by Barbara Barton Sloane
Special to The Vindicator
A Zen parable says: “When a fish swims, it swims on and on and there is no end to the water. When a bird flies, it flies on and on and there is no end to the sky.” Here on this ancient island one enters into a blue zone. The color of the Mediterranean changes from crystal clear turquoise to lapis to azure, and there is no end to blue water. With perfect weather almost 365 days of the year, the sky above remains the color of a robin’s egg, and there is no end to blue sky. I have just arrived in Cyprus and as its famed golden light washes over me; my mood is far from blue.
There are few places on earth that can compare with the charm and beauty of Cyprus. This carefree, gentle island marries European culture with ancient history and offers an incomparable blend of classical legend, historic architecture and rich tradition. Cyprus is a small country of 3,600 square miles.
It encompasses four major towns: Lefkosia, Larnaka, Lemesos and Pafos. Situated at the crossroads of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – this geographic location has, from antiquity, played an important role in the island’s 10,000 year history. No matter where you go, you can be sure of walking on a piece of the past.
In 1974, Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus and today 37 percent of this country is under Turkish rule. The Cyprus/Turkish issue continues although there are now on-going talks for reunification. My travel companions and I were only vaguely aware of this separation. However, when we visited villages in the north, and saw areas enclosed by barbed wire with United Nations flags flying, we knew that our travels in Cyprus ended at this fence.
Our first day in Cyprus took us to Pafos, which dates from the fourth century B.C. The entire town is listed as a World Heritage site, and the reason for that soon became clear. Here are numerous important archaeological ruins, ancient monasteries, churches and catacombs. Last but not least, there is a big boulder that juts out of the turquoise sea, and it is here that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, is said to have risen from the foam.
A young Cypriot named Yian was photographing the scene before us and seemed genuinely bemused by us gals who were smitten by a statue of Aphrodite as she seemingly emerged from the sea in love-struck ecstasy.
Yian proceeded to tell us of a most romantic legend, saying, “If a woman comes to the sea at midnight during a full moon and swims to the spot where Aphrodite was born, she will inherit her beauty, and if a man performs this feat, he will have eternal youth.”
He went on to say that might be a good reason to take the plunge. The closest I came to living this myth was a nearby visit to the Fontana Amorosa dedicated to the goddess. As the fountain bubbled forth and I dipped in a toe, I was captivated by this romantic fable. Was this liquid spouting skyward merely water? No, I preferred to believe it was, of course, Aphrodite’s love potion.
Our group left the Fountain of Love feeling somewhat lovelier, and we were off to the Tombs of the Kings, one of the major archaeological attractions of Pafos.
As we entered this dark and damp underground site, we were surrounded by massive Doric pillars and a honeycomb structure with tombs carved into sheer rock vaults.
As we rounded a craggy corner, in the distance we spied archaeologists working on excavations at this very moment and just like that, these ancient tombs were brought into present-day reality and importance. We learned that this work is on-going, and we felt lucky to be, in some small way, a part of it. We eventually emerged back up into the bright Cyprus sun and headed off to lunch.
Before leaving Pafos, we visited the House of Dionysos containing splendid mosaic floors that date from the third to fifth century.
The mosaics here, depicting scenes from Greek mythology, are considered some of the world’s finest. One of my favorites was of a lady languorously reclining as another, in the distance, stood arms outstretched as if pointing out the pretty trees and mountains behind her
Bacchus and Beyond
We looked forward to our visit to Omodos, a section of Lemesos (Limassol), with its 5,000 year history of winemaking, so no way were we going to miss that.
We lunched at the Antoniades Winery, sampling the wines while nibbling on tiny meatballs, small pita envelopes filled with cheese, and an assortment of cold meats, raisins and almonds. Marios Antoniades, managing director, instructed us to return in the fall, saying: “The piece de resistance here is our annual wine festival held in September. You can drink as much wine as you want – free - for 10 full days.” Lemesos is Cyprus’ second largest city, the center of the wine industry and the island’s main port.
A Capital City
Lefkosia (Nicosia),the country’s 1,000-year-old capital, is situated in the center of Cyprus and is a large, cosmopolitan hub filled with appealing stores for some retail therapy, lively tavernas for eating, dancing to Zorba music and, if the mood strikes, for breaking plates.
The Cyprus Handicraft Center is not to be missed. One observes women practicing the traditional arts of embroidery and lace making much the same as in ages past.
In his day, Leonardo DaVinci visited Cyprus and was so enchanted by the Lefkaritika – intricate geometric embroidery – that he purchased an alter cover still used today in the Church of Milan. The Cyprus Archaeological Museum was one of the highlights of my entire Cyprus experience. The museum houses the largest collection of archaeological treasures in Cyprus. Walking through its 14 galleries chock-a-block with priceless artifacts dating from the Neolithic age to the 7th century was a heady experience. !
Shussh – A Cypriot Secret
If hunting for a spot to spread your towel on one of Cyprus’ famed beaches is not particularly appealing, then The White Rocks is a perfect option. This unspoiled 6-mile stretch of coastline is just 15 miles outside of Limassol, and if you make the trip, you’ll be seduced by secluded, rocky coves and private beaches with barely enough room for a whole family. The water here is shallow, crystal clear and ideal for snorkeling or simply solitary sunning.
Our last day in Cyprus was spent in Larnaka, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and home to the Church of St. Lazarus, said to be the spot where he is buried. Restored in the 17th century, it houses excellent examples of baroque woodcarving. We took a walk by a large salt lake. Migratory birds and wild swans make this lake their annual stopover, and as we were about to leave, a great pink cloud descended on the lakeshore – hundreds of flamingos, a perfect photo op and a perfect way to end our Cyprus holiday.
It is said that when Aphrodite stepped from the sea foam onto the shore at Pafos, the locals welcomed her with open arms. When you visit Cyprus and are greeted with “kopiaste!” (“Come join us”), I think you’ll feel just as the goddess did – most welcome.
If you go: www.visitcyprus.com