Our ship docked early today (we were the only ship in port) and so we were able to get off the ship ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the tour company did not know that we would arrive early, so our buses were nowhere to be found. By now, a few of us Cruise Critic folk recognized each other, so we hung out together until the buses arrived. Dave W. had arranged the tour today. We had enough people that the company provided two mini-buses (each seated 22) and one full-sized bus. Each bus had their own guide. It seemed to take a while for the guides to get organized and for us to get going, but once they did, everything ran very smoothly. Our driver was Achilleus and our guide, Demetra. Our group was quite international – we had a few from the US and Canada, but we also had some Australians, Slovakians, and Serbians!
I knew practically nothing about Cyprus before arriving, so found the historical information given fascinating. Cyprus used to be a British island; when they were given independence from Great Britain, it was agreed that the British would be allowed to have 3 military bases on the island. Those bases still exist and are essentially miniature cities with their own schools, banks, etc. Due to the British rule, cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. In the US, we see signs on the road for slow traffic to stay right; it is the opposite here. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus. They took over 37% of the land; those native Cypriots that lived in the northern part of the island instantly became refugees and had to move south. Many left the country and settled elsewhere. The capital, Nicosia, is a divided city with half being Turkish and half being Cypriot. UN peacekeepers line the border between the two factions. Just yesterday I heard on the news that they may try to unify the country; talks will be starting next week. I wonder if they will be successful?
Apparently, the northern part of the island was the most prosperous part, so there was very little infrastructure to the south. 95% of tourism was lost (and half of the island’s economy is supported by tourism). Many foreign companies stepped in to “help” them build, which is why 24% of the island is composed of foreigners. If you are foreign, you are allowed to purchase one house in Cyprus. Many locals send their children to private schools which are taught in American English.
Three years ago there was a huge economic crisis in Cyprus. The government asked for a loan from the EU but were turned down. In order to get the loan approved, the government raided the bank accounts of every citizen and business that had over 100,000 Euros. Can you imagine? Perhaps you have saved 500,000 towards retirement; overnight, without your permission, you now only have 100,000! These people have never been given their money back, either. It is gone for good. This was the price of economic recovery. There is still 15% unemployment; previously, it was only 3%. Salaries have also declined. According to Demetra, the people have taken it in stride and are trying to move forward.
Our drive to our first stop, Kourion, took us through citrus groves. Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit are grown here. The road was lined with Cypress trees; apparently, the land was very swampy and the trees absorb the water. Cypress trees were used to build ships for Alexander the Great (obviously, planted before 1930!). Cyprus is a large island; the third largest in the Mediterranean (9251 square kilometers). It is famous for its copper; 99.99% pure and used for a variety of things, including the bronze Olympic medal. The Island of the Cats is one of its nicknames. Legend has it that the island was so dry that snakes were overrunning it. A monk named Nicolas brought a ship-full of cats to Cyprus to help eat the snakes. Whether it was the cats or the fact that the rains returned, the snake problem was brought to an end. The monk Nicolas became Saint Nicolas. Heck, anyone that gets rid of snakes is a saint to me!
All types of crops are grown here; there are many different microclimates around the island so though we passed through citrus groves, many other types of fruits and vegetables are grown here in different parts of the island. The cows are tough and rangy, so not much beef is eaten here. If you ever visit, skip ordering steak! Goats and sheep are common. The goat milk is used to make a cheese called halloumi that does not melt, no matter how much heat is used to cook it. Lemons grow everywhere; our tour guide suggested trying fried eggs with lemon sprinkled on top. She claimed it was delicious.
Kourion was a town established by Greeks after the battle of Troy. Some of the soldiers settled here to live a life of peace. It is located in sandstone hills; the sandstone is so soft that they were able to scrape it away to form natural walls to the city. The acropolis was built on the highest hill so that the residents could see if any invaders were headed their way. A necropolis (necro = dead, polis = city, so city of the dead) was located outside the walls of the city. This seems to be standard; we have visited several ruins and the necropolis is always outside city walls. The original city was destroyed in the 4th century AD and was rebuilt.
The remains of the city were much smaller than other sites we have visited, but interesting nonetheless. There were two main attractions: a house built by Eustolios, a rich merchant, for entertaining his friends, and an amphitheater. Eustolios built Roman Baths for the comfort of his visitors. Rain water was collected and used in the baths. The first bath was a 30 cm deep cold pool; from there, guests would move on to the warm water pool, and finally to the sauna room. This was an ancient spa, “health through water”.
We moved on to the dining room area. There was a mosaic inscription in the floor that states that the house was built for the Apollo (trying to gain brownie points with the god). Somewhere else in the house was inscription related to Jesus. I guess Eustolios wanted to cover all of the bases!
All of the mosaics in the house were created out of stones from the local mountains; none were painted. We had worked our way through the home to the entrance, where inscribed in the rainbow style of mosaic was, “We welcome you with joy to this house.”
The theater next to the house is still in use. Musical and cultural events take place there between March and November. It used to be an amphitheater (amphi = from both sides), but one-half was destroyed in an earthquake. 1200 people can be seated there as opposed to the original 3500. The stage was as tall as the theater. It was only used for important people and, just in case one of the gods showed up.
Only men were allowed to perform in the theater. Heck, only men were allowed to attend the theater! And, like the Olympics, all were in the nude (both participants and audience). Apparently, the women folk were too busy cooking, cleaning and birthing them babies to mess with such frivolousness as entertainment.
There was a round hole in the center of the main floor of the theater. If you stood on that spot and spoke or sang, your voice would resonate throughout the theater. The higher up in the audience a person sat, the better the sound quality. I had to try it and yes, the acoustics were amazing!
Next stop: Sanctuary of Apollo. Apollo was the god of light, music, the sun and the forest. The people of Kourion and pilgrims from the area would visit the sanctuary to rejuvenate heart, mind, and body. It was located away from the city to keep the crowds out; people arrived on foot, camel or donkey. Because they were tired from their journey, there were rooms for them to rest up in.
Will it surprise you to find out that only men were allowed here? Nekkid men, covered in olive oil would wrestle in the gymnasium to rejuvenate their physical selves. Afterward, they would use the Roman baths. The pillars pictured below were used to hold up the floor for the sauna. Ceramic pipes carried heat and steam to the sauna room.
From the sauna, they would then move to the frigidarium to cool off (the cold pool). Someone in the group asked if women were ever allowed here. Apparently, some days men were “treated” by women. Those guys were just there to get healed, right? I am sure they were much healthier after their special treatments.
We walked up the “holy alley” to the sanctuary. Back in the day, only priests were allowed there. Not much of the sanctuary remains. Originally, there were 4 columns; two were rebuilt to give visitors an idea of what the columns looked like. The top of the columns (capitols) are Jordanian (as opposed to ionic, doric or corinthian) in style. Pilgrims that visited would bring precious gifts and manna to leave for Apollo.
We returned to the van and drove on. We briefly stopped by the side of the road to take pictures of the Rock of the Greek (the largest of the rocks pictured below). This was also supposed to be the place where Aphrodite emerged from the foam of the sea.
We continued on to the city of Paphos. In the 2nd century BC, Paphos was the capitol of Cyprus. The town was moved to improve trade; in its new location, Alexandria is directly south of it. During the 10th century, the capitol was moved to Nicosia (inland) in order to protect it from invaders.
Before reaching Paphos, we stopped at the Tombs of the Kings, a necropolis. This necropolis was used between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD. Back then, people believed in the continuation of life after death, and so would build “second homes” for their upcoming “continuation of life”. Huge rocks were excavated to create chambers inside, which were then filled with food, furniture, and jewelry. The tombs had to be sealed; looting was a problem back then, too. Some of the wealthier people built huge second homes with many chambers.
By now Clayton and I were getting hungry, so when we arrived in Paphos, we split off from the group and found a place for lunch. There are numerous restaurants along the waterfront so we checked out a few menus until we found one that we both would like and that wasn’t too expensive. Clayton had pizza; I had moussaka. This moussaka had potatoes in addition to eggplant. It was very good, but I never put potatoes in my moussaka. I have seen many recipes that have potatoes as an ingredient, so perhaps I have been making it wrong all of these years! I had a lemonade, but the menu called it “lemon slushed”; a quite literal name, I believe.
We walked along the waterfront and stopped in at a few of the tourist shops. The prices for souvenirs were quite high. Even a postcard cost 1.2 Euros (about $1.35) which seemed a bit steep. The souvenirs were pretty disappointing as well; lots of cheap, plastic toys. I found some religious icons, but they wanted 39.95 Euros apiece for a small (2″x3″) icon; no way were they worth that much. We did find a lovely set of natural wood penis bottle openers; the ones we saw in Athens were so much more colorful.
It was a warm day (75 degrees) so we found some shade to wait for the rest of our group. Everyone got back to the bus promptly (yeah!) so we headed back to port. We passed a tree that had handkerchiefs tied to it. It was located at the catacombs of San Solomonis. Local people believe that if you tie a handkerchief to the tree in front that your wish to become pregnant will be fulfilled. The guide also talked about a pillar that St. Paul was tied to and given 40 lashes (minus one) when he visited with St. Barnabas in 45 AD. We didn’t see the pillar.
We passed by a huge Christian (Greek) Orthodox church. A wedding party drove past us right now, so Demetra told us about Greek weddings. Typically, the wedding is held at a church, and 2000 or so of your friends and relatives are invited. You then hold a reception off-site somewhere and serve cake, punch, etc. This is followed by a dinner for 300-600 of your closest friends and relatives. Can you imagine how much that all would cost? Wow!
She also talked about the school system. Now, school children begin learning English in grade 1 (she said age 5 and a half). At age 11, they learn French, and at age 15, can choose to add another language. In today’s global society, it seems like European countries have a huge leg up on the US in terms of preparing their students by teaching them to be multi-lingual at a very young age.
Back to the ship an hour before sail-away, which is just how we like it! A great tour today; I would definitely recommend Toulipa Tours.