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When our friend and ex-neighbour, David Parry, offered us the use of his villa on Cyprus we gladly accepted. It is a favourite holiday destination for many Brits but a place neither of us had visited. Spring comes early to Cyprus so while the UK was still shivering after the coldest winter for 30 years, we were basking in 20 plus degrees of lovely spring sunshine.
Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960 but from the bronze age to then was invaded and ruled by a succession of nations. First on the scene were probably the Minoans from Crete although the Egyptians were hopping across now and then but around 1400 BC the Mycenaeans arrived from the Greek Peloponnese and their descendants are still here. The Egyptians did rule for a time in the sixth century BC until the Persians took over, then Alexander the Great came along and Cyprus became part of the Greek Empire. In the first century AD along came the Romans who took the place over until the decline of its empire in the fifth century when Cyprus became part of the Byzantine Empire.
In the 11th century the Turks invaded the Holy Land which was the beginning of the Crusades. In the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart of England defeated the Byzantine army in Cyprus, plundered the island then sold it to the Knights Templar to raise funds for his crusade who in turn sold it on to the French who ruled until the end of the 15th century. The Venetians chucked them out and ruled for nearly 200 years until along came the Ottomans who milked the poor Cypriots dry and invested virtually nothing, then in the 19th century along came the Brits who had helped the Turks fight the Russians so they were given Cyprus as a thank you present! The Brits eventually colonised Cyprus, installed a better government and legal system, planted a few trees, killed off all the bandits, installed water supplies, built new roads and eradicated disease. Meanwhile, they continued to milk the poor old Cypriots blind in taxes and set up huge armed forces bases around the island! We are still here today although not in charge any more.
Many of those reading this will have lived though the more recent history of Cyprus and will know the principle characters involved in the dramatic fight for independence and subsequent partition of the Island. Archbishop Makarios and General George Grivas secretly founded EOKA in 1954 to end British rule by violent means and to achieve enosis; union with Greece. Makarios achieved independence in 1960 after much bloodshed on all sides by and to the British, Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Grivas did not accept independence and still wanted union with Greece so exiled himself there. He returned in 1964 to take command of the National Guard, leading several attacks on Turkish enclaves, almost bringing Greece and Turkey to war each time. He was returned to Greece in 1967 where the Greek government had been replaced by an army junta. As a result, Makarios had become disenchanted with enosis so the junta, with the help of the CIA, decided to get rid of him. Grivas was secretly returned to Cyprus and set up EOKA-B but died in 1974. Later that year EOKA-B staged a coup which prompted Turkey to invade and Cyprus was effectively partitioned into the Turkish north and Greek south. The day after, Sue and I were driving round Athens in a car with British number plates when they stoned the British Embassy; quite exciting, but that is another story! The southern half of the island, or about 62% to be more precise, is still the Cyprus Republic and now a member of the EU and the EMU.
The clouds over the Troödos were perhaps a forerunner of the violent storm that night which knocked out power and telephones for most of the next day - difficult in an all electric house where even the water pressure was reduced to a trickle.
The next day dawned bright and clear so we set out again towards Polis then along the coast to Pomos where the photo at the start of this page is taken. The scenery gets quite spectacular here with steep sided valleys sweeping down to the sea. The countryside was really green and lush. Lots of wild flowers and cherry trees in full blossom.
We turned off inland at the top, winding along a newly paved forestry road through the Tillyrian wilderness for about 40km where we dropped down into a valley for lunch at Stavros, a forestry station which has some nice little cabins you can hire if you fancy doing some walking in the area. After a lunch of toasted ham, tomato and cheese rolls sitting out in the sunshine, we continued back up the mountain and over to Cedar Valley. These trees are indigenous to Cyprus but related to the Lebanon Cedar and seem to be quite rare.
Our final destination was Kykkos Monastery. This was founded in the 11th century to house an icon of the Virgin Mary painted by Luke the Apostle and presented by the Byzantine Emperor after the then governor of Cyprus was prompted to go to Constantinople by a vision of the Virgin Mary. The icon sits in the churches ornate golden alter screen and the face is covered. They say it has never been seen by anyone since arriving from Constantinople and no one knows why it was covered. The monastery has a museum containing mostly religious artifacts but also a collection of bronze age and other pottery dating from 2000 BC.
The mountain summit above the monastery is called the Throni. This is so called because the icon used to be placed on a throne there in times of drought or plague. Archbishop Makarios tomb is here (pictured above), guarded by a National Guardsman. He is said to have wanted to look down over all Cypriots from this mountain top and it is indeed a wonderful view from the top, over to Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in the Troödos at nearly 2000m, which had a sprinkling of snow on the top.
The town of Paphos is really two different places. Around the harbour is the tourist town known as Kato Paphos and 3km inland is the original town built by the Byzantines. The harbour has the usual fish restaurants on the quayside although there are little or no fishing boats in the harbour and most fish is brought in frozen. There is also whats left of a French castle which the Venetians knocked about a bit, the Ottomans used what was left and us Brits used as a salt warehouse! The only real reason to visit the place are the wonderful Roman mosaics.
We made a couple of further excursions into the Troödos. On the first one we drove up the Dhiárizos valley as far as Áyios Nikólaos then steeply down into the valley bottom to the Elea bridge. This graceful little bridge was built by the Venetians which means 16th/17th century so it has done well to survive and there are another couple in the same area. On the second occasion we retraced our steps along the north coast to the green line (the border with Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus) and followed it along a relatively, new road which must have cost a fortune to construct, up and down vertiginous mountain valleys with numerous signs warning us not to venture off the road into occupied territory. This finally bought us to the Marathássa valley up which we headed to Pedhoulás, famous for its picturesque frescoed church of Arkhángelos Mihaïl church which we did not enter but admired from the road above.
At the head of the valley you begin the climb up to the top of Mount Olympus. A British radar station prohibits a final climb to the summit but there is a trail around the mountain top and a couple of ski lifts, even an hotel open during the winter months. Apart from warm clothing which we did not have (it was about 12 degrees centigrade at 1900 metres) it was getting late and we had quite a way to drive back.
The round trip was about 8km so we were hot and tired on our return but a bag of local oranges from a roadside stall for €2 satisfied the parts a certain beer could not reach.
On our final day in Cyprus we visited the Kurion Archeological site just over the Paphos border in the Limassol district. You drive through the British Sovereign Base of Episkopi which is quite attractive and has the benefit of protecting the area from the despoilation of tourism which is afflicting much of this coast. If the base were not there I am sure the pretty valley would be full of villas and luxury hotels!
The ancient city of Kourion is well worth a visit. The Greco Roman Theatre there dates from around 300 BC then the Romans altered it for Gladiatorial combat during their innings from about 50 BC, then in the 1960's the Cypriots restored it to stage Shakespeare plays for the tourists. Alongside is the house of Eustolios, a local benefactor and builder who was so upset at the living conditions of his local community that he built a bath house for them next to his villa. The mosaics date from the 4th and 5th century and one well preserved example features Ktisis, the spirit of creation, holding a rule measure of a Roman foot.
Further up the hill is the huge Roman Agora, a sort of market place, alongside the ruins of one of the earliest Christian Episcopal Basilicas dating from the 5th century. Excavations of the Roman Agora were only completed in 1998 and include a huge complex of Roman baths (carn Barf!). You can also see mosaics of Roman gladiators in the so called gladiators house named after the mosaics and Achilles house for similar reasons. The city is situated high above the sea on a chalk promontory which was selected as a place that could be easily defended, that is until the Arabs arrived who destroyed it!