Paphos: European Capital of the gods
ccording to legend, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born next to the rocks off the coast of Paphos. She emerged from the waves beyond the cliffs of Petra tou Romiou making its photogenic landscape a world destination for pilgrims. Located 149 km south-east of Nicosia, Paphos, the former Greek and Roman capital of Cyprus, it is on the west coast of the island.
In 2017, this city will share the status of European capital with Aarhus. Some 1,500 artists will work on 152 projects and 300 activities over the course of the year, all with the key message that the authentic heritage has endured over the centuries. Its appointment is very timely. This is because, since 1980, the archaeological wealth here has been forced to coexist with spa resorts aimed at the mass tourism market.
In its purest form
Paphos has abundant, seductive plant life, including olive and lemon groves, carob trees, and beautiful orchids and tulips. There is a stark contrast between Segway processions through the city centre, and shepherds traversing the landscape, perched on donkeys.
To avoid visitors having to continually put up with its new hectic, noisy, modern side, much has been done to bring its historical wealth back into the limelight. Today, its archaeological attractions are connected by well-signposted pedestrian walkways, and there is an open-air itinerary focused on its myths and religion.
Those who expect much more than a baseball cap and audioguide from their holidays will not be disappointed: the weather will be on their side—the sun shines 340 days a year—and the landscape is a delightful blend of rural scenes, mountains and coastal areas. Its 27 beaches are a haven of turquoise waters, and you can escape by going on fishing excursions, hiking in the valleys or visiting the exclusive vineyards of Nelion and Tsangarides. It is also the place to taste Commandaria, the oldest wine in the world, produced on the island for more than 5,000 years. The Knights Templar gave it its name, and Richard the Lionheart made it famous as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”.
Paphos, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, is straight out of the pages of a history book. It is a living museum, shaped by its Hellenistic era, the arrival of the Romans in 58BC, then of Christianity in 46BC, the Byzantine domination that lasted seven centuries, Richard the Lionheart’s conquest in the 12th century, and subsequent occupations by Venice and the Turkish army. The first step to discovering it is the primitive sanctuary of Aphrodite in the town of Kouklia, whose Mycenaean remains hail back to the 12th century BC, and which has been rebuilt twice.
Kato Paphos Archaeological Park goes from Prehistory to the Middle Ages. Its villas, like the House of Dionysus, and mosaics are specimens from Roman times. Past meets present at the odeon, where they still put on musical performances, just as they did 2,000 years ago.
The Tombs of the Kings, dating back to the 4th century BC, are to be found at the end of a walk that affords panoramic views over the Mediterranean. They form a necropolis carved directly into stone. Don’t miss the early Christian church of Agia Kiriaki and Pillar of St Peter.
To return to 2017, there is nothing like strolling through the romantic port, along the wide seaside promenade, and enjoying delicious fresh seafood.