Paphos, often considered a seaside resort, has an abundance of historical attractions to supplement its stunning beaches, making it an ideal vacation for history buffs
Located in the far west of Cyprus, Paphos is where the mountains meet the sea. It is divided into two distinct parts: Ktima, the stately old town, uphill and inland, which has elegant colonial houses and museums, and Kato Paphos, the main tourist area with restaurants, souvenir shops, low-rise apartments and archaeological sites. The Akamas Peninsula, an easy day trip from Paphos, is home to incredibly diverse flora and fauna and one of the island’s best hiking spots.
Agora & Odeon
The Odeon, a small theatre, lies in the heart of the Kato Paphos. It is a small 2nd-century Odeon built entirely of well-hewn limestone blocks. Today it is used for summer music festivals and has 12 rows of seating. In front, is the large court of the Agora, which functioned as a Roman marketplace. Today only the foundations and parts of the columns remain standing. Nearby are the crumbling remains of ancient city walls. Next to the Odeon is a lighthouse and a rocky mound believed to have been the Acropolis of the town.
House of Dionysus
The top-rated tourist attraction in Paphos, the House of Dionysus, has the most exquisite mosaic pavements found in the Mediterranean. Said to have been discovered by a farmer ploughing his fields, the mosaic artwork has vibrant, natural limestone colours depicting scenes from Greek mythology. One of the most well-known mosaics is found at the back of the house and portrays the story of Ganymede being taken back to Olympus by an eagle.
Opposite the House of Dionysus is the House of Aion. The mosaics here date back to the 4th century CE (Common Era). The five mythological scenes worth seeing here are ‘The Bath of Dionysus’, ‘Leda and the Swan’, ‘The Beauty Contest between Cassiopeia and the Nereids’, ‘Apollo and Marsyas’ and the ‘Triumphant Procession of Dionysus’.
Tombs of the Kings
A short two-kilometre drive out of the town brings you to the Tombs of the Kings, one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus. It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list since 1980. These underground tombs date to the Hellenistic and Roman periods and are carved out of solid rock. The site was a burial ground during the Greek and Roman periods and the tombs were probably used for high ranking officials and aristocracy. There are seven tombs to explore here, but tomb number three has the most interesting architectural elements.
This fascinating ruin was home to one of Paphos’ largest religious structures. What remains today are the foundations of the 4th-century Christian basilica, which reveal the size and magnificence of the original structure. Several beautiful marble columns remain from the old colonnades, while others lie scattered around the site. Here too, you can see examples of some gorgeous mosaic work.
Sanctuary of Aphrodite
Dating back to the 12th century BCE, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite is the most famous of the ancient Greek goddess’ sanctuaries. Around the courtyard are several chambers, which are a mixture of early construction and later Roman additions. The south wing is the best-preserved section of the building.
A tiny castle initially built as a Byzantine fort to protect the harbour, the Paphos Castle was rebuilt by the Lusignans in the 13th century CE, torn down by the Venetians in 1570 during the Ottoman invasion and rebuilt for the third time by the Ottomans in the 16th century. During its long history, the Paphos Castle has been used for protection, as a prison, and under British, as a storage area for salt. Its prime location, overlooking the harbour, made it an excellent line of defence for the town.
So if you like the sea and sand but also stories and legends, this land of ancient mythology should be at the top of your holiday list.
Words: Alan Malnar