Cyprus is the 3rd largest island in the Med and hangs like a teardrop just off the coast of Turkey, pointing inland. Its position assured a history of conquest and, indeed, the island has passed from Latin to French to Venetian to Christian Lebanese to Armenians. And now it is a Republic, a part of the EU.
We sailed into Limassol first thing in the morning, and boarded our tour bus, taking us to Paphos [aka Pafos]. On the way, we drove through a couple of storm squalls, but the rain always stopped in time for us to get off the bus.
Our first stop was a 10th century Byzantine style, cruciform church, with 5 mushroom [rather than onion]-shaped domes. Dedicated to a local martyr, the church is alive with frescoes from the 12th century and others from the 15th. One panel was pocked with ½ inch shallow holes, which showed us how the painters could re-plaster and repaint the frescoes and have them stick to the old plaster. Apparently over the 500 years, the veneration of the Virgin was being replaced by the Passion of Christ. I am unclear as to why they stopped mid-renovation.
Our next stop was the bay where Aphrodite was born. Call to mind the famous painting of Venus on the half-shell, surfing in while the nymphs wrap her in draperies. The bay looks like any other bay, but up the hill was a temple where you could go to beg for children. The great irony of the human race is that we long for children if we don’t have them, but abort them or put them in daycare when we do. It’s never simple, is it?
Next was [were?] the “Tombs of the Kings.” Archaeologists have determined that there were never any kings there, but just rich people. And dead, at that. The tombs were carved into the living rock—limestone—and look like small Greek villas underground. The atrium is open to the sky, with columns and frieze beautifully carved. Clearly, the tombs were multi-generational; my sense was that they were family tombs, though the guide said no. With the open atrium available for mourning and ceremonies, she said whole animals could be roasted there. Anytime a crypt was required, a coffin-sized niche was carved into the rock. Sometimes an entire room was opened up and coffin-niches carved in the walls. The niches and rooms opened all around the atrium in somewhat random ways, without a master plan. It looked like the earliest burials were in the floor under the arcade of columns, then into the walls, then additional rooms. According to the guide, many rich grave goods were interred with the bodies. Which, in turn, made it likely that the whole necropolis had armed patrols. Now, of course, the place has been scoured by various grave robbers, scientific and otherwise. Many of the items went to the Metropolitan in NYC, sold by the Ottoman Sultan. [This was the pattern in Greece and Egypt as well.]
On we drove to Paphos, destroyed in the 3rd century AD in a massive earthquake and never rebuilt. A prosperous Greek, then Roman trade center in its day, it is now a draw for those other bringers-of-wealth, tourists.
Never have we seen so many, so beautiful and so large mosaics as there are in Paphos. Making mosaics is a popular craft these days, and I have tried my hand at it. These days, it often means taking broken plates and interesting pottery bits and other ‘found items’ to make a dimensional surface. [ref our photos of Gaudί’s bench at Parc Guell in Barcelona in the France-Spain folder; link through www.bucklesfamily.com] We encountered the Greek version of black and white pebble mosaics in Athens and Rhodes. But the Romans loved color and took mosaics to an amazing level of art. Roman mosaics were created with tesserae or glazed pottery squares of ¼ inch or less. Picture a carpet, with patterns and designs, or a tapestry with a picture woven in. The Romans used mosaics like we use carpets, as home décor.
Our first stop in Paphos was the World Heritage Site old Roman town. Our guide took us to the House of Dionysus, a large public eating and drinking establishment of the 1st century AD. Each room of the ‘pub’ had its own mosaic floor, with themes like hunting scenes, myths and heroes, abstract designs.
I found it easy to imagine the busy rooms full of boisterous men, celebrating safe arrivals with rich cargoes. The door opens on a large man with an attitude who quiets the room with his proclamation of Truth and Salvation. Some of the men turn their backs and resume drinking and reveling. Some of the sailors, perhaps those about to head back out to sea, gather to listen. Perhaps it was from this very house that Paul the Apostle was taken to be given the 40-lashes-less-one that he received in the town square nearby. Barnabas was a Cypriot; did he take Paul to his home to heal?
That public house ended the guided tour, so we 2—and no one else from our group--set off across the acres to view dozens of nearly complete mosaics, most left open to the sky [!] The walkways had mosaics, the rooms of the tumbled houses had mosaics; must have been a keep-up-with-the-Caesars kind of a town. And the main house in town featured a very large mosaic floor of a bevy of life-sized gods and goddesses, with haloes[!] We actually got out fill of looking and photographing mosaics! This made up for missing mosaics in Tunis.
Back on the bus, we learned more about Cyprus. Cypress trees are not named after Cyprus. The blasted Knights of St. John of Jerusalem were on Cyprus before they went to Rhodes and on to Malta. We’d been following them backwards through the cruise. And Richard Lionheart married Berengaria on Cypress on his way to wage Holy War.
Then the guide told us that Lazarus came to Cyprus after being raised from the dead by Jesus. She said he lived and preached on the island for 30 years and was buried in Lanarka, formerly known as Kition. He was the first bishop of Cyprus. That really blew my mind. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cyprus/the-republic-of-cyprus/larnaka/history
She also told us that the story of Othello comes from Cyprus and that his castle is still there. In Wikipedia, no hint is given that Othello was a real person and Shakespeare called his play “The Moor of Venice.” W.S. gives the setting of the play as “Venice and Cyprus.” So, who knows?
We were back on the ship by 2:30, bringing only a postcard and a book about the mosaics. We ate lunch, snoozed a bit and then decided to skip the formal dinner and went back to the buffet for a light supper. We took in an enjoyable magic show, then sleep.
N4 30 Cruise 8
CTC = cheap tourist crap
[12-18-09] for photos, visit