History of Paphos

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The ancient history of Paphos centres around the myth of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

Paphos is said to have been Aphroditeâs birthplace; the place where she rose from the sea. The myth goes that Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus on the wishes of Uranusâ wife Gaia. Cronus hurled Uranusâ testicles into the sea and they formed white foam which was carried by the sea to Petra tou Romiou ("The rock of the Greek") at Paphos. Here Aphrodite is said to have appeared out of the foam fully formed, the most desirable of women.

The cult of Aphrodite was formed in Paphos. The Myceneans had settled there and around 1200BC they built a great temple in her honour. Homer talks of the grove and altar of Aphrodite at Paphos in the Odyssey. The cult of Aphrodite may have continued until as far as the 3rd or 4th century AD, when pagan religions were forbidden by the Roman rulers.

Paphos was allegedly founded in 1400BC by King Kinyras, son of Apollo and father of Adonis. Many different peoples are known to have inhabited and ruled over Paphos since â" the Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and British are just a few. It is thought the first inhabitants arrived in the Neolithic period.

Up until Roman rule the city was visited and invaded by many civilizations. The Persians and Greek were the main rulers, though the Egyptians and the Ptolemics also arrived. Under Greek rule, Paphos had great importance and amassed considerable wealth.

By 58BC, Roman rule had spread across the region and they took control of Paphos. The ruthless M. Porcius Cato was given the task of bringing Cyprus into the Roman Empire. The Romans enjoyed the cityâs riches, but also made great developments of their own. They built roads and towns and temples. Their rule was generally peaceful, apart from a Jewish revolt in 115AD, part of the Kitos War, in which Roman losses in Cyprus were great.

Under the Romans, Paphos was the seat of the Governor for the island and therefore the town held important status. In 45AD the Apostle Paul visited Paphos and converted the governor of the time, Sergius Paulus to Christianity. He was reportedly the first Roman of noble birth to be converted to Christianity, and Cyprus became the first area of the Roman Empire to be governed by a Christian.

By the fourth century AD, the Roman Empire was beginning to flounder and Paphos found itself under attack from marauding Arabs. A destructive earthquake also hit the region around this time and Paphosâ position of importance began to wane. 

The Arab Moors seized control of Paphos as the Roman Empire crumbled. Their dominance was short-lived, however, as the Byzantines arrived soon after and forced them from the region. The Byzantines ruled the island for about 700 years but Paphosâ importance declined as the capital was moved inland, away from the vulnerable coast, to Nicosia.

In 1191 Richard the Lionheart arrived in Cyprus during his journey to the Holy Lands to fight the Crusades. Richard first took the port town of Limassol then defeated Isaac Komnenos, the Byzantine ruler of Cyprus at the time. Richard married on the island, to Berengaria of Navarre, before continuing to the Holy Lands. He made the island the Kingdom of Cyprus and it became a Crusader State which was then given to the displaced King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, in 1192. The House of Lusignan ruled until 1489 when it came under the control of Venice.

Immediately the Venetians were under threat from the Ottoman Turks and by the late 16th century they had conquered Cyprus. The Ottoman rule lasted for 300 years and it varied between indifferent and oppressive, depending on the ruler of the time.

A period of British rule came next in 1878 as the weakening Ottoman Empire offered the island to the British in exchange that they would use it to help defend them from Russian attack. Discontent with British rule began to grow, as Cypriots protested against a number of issues including tax rises. There were tensions too between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.  In August 1960 Cyprus formally became a republic, shedding its colonial status. Cyprus soon became a member of the UN and was admitted into the Commonwealth.

Over these years Paphos was one of the least developed towns on the island and many inhabitants moved to other parts or overseas. Ironically it was the Turkish invasion which saw the townâs prospects increase.

In1974 a Greek junta led by Nicos Sampson mounted a coup to overthrow the Cypriot Government. Turkey saw this as an invasion by Greece on Cyprusâ independence and invaded the island. Cyprus eventually became divided into the Turkish-Cypriot north and the Greek-Cypriot south.

Since Paphos is located in the south of the island it was far away from the troubles, unlike other tourist destinations such as Keryneia and Ammochostos which became occupied by the Turkish. This meant a lot of focus turned to Paphos and investment was made in the city, especially in the tourism industry. The government invested in irrigation and water works, roads and an international airport at Paphos. Private investment arrived alongside the government investment as hotels, apartments, bars and restaurants were built.

All this investment turned Paphos into a popular tourist resort and as air travel became cheaper, visitors began to flock to the town in their millions. It is the area around the mediaeval port, Kato Paphos, which has seen most of the tourist development. The resort you see there today is vastly different from the quiet town of not so long ago.