By Anastasia Mills Healy
What do Aphrodite, St. Paul and Richard the Lionheart have in common? They all have left their marks on the amazing island of Cyprus.
Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Cyprus has an extraordinary history. Focusing just on Paphos, UNESCO named this southwestern area a World Heritage Site for its ancient architectural remains and remarkably preserved mosaics. Paphos is also noted for its association with Aphrodite. According to legend, the goddess of love and beauty was born at Petra tou Romiou (Rock of the Greek), one of several massive rock formations just off shore. A sanctuary was built to worship her and it became an important place of pilgrimage, attracting the Roman Emperor Titus and eventually making its way onto coins issued by Emperor Caracalla.
A millennium later, St. Paul is mentioned in relation to Paphos several times in The Bible, most notably for converting the proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity there. It is also believed that one of the pillars outside the church of Agia Kyriaki is where Paul suffered one of his five beatings.
Fast forward yet another millennium, to when Richard the Lionheart conquered Cyprus and was married in the more eastern port city of Limassol. He sold Cyprus to the Knights Templar who in turn sold it to the French knight Guy de Lusignan, all in the space of a year.
All this is remarkable stuff, but what has left the biggest impression on Arrangements Abroad’s own Eleni Papachristou, a Cypriot? The Tombs of the Kings, rock cut catacombs that date to the 4th century B.C.E. Some of the approximately 100 tombs have Doric pillars and frescoes adorning their walls while others are marked by decorative archways. No actual kings were buried here – just men of high rank – but the majesty of the necropolis gave rise to its name.
Buried here you won’t find the remains of Aphrodite, St. Paul, Richard the Lionheart or any of the other legendary figures whose stories are intertwined with the history of this magical place. But the tombs are testament to the engineering prowess and masonry skills of ancient Cypriots, who honored their own deceased in a style fit for the gods.