The island of Cyprus contains some of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. From the ancient settlements of Amathus, Palaipafos and Nea Pafos, to prehistoric Choirokoitia and the Crusader castles on the island’s coast, there’s no shortage of historic monuments and attractions in Cyprus. Here are 10 of the best.
1. Tombs of the Kings - Paphos
The Tombs of the Kings is a necropolis in Paphos, Cyprus which contains a series of eight well-preserved tombs. The Tombs of the Kings was a cemetery for prominent figures and high ranking officials. It was used throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods and up to the 4th century AD.
Visitors can wander through subterranean rock tombs and view the remaining atria. The architecture is impressive, though few of the frescoes which would once adorned the tombs survive.
Kourion was an ancient city-state and is today an archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus. It contains mostly ancient Roman and late Roman ruins. Among the most memorable remains at Kourion is its ancient theatre. Once capable of seating up to 3,500 spectators, the theatre at Kourion dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD.
The remains at Kourion are some of the most impressive in Cyprus. The House of Eustolios was a private villa which became a public recreation centre, and features four panels of a 5th century mosaic floor. Other villas, the House of Achilles and the House of Gladiators, are named after the scenes depicted on mosaics.
3. Church of Agios Lazaros
The Church of Agios Lazaros, also known as Church of Ayios Lazaros, is a Byzantine creation built in the late 9th and early 10th centuries AD over the supposed tomb of Saint Lazarus. According to Orthodox tradition, Saint Lazarus fled Judea to Cyprus after his resurrection by Jesus. He was ordained by Paul and Barnabas as a bishop.
Visitors can enter the crypt of the Church of Agios Lazaros. Used as a mosque during the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros has since reverted to a church. It has suffered damage over the years, including a devastating fire in 1970, but has been restored on different occasions.
4. Kolossi Castle
Kolossi Castle was originally a 13th century Frankish fortification near Limassol in Cyprus. Constructed by the Order of Saint John, or Knights Hospitaller, around 1210 AD, 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. Today the castle consists of a three-story keep and an attached bailey.
5. Paphos Castle
Paphos Castle was originally a Frankish fortification constructed in the mid-13th century. It was originally a late Roman/Byzantine fortress intended to protect the port of Paphos, while the structure that remains today was actually built in the 16th century following the Ottoman invasion of Cyprus.
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, the castle battlements, 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.
6. Nea Pafos
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 4th century BC by Nikokles, the last king of Pahos. The most famous sites at Nea Pafos are its ancient Roman villas. These largely date to the 2nd century AD.
Retaining their impressive mosaic floors, they include the House of Dionysos, the House of Aion, the House of Theseus and the House of Orpheus. There are also the remaining foundations of an agora. The Basilica of Chrysopolitissa meanwhile dates to the late Roman and early medieval period, while the Castle of Forty Columns is a Byzantine fortification known for its preserved granite columns.
Palaipafos, also known as Palaepaphos, is an archaeological site near Kouklia village, Paphos. It is linked to the ancient cult of the “Great Goddess” of fertility, and its founding legends recall both Aphrodite and Agepenor, a hero of the Trojan War. The oldest and most revered site at Palaipafos is the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, built by the Mycenaeans around 1200 BC.
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. The site features many significant monuments and the museum, located in a 13th century manor, houses its excavated remains.
Kalavasos-Tenta (or just “Tenta”) is an archaeological site in Cyprus housing the remains of a Neolithic settlement which dates to the 8th 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 7000 BC and the first site of human habitation on the island. According to UNESCO, Choirokoitia is “one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean”. 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 1050 BC, it may have been founded by the Eteocyprians. It was occupied by the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Ptolemies and the Romans. The abandonment of Amathus appears to have occurred in the late 7th century AD.
Amathus is connected with the cult of Aphrodite as well as having links to the legend of Ariadne. Today, the ruins of Amathus include several tombs, an acropolis with a 1st century AD Roman temple to Aphrodite, an agora with public baths and the remains of the 8th century BC palace of Amathus.