From Neolithic villages to Roman ruins and medieval castles, the historic sites in Cyprus illustrate the sheer depth and diversity of the history of this pretty island.
Indeed, having been inhabited by the Hittites, ancient Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, Romans and Ottomans to name just a few, one can hardly be surprised at how many historical places there are to see. Yet, the quantity of these sites is not its only asset, but also the excellent state of preservation of many of these attractions.
There’s a host of top cultural places in Cyprus to visit and among the very best are Kourion, the Tombs of the Kings in Paphos and the Church of Agios Lazaros. Other popular sites tend to include Kolossi Castle, Paphos Castle and Nea Pafos.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Cypriot cultural sites with our top places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Cyprus, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Cyprus?
The Tombs of the Kings is a Hellenistic necropolis in Paphos in Cyprus containing a series of eight well-preserved tombs. Built for nearby Nea Pafos, the Tombs of the Kings was the cemetery to the elite, including prominent figures and high ranking officials. It continued to be used throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods up to the fourth century, possibly even by early Christians.
However, as with many sites of this kind, the Tomb of the Kings was subject to looting and used to quarry materials. Furthermore, in medieval times, the Tomb of the Kings was damaged by squatters, some of whom apparently made changes to the tombs. Nevertheless, it is well worth visiting, the tombs are actually quite unusual for the area, being more Macedonian in architecture than to local styles.
Visitors can wander down into the depth of these, mostly subterranean, rock tombs and view the atriums which still survive. The architecture of these tombs is quite impressive, some seeming more like houses than burial places. Sadly, very few of the frescoes which would once have adorned them survive, but you can see fragments here and there. What can still be seen are the structures of the tombs, their columns and porticos.
Kourion is an impressive archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins. Perhaps the most memorable site to be seen today at Kourion is its ancient theatre. Still intact and able to seat up to 3,500 spectators, the theatre at Kourion dates back to the second or third century AD, although there would have been a theatre here from the second century BC.
Several additional ancient buildings remain, including part of the fourth century AD House of Achilles with its mosaic floors and the third century AD House of the Gladiators. Kourion also possesses evidence of early Christianity, both at the complex of Eustolios and by way of its early Christian basilica, a fifth century AD church at the site. Other sites include the remains of a stadium and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates.
The Church of Agios Lazaros, also known as Church of Ayios Lazaros, is a Byzantine creation built in the tenth century AD over the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus is said to have been resurrected by Jesus and then to have fled to Cyprus, where he was ordained as a Bishop.
Visitors can enter the crypt of the Church of Agios Lazaros to see his reputed tomb as well as those of other buried there.
Used as a mosque during the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros was then reverted to a church. It has suffered damage over the years, including a devastating fire, but has been restored on different occasions.
Kolossi Castle was originally a thirteenth century Frankish fortification near Limassol in Cyprus.
Constructed by the Knights Hospitallers in 1210, Kolossi Castle almost exclusively remained in their possession until it was destroyed by Mameluke raids in 1525/6. The only interruption occurred between 1306 and 1313, when it was taken over by the Knights Templar.
The current Kolossi Castle was built in 1454 under the orders of Louis de Magnac. His coat of arms can be seen on the wall of the structure.
Paphos Castle was originally a Frankish fortification constructed in the mid-thirteenth century.
At this time, the island needed a new form of defence, its previous fortification – Saranda Kolones – having been devastated by an earthquake. The remains of Saranda Kolones can be seen in nearby Nea Paphos.
However, the Paphos Castle which can be seen today actually dates back to the sixteenth century. Having been captured and altered by the Genoese in the fourteenth century, it later came under the control of the Venetians. Yet, not wanting it to fall into enemy hands, the Venetians actually destroyed Paphos Castle in anticipation of the invasion of the Ottomans, which occurred in 1570.
The Ottomans rebuilt Paphos Castle and this is the site which can be seen at Paphos Harbour today. Visitors can see the dungeons used by the Ottomans during their occupation of the area, the battlements of Paphos Castle, the place where Ottoman soldiers lived and what was once a mosque.
When the British took over Paphos Castle in 1878, they used it as a storage facility for salt until 1935, when it became a national monument.
Nea Pafos is an archaeological site near Paphos Harbour in Cyprus housing the remains of what was once the capital of the island. Founded in the fourth century BC by Nikokles, the last king of nearby Palaipafos, Nea Pafos then went from strength to strength, particularly under the Ptolemaic kingdom from the third century BC.
One of the main remnants of the earliest stages of Nea Paphos – albeit with changes made to it over the centuries – is its ancient theatre, probably built around the time that the city was founded. This was in use until the fifth century AD.
However, the most famous sites at Nea Pafos are its Ancient Roman villas, mostly dating to the second century AD. Amongst them are the House of Dionysos, the House of Orpheus and the Villa of Theseus, all of which have impressive mosaics depicting mythological scenes. There are also the remaining foundations of an Agora.
The Byzantine and medieval stages of Nea Paphos are represented by other sites such as the initially fourth century AD Basilica of Chrysopolitissa, later altered and added to in the sixth, twelfth and sixteenth centuries.
Also of interest is the Castle of Forty Columns, a Byzantine fortification known locally as “Saranda Kolones”. Constructed in the seventh century AD, this castle is known – and named after – the many granite columns which still remain there today.
Palaipafos, also known as Palaepaphos, is an archaeological site near Kouklia village, Paphos, in Cyprus linked to the ancient cult of the “Great Goddess” of fertility. The oldest and most revered site at Palaipafos is the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, built by the Mycenaeans in circa 1200BC, around the time at which they settled in Cyprus.
Palaipafos remained a centre of religion and culture until the 4th century BC, when its last king, Nikokles, moved the capital to nearby Nea Paphos. Under the Romans, Palaipafos again became a focal point for culture and religion, then known as “Koinon Kyprion”.
The sites at Palaipafos come from a mix of historic periods including from the Late Bronze Age and Ancient Rome. There are the ruins of the second century AD Roman House of Leda, so named because its mosaics (housed at the Kouklia Museum) depict a scene from the tale of Leda and the Swan, remains of the ancient fortifications of Palaipafos, which were originally built in the eighth century BC and some ruins of a fifth century BC building, probably the palace of the Persian governor of Palaipafos, Hadji Abdulla.
There are also remnants of the medieval period of the history of Palaipafos, including the Church of Panagia Katholiki (circa 12th-13th century AD) and the Lusignian Manor House, built as an administrative centre in the thirteenth century.
Kalavasos-Tenta (or just "Tenta") is an archaeological site in Cyprus housing the remains of a Neolithic settlement dating back to the eighth millennium BC. The ruins at Kalavasos-Tenta include the remains of the winding walls of what were the circular huts of the village.
Choirokoitia in Cyprus was a prehistoric agricultural settlement from 7000BC and the first site of human habitation on the island. According to UNESCO, who have inscribed it as a World Heritage site, Choirokoitia is "one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean", particularly as it played a significant role in the area’s cultural development.
Today, visitors can see the remains of Choirokoitia as well as reconstructions of the circular huts which once characterised it.
Amathus is an archaeological site in Cyprus containing the remains of one of the island’s oldest ancient towns.
Known to have been inhabited since at least 1050BC, the origins of Amathus are unclear. It is believed to have been founded by the Eteocyprians and to have flourished and grown. Over time, it played host to the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Ptolemies and the Romans. The abandonment of Amathus appears to have occurred in the late seventh century.
Amathus is strongly connected with the cult of Aphrodite as well as having links to the legend of Ariadne. Today, the ruins of Amathus include several ancient sites, including several tombs, an acropolis with a first century AD Roman temple to Aphrodite, an agora with some public baths and the remains of the eighth century BC palace of Amathus.