Ten churches, no rainbows
With only one week left of our time in Cyprus, we still had a chunk of the island to explore. The plan called for visits to ancient sites, old churches, mountains, valleys, beachfront, and everything in between. Remember when I said Cyprus has it all? While still using Limassol as a base, we set out for two ancient sites. The first, Choirokoitia, is something like 15 miles outside the city and dates all the way from 5000BC. I’m not exactly sure how they figure that out, but it is one of the oldest preserved ancient settlements in the world and gives great insight into how people of the time lived. Existing before the age of bronze, there was evidence of how these people created their homes, tools from bone, and how they knew to domesticate the local animals for various uses. It was hard to believe that by being there we were looking 7000 years into the past!
The day after Choirokoitia, we traveled west from Limassol a measly 10 miles to the ancient city-kingdom of Kourion. Probably one of the most powerful on the island during its time, the city was beautifully nestled on a hillside overlooking the sea. Only dating back 2000 years, the ruins are well preserved and it was possible to get some insight into life during these Greek and Roman times. Easily the most impressive were the painstakingly laid out mosaics that still look remarkable even today.
Kourion - ancient house, young boy
Stunning mosaic of some dudes fighting
Following all these ruins, our plan was to rent a car and drive into the Troodos mountains for a few days, seeing nature and visiting the 10 churches in the area that have been granted UNESCO status. For those not aware, UNESCO is an organization that identifies well-preserved locations of significant historic value and ensures that the site will remain in its condition for years to come. Anyway, picking up the rental car was easy, but getting there proved to be a challenge as the city buses decided to strike that day over a wage disagreement. Luckily we were able to share a cab with someone which didn’t make the fare too bad.
Cypriot streets in the city are quite narrow. Streets in the towns are even narrower. When you get into the mountains, even the major streets are basically wide enough for one lane of traffic, but still support two lanes. It made for some interesting encounters with other cars as our altitude increased, but fortunately a majority of the time we were the only car on the road.
The Troodos mountain range has a series of small peaks, with the highest being just under 2000 meters tall. There was still a significant change in the weather as we made our way, with high temperatures reaching only about 50 degrees, and although days started out sunny, each day we saw clouds forming over us as we traveled from place to place. This led to some decent downpours as the afternoon progressed, even in many situations where the sun was still shining as well. Even with all this crazy weather, we didn’t see a single rainbow!
The 10 churches that were the main reason for our visit to Troodos date from the 10th to 14th centuries. Each one of these 10 churches has a remarkable set of hand painted murals of vivid color depicting scenes from Biblical events and important historic figures from the Bible and the Orthodox church. Each of the 10 churches was dedicated to something or someone different, such as the Holy Cross, Virgin Mary, and even St. Nicholas, so they each had unique images and some common themes, like the life of Christ. Some of the caretakers let us take a few pictures without flash so we could share a few images with you all.
One of the UNESCO churches - it's what's on the inside that counts
Examples of painted frescos from the 14th century
12th century art!
Even though it rained quite a bit, we really loved the adventure, the fresh air, and of course the churches. After our three days in the Troodos area was over, we headed to the seaside town of Paphos (Pafos). Obviously there were more ruins to see here, but it is also the location of the only other airport in the Republic of Cyprus, so it made for a good final stop. With the weather finally shaping up, and without a ton of sites to see, we settled into a nice relaxing few days.
Cyprus is mentioned a few times in the New Testament, but the neat thing about Paphos is that the city is specifically called out in the book of Acts: They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. Acts 13:6-12 NIV
Paul and Barnabas spent some time in Paphos spreading Christianity to the island. As we walked through the ruins of the ancient city, I wondered with every step if I was putting my foot in the same place Paul did. While it’s not the first place we’ve both visited (although some 2000 years apart), the thought still filled me with awe. Lore on the island goes on to state that Paul was flogged for preaching the Gospel before converting the governor at the time to Christianity, which effectively started its spread through the country.
Traditional site of Paul's flogging
So much history, so little time. So much beauty in the hills, mountains, waters, and even the cities and towns. We noticed a few instances where areas seemed a little run down, where tourist sites weren’t taken care of as they should be, and instances like the bus strike in Limassol where there is a lack of organization and communication. That being said, the pros outweighed the cons and I can safely say we’re glad that we came here. As we move on to continental Europe and the incredible countries there, I can only imagine what crazy adventures we’ll run into. Stay tuned!