Cyprus, a rather extraordinary island of diversity, has as its claim to fame the only divided capital in the world (ever since the Berlin Wall fell). The contentious territorial disagreements between North (Turkish) and South (Greek) Cyprus were brought to UN-led discussions in 2002. In the past visitors had to make a choice which half to visit. Today crossing the border (green line) is easy as long as the visitor has valid visas for both sides.
Seaside resorts, generally lacking in class, cater to the hordes of tourists which flock to the island. The ancient remains of the Roman, Byzantine and Greek empires (all of which invaded Cyprus at some point), make up for this poorly realized development. And away from the coast, Cyprus' natural attributes stand strong; at Troödos Massif, stunning mountains provide the ideal setting for a skiing trip.
The earliest confirmed site of human activity on Cyprus is Aetokremnos, situated on the south coast, indicating that hunter-gatherers were active on the island from around 10,000 BC, with settled village communities dating from 8,200 BC. The remarkably well-preserved Neolithic village of Khirokitia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to approximately 6,800 BC.
The island was part of the Hittite empire during the late Bronze Age until the arrival of two waves of Greek settlement. Beginning in the 8th century BC Phoenician colonies were founded on the south coast of Cyprus, near present day Larnaca and Salamis. Cyprus was ruled by Assyria for a century starting in 708 BC, before a brief spell under Egyptian rule and eventually Persian rule in 545 BC. The island was brought under permanent Greek rule by Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies of Egypt following his death. Full Hellenisation took place during the Ptolemaic period, which ended when Cyprus was annexed by the Roman Republic in 58 BC.
When the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western parts in 395, Cyprus became part of the East Roman, or Byzantine Empire, and would remain part of it until the crusades some 800 years later. In 1191, during the Third Crusade, Richard I of England captured the island from Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus. A year later Richard sold the island to the Templars, who, following a bloody revolt, in turn sold it to Guy of Lusignan. Following the death in 1473 of James II, the last Lusignan king, the Republic of Venice assumed control of the island.
In 1570, a full scale Ottoman assault with 60,000 troops brought the island under Ottoman control, despite stiff resistance by the inhabitants of Nicosia and Famagusta. 20,000 Nicosians were put to death, and every church, public building, and palace was looted. Reaction to Ottoman misrule led to uprisings by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, although none were successful. By 1872, the population of the island had risen to 144,000 comprising 44,000 Muslims and 100,000 Christians. In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), administration, but not sovereignty, of the island was ceded to the British Empire in 1878 in exchange for guarantees that Britain would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire against possible Russian aggression. Following the outbreak of World War I and the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central powers, the United Kingdom annexed the island in 1914.
On August 16, 1960, Cyprus attained independence after an agreement in Zürich and London between the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. The UK retained two Sovereign Base Areas in Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
Following a coup d'état engineered by the Greek Junta, Turkey launched a full-scale military invasion of the island in 1974. International pressure led to a ceasefireat which point 37% of the island had been taken over by the Turks and 180,000 Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes in the north. At the same time, around 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moved to the areas under the control of the Turkish Forces and settled in the properties of the displaced Greek Cypriots. In 1983 Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which is officially recongnised only by Turkey.
In March 2008, a wall that for decades had stood at the boundary between the Greek Cypriot controlled side and the UN buffer zone was demolished. The wall had cut across Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia and was seen as a strong symbol of the island's 32-year division. On 3 April 2008, Ledra Street was reopened in the presence of Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials
Three states occupy the island: the Republic of Cyprus (a member of the European Union) is a state with wide international recognition. However it only controls territory in the south. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus acts as a de facto separate country. The British military base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, while legally separate from either republic, have open borders with the Republic of Cyprus.
Cyprus is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and totally surrounded by it. It covers about 9,250 square kilometres (including the north) and has about 1 million inhabitants, 200,000 of which live in the north. The nearest land masses are Turkey to the north (75 kilometres), Syria and Lebanon to the east (over 100 kilometres)), Israel (200 kilometres) to the southeast, Egypt (380 kilometres) to the south, and Greece to the northwest: 280 kilometres to the nearest island and 800 kilometres to the mainland. Two mountain ranges form much of Cyprus: the Troodos Mountains and the smaller Kyrenia Range. The encompass and the central plain, called the Mesaoria. The Troodos Mountains cover most of the southern and western portions of the island and account for roughly half its area. The highest point on Cyprus is Mount Olympus at 1,952 metres, located in the centre of the Troodos range. The narrow Kyrenia Range, extending along the northern coastline, occupies substantially less area, and elevations are lower, reaching a maximum of 1,024 metres.
Cyprus is divided into six districts
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Cyprus is littered with amazing ancient Roman and Greek ruins. One of the most interesting ruins is Salamis, an ancient city state north of Famagusta at the mout of the river Pedieos. This city state dates back to the 11th century BC and continued to be inhabited until the late Roman period. This city boasts some excellent ruins including a theater, gymnasium and baths. Many of the statues of the gods have been damaged by early Christians once they came to power on the island. There is also a stunning temple to Apollo outside of Limassol in the ancient city of Kourion and some excellent ruins in Paphos.
Cyprus has been known throughout the European world for having amazing beaches. There are stunning beaches to found across the island and the hot dry climate makes it perfect almost year round to enjoy the coast. There are great beaches to found in many cities like Ayia Napa, Paphos, Polis, Larnaca, Limassol, Protaras and Pissouri. Remember these beaches can get very crowded with European tourists during the peak seasons and to book accommodation far in advance. Other then that sit back and enjoy the sun and surf.
The Troodos Mountains are stunning mountains that run along the western side of Cyprus. These mountains have something to offer any tourist. For the wilderness nut there is great hiking, forests to explore and skiing in the winter. For the cultural explorer there are several amazing Byzantine monasteries and churches, some of them are even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of these churches and monasteries are even built on the peaks of these stunning mountains.
Kykkos Monastery is about 30 kilometres west of Pedoulas and is one of the wealthiest and most famous monasteries in Cyprus. This Byzantine monastery was founded in the 11th century to the Virgin Mary. The monastery changed many times over the next thousand years although always remaining an important place for the Greek Orthodox population of Cyprus. The first president of Cyprus started his career here by being a monk and when he died was entombed in the monastery. Remember to walk around and look at the amazing gardens and public places.
The Hamam Baths Omerye is a 14th century building restored to operate as a Turkish bath. The site's history dates back to the 14th century, when it stood as an Augustinian church of St. Mary, built by the Lusignan (French) and later maintained by the Venetians. In 1571, Mustapha Pasha converted the church into a mosque, believing that this particular spot is where the prophet Omer rested during his visit to Lefkosia. Most of the original building was destroyed by Ottoman artillery, although the door of the main entrance still belongs to the 14th century Lusignan building, whilst remains of a later Renaissance phase can be seen at the north-eastern side of the monument. Couples on Mondays, men only Tue/Thu/Sat, women only Wed/Fri/Sun. It costs €20 for two hours, including towels, disposable underwear, tea, sponge etc. The location of Hamam Omerye is in the heart of the old town at: 8 Tyllirias Square, 1016 Lefkosia - within the ancient Venetian walls. Find your way to the 'Ohi' Round about, then head straight all the way until you find the Omeriye Mosque on your right - you can't miss it. Turn right here and the Hamam Baths are on your left.
Held in January, the Feast of Epiphany is one of Cyprus’s most important Orthodox celebrations. Called the Festival of Light, it’s symbolic of the rebirth of the human race and is the day when the demons and evil spirits which arrived on Christmas are chased out of villagers’ homes by the local priest’s sprinkling of holy water.
Almost all towns in Cyprus hold pre-Lent carnivals in late February/early March, with Limassol’s the most ostentatious. For two weeks, parades, masquerades, feasts, and street festivals can be enjoyed.
Easter in the Greek Orthodox religion is a joyous occasion celebrated for a week in April with masses, parades of images and holy relics, and beautifully-painted Easter Eggs. After Easter Saturday’s midnight candle-lit mass, effigies of Judas are thrown into bonfires. Easter Sunday sees outdoor meat roasts and all-day festivities.
Spring in Paphos is welcomed in with the May flower festival, a traditional celebration going back two thousand years held in honor of the god, Dionysus. Magnificent floats decorated with fragrant flora parade from Poseidon Avenue to the Old Harbor and streets and homes are decorated with beautiful blooms to celebrate man’s rebirth in Cyprus.
Held during May and June, this music festival is much-loved by fans of classical and modern genres and attracts internationally acclaimed artists, as well as hordes of concert-goers. Set in the beautiful, 13th century Bellapais Abbey with its exceptional acoustics, the performances begin at 9:00 p.m. and sell out fast.
Derived from ancient Hellenistic ceremonies honoring Aphrodite and Adonis, the Kataklysomos Festival in Cyprus coincides with Pentecost in June and is held over five days. The most spectacular celebrations are in Larnaka, with a grand procession that winds down to the seashore and ends with a communal water-splashing.
The unique experience of watching plays by the Hellenistic masters in a traditional Roman amphitheater is the highlight of a Cyprus vacation for many. The festival runs from June through August and, although the plays are performed in Ancient Greek, it doesn’t seem to matter to the international audiences as the action is easy to follow.
The first week of September sees the ever-popular Limassol Wine Festival, a celebration of vintners from all over Cyprus. Held every night in the town’s Municipal Gardens, the tastings are free and there are traditional dance and music performances, as well as street theater.
Cyprus has a typical Mediterranean climate with warm or hot summers from May to September and mild winters, when most of the rain falls. Still, Cyprus in genera is drier compared to countries more towards the west in the region. Along the coast, temperatures during the day average between 30 °C and 33 °C, dropping to a balmy 22 °C at night. Inland, the lower areas are hotter during the day but feel less sticky during the night. Some higher located inland areas feel pleasantly warm during the day, which can be relief when you are visiting in summer. Nicosia has average highs in summer of around 37 °C, sometimes hitting 44 °C during July or August. Winters are mild, generally between 16 °C and 19 °C at daytime. December and January are the wettest months, coastal areas being wetter compared to inland places like the capital Nicosia. For up to date weather and forecasts info please visit the My Cyprus Weather website.
Larnaca International Airport (LCA) is the main international airport, followed by Paphos International Airport (PFO). Both are found in Southern Cyprus, and receive flights from throughout Europe and select destinations in the Middle East.
It is not possible to fly between the three major airports on the island. Although it would make no sense to do this because the island is so small.
There are no railways on the island.
The island has a great network of roads that are very easy to navigate. Renting a car to drive around is a great way to get around and rental cars are available at the international airports or in most major cities and towns as well as larger hotels. Traffic drives on the right and you need a national driver's licence or international driving permit. Check CTT Carhire for cheap rental cars.
Bus companies offer comfortable coach buses between major cities and towns. Companies include Intercity Buses and Nicosia Buses. They run on most days except Sundays, when it is better to take service taxis. These are available through Travel Express. In the north, there are minibuses between Kyrenia, Famagusta and North Nicosia. For short distances, getting a taxi is an option, but much more expensive.
There are a 24/7 services provided in all cities, towns and resort areas. Taxis can be booked by phone, by online reservation or be hired on the street. Urban taxis are obligatory provided with taximeters and charging commences upon the entering of a passenger in the taxi. The transport of passengers by urban taxis without using the taximeter is not permitted. There are also shared taxis availalbe which are considerably cheaper.
Boats are mostly used to go out diving, snorkelling or fishing but rarely used as public transport because it is slower and other modes of transport are much faster.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a separate Cyprus visa. Schengen Visa is not valid in Cyprus.
Cyprus is committed to implementing the Schengen Agreement although it hasn't yet done so. For EEA citizens (EU countries together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. Other nationalities will generally require a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Cyprus will (as of now) result in the normal immigration checks, although customs checks will be waived when travelling to/from another EU country.
See also: Money Matters
Greek Cyprus has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The €1 and €2 coins contain the Idol of Pomos, the 50 cents, 20 cents and 10 cents coins contain Kyrenia Ship and the 5 cents, 2 cents and 1 cent coins contain the Mouflon.
New Turkish Lira is the currency of Northern Cyprus but most shops will accept Euros (€), US$ and British Pounds. The New Turkish Lira ISO code is TL. It is recommended to spend all Turkish Lira before leaving Northern Cyprus because the only place outside of Northern Cyprus that recognizes Turkish Lira is Turkey.
There are tens of universities in Cyprus.
The official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish. Greek is spoken predominately in the south and Turkish is spoken predominately in the north. English is very widely spoken by locals of all ages because of previous British rule.
Cyprus has a wide choice of good-valued accommodations, ranging from small budget hotels in the mountains and smaller inland cities and towns, to big 5-star resorts on the Greek southern coastline of the island.
An alternative is staying in a villa. This can be cheaper since lots of people can share a place.
Babylon Bar is a popular, long established bar in a converted 1950's house. It has a large beer garden for the hot summers and cosy log fires for the 'cold' winters. Beer on tap, vast variety of bottled beer and drinks, cocktails and good food. It is located in the capital city Nicosia.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Cyprus. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Cyprus. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Cyprus is a remarkably safe country, with very little violent crime. Cars and houses frequently go unlocked. That said however, it is wise to be careful when accepting drinks from strangers, especially in Ayia Napa, since there have been numerous occasions of muggings.
Internet access is increasingly available in tourist centres in the form of internet cafés and side rooms equipped with monitors. Prices vary, so shop about. €2 an hour seems average, but you can do better. Many cafés now offer free wi-fi access and hotels and resorts often offer Internet access to their guests.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Cyprus is: 357. To make an international call from Cyprus, the code is: 00. If you want to call North Cyprus, you should use 90 as country code.
Fixed-line telephone in Cyprus is provided by Cyta, an independent (but government-owned) company and PrimeTel; both provide packages for home and business usage. Cyta public phones are in all towns, villages, ports and airports. There are three types of public telephones, coinphones, outdoor cardphones and indoor cardphones. All public phones can be used for local and international calls. Cardphones accept payment by Telecards, which are available in various denominations. They can be purchased at banks, post offices, souvenir shops, kiosks and CytaShops.
Mobile cellular telephones are available from major retailers and phone shops. If coming to Cyprus with a phone from another country, it may be possible to use it in Cyprus if the frequency band is the same (GSM 900/1800; UMTS 2100). The most economical way to make and receive calls will likely be to purchase a SIM card in Cyprus. All incoming calls are free and local calls are charged at a local rate.
Cyprus Postal Services is the postal operator of Cyprus and operate the government-operated Post Office. A legacy of British colonial rule is the use of pillar boxes (mail boxes) with the initials of the British monarch, although after independence they were painted yellow. It offers relatively cheap but not extremely efficient and reliable services. Post offices in Cyprus are generally open from 07:30am to 1:30pm. In some districts the post offices are also open in the afternoon. If you want to send a package, you will be better of using companies like DHL, UPS or TNT.
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