The history of Cyprus

Known for being one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has been changed, conquered and colonised numerous times during its 10,000 year history

Having one of the oldest dating historical records in the world, Cyprus is located at the crossroads of the three continents Europe, Asia and Africa, making it in a very beneficial position. The island was once abundant in copper and timber, which gave it economic as well as strategic value. In addition, Cyprus was, and is still blessed with exquisite natural beauty, a fitting birthplace for the legendary ancient goddess Aphrodite, whom tradition credits with having emerged from the waves near Paphos.

While there may be no evidence to prove this particular legend, the ruins of numerous ancient civilisations are littered across the island, where you can visit. The remains of the oldest known settlements date back to the Neolithic period, between 9000 and 6000 years ago.  Even the name, Cyprus, derives from the ancient Greek word for the valuable copper deposits that were already being mined and traded across Europe as early as 2500 BC. Copper was one of the most precious resources of the ancient world, with its discovery and commercial exploitation beginning sometime between 3900 and 2500 BC, and, as trade with the Near East, Egypt and the Aegean developed, it brought wealth and prosperity to the island.

Cyprus's rich natural resources also attracted the interest of a succession of dominant powers across the island and nearby countries, who battled for its control over hundreds of years. The first of these are believed to have been the Achaean Greeks who arrived in around 1200 BC introducing their language, religion and customs to the island. Cyprus was subsequently colonised by the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians. In the 4th century BC Alexander the Great claimed the island, which remained part of the Greek-Egyptian kingdom until 30 BC, when the Romans arrived and Cyprus became a senatorial province. It was during this period that Saint Paul was said to have visited the island and converted the Roman governor to Christianity.

Cyprus remained a Roman possession until the empire began to disintegrate in 330AD, when it became part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. In 1191, Cyprus was conquered by the English king, Richard the Lionheart, while he was on his way to take part in the Third Crusade. He successed, and then later sold the island to the Knights Templar, who themselves sold it on to the Lusignans, a dynasty which went on to rule Cyprus for almost 300 years. The last of the Lusignans ceded the island to Venice in 1489. Despite building heavily protected fortresses and defences around the island’s major cities of Famagusta and Nicosia, the Venetians were not able to withstand the invading Ottoman troops who conquered the island in 1571. Cyprus then remained under Ottoman rule until the arrival of the British in 1878.

After being ruled under British power for almost 80 years, Cyprus eventually gained independence from Britain in 1960, but with one of the world’s most complicated constitutions as its foundation, the new republic soon encountered difficulties. Inter-communal violence between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, resulted in the withdrawal from government of the Turkish Cypriot leadership in 1963. Just over a decade later, in 1974, a right-wing coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Greece, overthrew the government of Archbishop Makarios. In an alleged attempt to protect the minority Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey invaded the island from the north. Despite numerous attempts to resolve the Cyprus problem, the island has been peacfully divided ever since, with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities separated by a UN-manned buffer zone, commonly referred to as the ‘Green Line’. 

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot leadership unilaterally declared independence. The international community refused to recognise the self-styled ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, or ‘TRNC’, as a separate state and the breakaway republic is only recognised by Turkey.


The most recent development of this island is that Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, and converted their currency to the euro as its currency in January 2008. In February 2008 Demetris Christofias was elected president of the republic and initiated direct talks with the then leader of the Turkish-controlled north, Mehmet Ali Talat in an attempt to find a solution. In April 2010 Mr Talat was succeeded as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, by Derviş Eroğlu. 

Peace talks between the two leaders continue, although a solution remains as elusive as ever. But we assure you that both sides are currently living in harmony and there is no threat of war or complications between these two sides.

Aphrodite Temple 

The worshipping of Aphrodite began in Cyprus in the 12th century B.C., at the same time the temple of Aphrodite was constructed on a hilltop in the village of Kouklia, about 2 km from the sea. The town of Palea Paphos quickly grew up around the church. There are two legends in Palea Paphos.

The Legend of King Kinyras

According to one legend, the founder of the settlement and the first priest of Aphrodite’s sanctuary was the legendary king Kinyras.

His daughter, the beautiful Myrrha, was turned into a fragrant tree (myrrh tree) by her jealous mother, the goddess Aphrodite.

Adonis was born from the bark of this tree, who in turn then became the lover of Aphrodite.

The fall of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite

Religious and cultural events in the sanctuary of Aphrodite ceased in the 4th century A.D. with the growth and spread of Christianity throughout the island, after the publication of the Edict of Milan by the Roman emperor, which abolished pagan sacrifices and rituals.

The temple fell into disrepair, but even before the adoption of this law, Theodosius, a rich Roman, built a private villa next to the temple (small pieces of the mosaic floor of the Roman villa can be seen to this day), causing some damage to the building.

During the Byzantine period the locals used the ruins as a source of building materials. Today, almost all the old buildings include one or two stones from one of the most important shrines of the ancient world.

And finally, in the Middle Ages, a factory producing sugar was built on top of the stone foundations which destroyed everything over half a meter from the ground.

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