserved and situated roughly 2km North West of Paphos, access to the Tombs of the Kings is simple and parking is not an issue. There is a fee to enter and it is currently 2EUR per person. Those who are really into their history may wish to do some reading beforehand as the information provided at the site is minimal at best. The Historical Dictionary of Cyprus includes a good section on the tombs of the kings. You are given almost total access to explore the tombs as you wish though and get a real idea of the achievement in building such a monument. The midday sun can make the place unbearable at times so avoid if you struggle with the heat.
Transport: Car, Bus
Dates back to: 200BC
In the grand scheme of things, Kolossi castle is one Cyprus’ less well known historical landmarks but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. You can find it roughly 9miles west of the large resort of Limassol so access is very simple. Entry is roughly 1.7EUR per person and it’s open all day every day. The original crusader castle was built in the 13th century and was then rebuilt by the Knights Templar in the 15th century. Much of what can be seen today is the later structure which is still in very good condition. For those interested in the crusades this castle is well worth a visit. It’s certainly not the most imposing of castles but there’s something indescribable about it that captures the imagination.
Location: Kolossi (nr. Limassol)
Dates Back to: 13th century
One of the larger and more imposing buildings on the island, the castle at Kyrenia was built in the 16th century but evidence of settlement at the site goes back thousands of years. The remains of a 12th century chapel, built using recycled Roman materials can be seen inside the castle. It has changed hands many times over the centuries and consequently a wide variety of architectural styles can be observed side by side. Those interested in maritime history should put Kyrenia Castle at the top of their list due to the preserved Greek merchant ship that sits inside its own dedicated museum. The wreck is one of the oldest ever recorded and dates back to 400BC. Unlike some of the other sites in Cyprus, there is a lot of information on hand at Kyrenia castle to learn about the varied history of the place.
Location: Kyrenia (Northern Cyprus)
Transport: Car, Bus, Coach, Walk
Dates back to: Original structure – 400BC, current structure – 12th Century.
If you’ve got more time…
Trying to narrow the places to visit down to 5 was not easy and there is a lot more to do for a history buff on the island of Cyprus. The Amathus buildings dedicated to Aphrodite near Limassol are incredible for instance. The Roman city of Kourion is actually one of Cyprus’ better known historical attractions and should certainly feature on anybody’s list. The area is popular with tourists which can put some people off however. Finally the Church of Agios Lazaros in the centre of Larnaca is as grand as any you’ll see on the island.
20 sites to add to your list:
- Paphos Castle – Medieval castle
- Palaipafos – Mycenaean complex
- Kalavasos-Tenta – Neolithic site
- Nea Pafos – former capital of Cyprus, contains several roman sites
- Baths of Aphrodite – Mytholigical site
- Salamis Ancient Site – Greek city
- Paphos Odean – Roman amphitheatre
- Medieval walls of Nicosia
- Famagusta Gate – Part of the walls of Nicosia
- Constanza Bastion –Part of the walls of Nicosia
- Sanctuary of Hylates – Cypriot Temple
- The house of the Gladiators – part of the Kourion complex
- Tamasos Royal Tombs
- The House of Eustolios – Early Christian house
- Makronissos Tombs – Roman Tomb Complex
- Sanctuary of Aphrodite – Ancient temple complex
- Machairas Monastery – early middle ages Christian monastery
- Agios Georgios Ruins – Early Byzantine church
- Paphos Archaeological Park – UNESCO world heritage site
- Nicosia Aqueduct – 18th century water aqueduct