Paphos has been inhabited since the second half of the 10th millennium B.C. and apart from its unique nature also has many fascinating ancient monuments, particularly from the Greek and Roman eras, built prior to 330 AD. The place where Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility (referred to as Venus in Roman mythology), was believed to have been born out of the sea foam is located just 25 km from Paphos, and was a major site of pilgrimage in classical times.
The origin of the name “Paphos” is also steeped in mythology: according to legend, Paphos was the child of Pygmalion, a great sculptor of antiquity. He fell in love with a statue of a woman of great beauty that he had created and prayed to Aphrodite for the statue to be brought to life. His prayers were answered and he happily married his statue. Together they had a child which was named Paphos. Some sources say that the child was a son, others say a daughter and indeed the name of the city is linguistically a feminine noun.
We now give a brief introduction to some of the more famous of the city’s landmarks.
Palaepaphos (“Old Paphos) (16km east of Paphos). From around 1200 BC Palaepaphos, which was located in what is now the village of Kouklia, was an important city and seat of power but most famously was a major religious centre for the cult of Aphrodite. There were annual pilgrimages to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite which is now located inside the Palaepaphos Archaeological Site, with pilgrims arriving not only from Cyprus, but from the entire Mediterranean area.
Chrysopolitissa Basilica complex and St. Paul’s Pillar (20 mins walk from Neapolis University). Despite its strong association with ancient fertility cults, Paphos is believed to be one of the first places in Europe to embrace Christianity. In 45 AD. Apostles Paul and Barnabas (now the patron saint of Cyprus) visited Paphos to try to convert its proconsul, Sergius Paulus, to Christianity. According to legend for which there is no historical backup, before meeting the proconsul, Paul was captured by the locals, tied to a pillar and given 39 lashes for preaching Christianity. The alleged rather unassuming marble pillar now stands in the Basilica complex. The proconsul, however, was converted to Christianity on meeting the Apostles, and Paphos was one of the first places in the world to have a Christian governor. The Chrysopolitissa Basilica was built around 400 AD. and is one of the oldest churches in the world. The Ayia Kyriaki Church, which stands at the eastern end of the site, is still in use today for Anglican and Catholic services.
One of the splendid mosaics at the Archaeological Park of Paphos. This one depicts the mythical duel between Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete.
Archaeological Park of Kato Paphos (30 min walk from Neapolis University or 5 min bus ride). Located next to the harbour, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its mosaics, which are considered among the finest in the world. The site was only rediscovered in 1962, accidentally, by a farmer when ploughing. Four villas of Roman noblemen were eventually excavated, each with intricate mosaic floors depicting scenes from Greek mythology. They were built between the second and fourth centuries AD. The site includes other monuments including the Asklepeion, the Odeon, the Saranta Kolones (40 Columns) Castle and the ruins of an early basilica. Apart from its historical interest, the site is also offers interesting bird watching opportunities.
Tombs of the Kings (4 km from Neapolis University, via the 615 bus from the Harbour bus station). These are underground tombs carved out of solid rock, but rather than kings, it was high ranking officials that were laid to rest here. The grandeur of the name originates from the size and splendour of the tombs, some of which have Doric columns. The tombs date back to the fourth century BC and are thought to have been in use up to the third century AD.
Kourion Archaeological Site (60 km from Paphos). Kourion was one of the island’s most important city-kingdoms in antiquity and is spectacularly located on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the valley of the Kouris River. The amphitheatre has been restored magnificently and is frequently used for open air musical and theatrical performances. The site features roman baths with cold (frigidarium), medium (tepidarium) and hot rooms (caldarium) and the remains of the hypocausts, which provided the underfloor heating for the latter two rooms. There are the remains of several houses featuring exquisite mosaic flooring.